These bikes can transform girls’ futures

This June, the Clara Lionel Foundation joined Camfed in Salima District, Malawi, as over 1,000 bicycles arrived in the country through our partnership for girls’ education and young women’s leadership. Part of a holistic package of support provided to secondary school students, these bicycles have the potential to transform the prospects of girls who face journeys of up to 10km (6 miles) to and from school. And members of Camfed’s alumnae network (CAMA), will be at the heart of the initiative’s sustainability as they learn new skills in entrepreneurship, bike maintenance and repair. Camfed’s partnership with the Clara Lionel Foundation is enabling 7,500 girls to continue their secondary education in Malawi. The critical importance of this work cannot be understated in a context where only 30% of the female population enrols in secondary school. This is partly due to an acute lack of schools, which can result in students covering huge distances in pursuit of their education. The bicycles were met with much excitement across the rural communities. Long and perilous journeys can be a major reason for girls dropping out of school, as they struggle to cope with hours of walking, which can leave children hungry and exhausted, unable to concentrate in class. In addition, girls often have to attend to chores before and after school, placing an additional burden on their time and ability to study. In a rural areas, access to a bicycle offers the chance to succeed. This project forms part of a multi-dimensional approach to removing the barriers to girls’ education, including covering school fees, providing peer mentoring, delivering essential items like sanitary pads, and helping to bridge long distances from home to school. And the benefits do not end there. By training CAMA members in the upkeep of the bicycles, Camfed and CLF together are addressing both students’ barriers to education and young women’s lack of access to skills training and business opportunities. The day after the handover ceremony, training run in partnership with Africycle started for the young women, who took part in comprehensive sessions in seven areas of bike maintenance and repair, from how to deal with punctured tires to replacing the chain and wheels. The proficiency of CAMA members in these new mechanical skills also serves to break down gender norms in their communities.