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How bicycles help girls learn

Fifteen-year-old Rahinatu has a lot of responsibilities. In Ghana where she lives, as in many countries, adolescent girls like her are expected to play a major role in taking care of the household. And Rahinatu’s chores take priority over just about everything else”including, alas, education.

That means Rahinatu can only leave for school in the morning after she’s finished jobs that include cleaning the area around the family’s home and washing up after breakfast. But her school is over three miles from her home”a lengthy walk on top of the chores.

“I was coming to school late every day,” says Rahinatu.


ghana-bikes1a-UNI2341_Comp.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0866/Olivier Asselin
Ghana, 2008: Rahinatu, age 15, and Sherifatu, age 16, at attend school in the town of Tarikpaa. The bicycles nearby were distributed through a UNICEF-funded program to help cut children’s travel time in rural areas, where long distances are a major barrier to girls’ school enrollment.

Rahinatu’s schoolmate, Rahina, also had trouble making the long trip to school after scrambling to finish chores. In fact, she would miss school completely two or three times a week. All over the world there are girls like Rahinatu and Rahina”girls who desperately want to get an education but struggle to find enough time in the day for all they have to do.

Fifteen-year-old Rahinatu has a lot of responsibilities. In Ghana where she lives, as in many countries, adolescent girls like her are expected to play a major role in taking care of the household. And Rahinatu’s chores take priority over just about everything else”including, alas, education.

That means Rahinatu can only leave for school in the morning after she’s finished jobs that include cleaning the area around the family’s home and washing up after breakfast. But her school is over three miles from her home”a lengthy walk on top of the chores.

“I was coming to school late every day,” says Rahinatu.


ghana-bikes1a-UNI2341_Comp.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0866/Olivier Asselin
Ghana, 2008: Rahinatu, age 15, and Sherifatu, age 16, at attend school in the town of Tarikpaa. The bicycles nearby were distributed through a UNICEF-funded program to help cut children’s travel time in rural areas, where long distances are a major barrier to girls’ school enrollment.

Rahinatu’s schoolmate, Rahina, also had trouble making the long trip to school after scrambling to finish chores. In fact, she would miss school completely two or three times a week. All over the world there are girls like Rahinatu and Rahina”girls who desperately want to get an education but struggle to find enough time in the day for all they have to do.

ghanabikes3a-IMG19124_Comp.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0913/Olivier Asselin
Ghana: Children bike to school in the town of Savelugu, in the northern regional capital of Savelugu-Nanton District.

As I’ve written before, UNICEF cares tremendously about helping girls to go to school. It’s not just that girls deserve an education (that’s obvious, right?), it’s that girls who stay in school will learn how to make healthier choices in their lives and go on to have healthier children.

So what to do to help girls like Rahinatu’s and Rahina? UNICEF has a solution that’s almost ridiculously simple: bicycles. With bicycles, the girls can get to and from school in a fraction of the time it takes them on foot. No more being late, no more missing classes.

Since 2001, in cooperation with local education authorities and schools, UNICEF has distributed nearly 6,000 bicycles to girls in Ghana. The bicycles have helped raise overall school enrollment and attendance, improved academic performance, reduced dropout rates and generally boosted girls’ confidence. That last one makes perfect sense to me”I vividly remember how strong and self-reliant I felt as an adolescent when I rode my bicycle wherever and whenever I possibly could.

Right now, UNICEF just has a bicycle program in Ghana. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point, more programs pop up in other countries. When a solution to a problem is this simple and effective, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads.

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