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Zambia: Pedalling into school and out of poverty

Across much of Africa, children walk for hours every day just to go to school.

Girls face additional challenges in accessing education as they’re often expected to help with household chores or get married before they complete their schooling.

It is hardly surprising  that drop-out rates are high and girls’ attendance lags behind that of boys.

The Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Programme (BEEP)  seeks to change that.

It’s a ground-breaking new approach to improving access and participation in education for children in rural Zambia.

With a particular focus on girls, the programme distributes specially engineered bicycles to students and teachers in rural areas.

This helps them dramatically reduce their journey time to school, leading to improved student attendance and performance.

How does it work?

World Bicycle Relief (WBR), in partnership with the Zambian Ministry of Education and local communities, introduced the programme in 2009 and has distributed over 50,000 bicycles in 17 districts of the country.

Mechanics are trained locally and bicycles are compatible with locally available parts in order to ensure sustainability and promote existing local markets.

WBR’s chief operating officer, Michael Kollins, who recently visited our offices in London, describes his organisation’s approach as ‘a hand up, not a hand out.’

Recipients are carefully selected by a local committee to ensure the bicycles are given to those who need them most. Students commit to staying in school, and WBR monitors student attendance, grades and progress for 2 years before handing over ownership of the bicycle.

The results

BEEP is the first education focused project WBR has undertaken but the results speak for themselves.

  • School attendance increased by 19% after bicycle distribution.
  • Performance has increased 20% for girls and 25% for boys.

One head-teacher reported that the bicycles have ‘eased the movement of our learners to and from school. Children nowadays report for lessons early and the cases of absenteeism from school have been drastically reduced.’

Inspired by their success in Zambia, World Bicycle Relief hope to replicate the BEEP programme in other rural communities across Africa.

Potential partnerships

I was very inspired by Michael’s talk and am keen to explore how we can work together to harness the power of bicycles in a more systematic way at Save the Children.

Many of our programmes provide staff and beneficiaries with bicycles but the results of that work could undoubtedly be improved by applying some of the lessons and approaches that WBR use, including their custom made super strong bicycles.

Visit www.worldbicyclerelief.org to find out more.

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