By Amanda Ward
In rural areas of Maharashtra, India, there is no sufficient infrastructure for public transport. Students sometimes have to travel on foot for more than five kilometers to school. As such, students, particularly girls, find it difficult to attend school regularly. It is cumbersome and risky to walk for hours through deserted fields to school before dawn and after dusk, especially during rainy season and winters. This has led to drop in girl students attending school in these rural areas.
Considering this difficulty, the Rotary Club of Pune Shivajinagar decided to provide them with the most eco-friendly, no pollution, no fuel vehicle; i.e. a bicycle. They started this project 2 years back with 9 bicycles and today they have provided over 310 bicycles.
The Rotary Club identified the criteria for selection of girl students with pressing need for the bicycles; which included – distance between home and school and financial background. It was also decided that the bicycles should be bright pink, so that others in the community would be deterred from using or stealing the bike. The communities are aware that the bikes are only to be used for school purposes by the girls, and not on the farm or around the village for chores. Having access to a bike empowers young girls to complete their education, since now they can get to school on their own without having to depend on anyone.
Since the program started, the teachers at the school have witnessed that the beneficiary students’ attendance has significantly improved. Additionally they have become healthier due to cycling and are better able to focus on their studies having reached school on time and having completed assignments; which before was extremely difficult due to their commute. If the beneficiary leaves the school or graduates the bicycle is passed onto another girl at that school.
The need for this program is vast and Rotary Club wants to provide at least one thousand bicycles to the girls in various rural areas around Pune. To help in this effort, the Rotary Club of Pune Shivajinagar has partnered with the The Unforgotten Fund (UNFF) to use crowd source fundraising tactics. Each bicycle costs less than $75 and through the use of the UNFF website and “Bike to School” crowdrise page, 100 bicycles have already been provided.
The handing over ceremony of 108 bicycles took place in small village, Galandewadi, on Tuesday, 19th December. The joy of getting the new mode of transportation and renewed confidence could be seen on the faces of all the girls present. Rtn Vandana Naik, who is the UNFF Country Director for India, was present on the occasion and promised to work for more funding for this unique cause. With this donation now Rotary Club of Pune Shivajinagar has provided over 500 bicycles to girl students in this area.
Rtn Vrinda Walimbe, President 2017-18, RCP Shivajinagar
PP Nitin Abhyankar, Chairman – Global Grant, RCP Shivajinagar