For many of us, a bicycle is a tool for fitness, a fashion accessory, a piece of leisure equipment or a seasonal mode of transportation. Perhaps we load a basket up front with produce from the farmers’ market, or a trailer hitched behind with a couple of kids.
A bicycle, for most of us, is not a necessity and won’t make too much of a difference in our day-to-day lives. We have other options for fitness, fashion and transportation. We don’t think about it too much.
But what if a bike was the key to a young girl getting an education? What if having a bike meant having food and water for your family? What if having a bicycle meant that women could become leaders in their community and agents of change?
That is what a bicycle can do for girls and women in rural Ghana, Africa.
In the cocoa-growing region of rural Ghana, isolation, custom, and difficult access to higher education has traditionally meant that girls miss out on the opportunity to receive an education or become leaders in their communities. But Cadbury is working hard to change this reality, through its grassroots organizations dedicated to bettering the outcomes for the children of rural Ghana. Through Cocoa Life and the Bicycle Factory program, Cadbury delivers bicycles to thousands of schoolchildren in the region each year, allowing them to get to school on time, with energy for learning, playing and working towards improving their community and their future choices.
On a recent sunny morning, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking by phone with Yaa Peprah Amekudzi, who has been a Country Lead with with Cocoa Life Ghana since 2002. She explains that with the bicycles, “Children get to school on time, and not tired. Research has shown that children who get to school tired are not able to actively participate in learning, or even playing.”
Yaa believes that to put a bicycle in the hands of these children is to drastically alter their lives. Girls in the Upper-Primary, or 11-16 year old age group are at the greatest risk of leaving school. These girls, who often have to walk more than three kilometres each way to school, also have the greatest amount of domestic responsibilities, many of which must be carried out in the hours before school even begins. Cleaning the family compound, cooking and even washing clothes are often a young girl’s responsibility each morning. Her bicycle from Cadbury can also be used to gather water and make doing these chores easier, faster and more efficient, leaving her time, motivation and energy for school and learning.
Yaa explained to me that, “When a child gets to school tired, and they are not able to actively participate, they are branded as not being intelligent. And no child wants to be seen as the dunce in the class. So the children leave the house in their uniform, but they don’t get to school.” They are too tired and they feel unappreciated. But with the bikes, Yaa continues, “(the children) get to school and they realize that after all, they are smart, so they begin to take an interest in learning. We realize that academic performance really improves when children have access to the bikes.”
And a good foundation for education means that girls are now able to continue on to senior level schools and even university, becoming role models for younger family members and the community. They illustrate the possibilities and choices that an education can bring, from becoming a business owner or other professional, to becoming a community leader or travelling if they desire.
Yaa can see the changes that the bicycle program and greater education bring to all of the women in the community. I asked her what aspect of her job gave her the greatest satisfaction, and she said that watching as a child arrives at school on a bicycle, ready to learn, gives her joy and the motivation to keep working. But one of her greatest joys is to see the direct impact that the program has had on the role of women. Thanks to greater education Yaa says, “Mothers and women in the community are such a big part of the decision-making now.”
She went on to explain, “If there are any decisions to be made with community development – maybe roads, maybe water, maybe sanitation, women must be a part of the decision-making. This cannot be all left in the hands of the men … so the women and the men come together and this builds the confidence of the women.”
“The more they get involved in their own issues (of health, of development, of nutrition, of household security), and the issues affecting the community … it is quite empowering.”
Yaa has seen the cycle come all the way around – she has seen the girls get to school on the bicycles, and get an education. And she has seen the educated girls grow up and come back to the community to use their education to help improve the conditions there.
It is not just about building schools, Yaa told me. She says that you can build schools but, “it is not the school building that is empowering – you’ve got to have the children attend. If the children don’t attend, you haven’t empowered them.”
This year, Cadbury plans on sending 5,000 additional bikes to Ghana, but they need your help at the Bicycle Factory.