» Cycling out of Poverty

Cycling out of Poverty

 

Bicycle-5

This Life Cambodia’s Student Assistance Program (SAP) is aimed at providing support to scholars to help them overcome daily challenges that has a negative impact on their ability to be able to attend classes and do their homework/ studying outside of school hours. The program provides direct financial support to students and their families and also, in some cases, solar powered reading lights (Light up a life program) as well as bicycles (Peddle out of poverty program).

I recently joined the team on one of their outings:

Friday morning before dawn a couple of my colleagues and I set off to a remote village around two and a half hours by car from Siem Reap. Our mission was to deliver 50 bicycles to school kids that had been donated to our NGO from a group in Korea. The children receiving the bicycles were those that come from the poorest families in the community (families that cannot afford to buy a bicycle) and another criteria was that that they also have to live more than 2 kilometres from the school. Kids walk long distances to get to school in Cambodia – in this particular school for children aged between 13 and 17 some of them come from as far as 7km away.

The truck with its cargo of 50 bicycles went ahead of us to the village so when we arrived it was nice to see the 50 bicycles lined up under the trees at the pagoda where the distribution ceremony were to take place – some students and even the school headmaster were already eagerly preparing the bicycles for the ceremony by fixing the baskets, checking the bells and everything else. The kids that were going to receive bicycles were inspecting each one from front to back, top to bottom, identifying their favourites in the hope that they would draw the number of one of the nicer bicycles in the draw that was to take place later that day (not all the bicycles were the same – some were almost brand new and others were a bit more worn; some probably looked more suitable to girls and there were also different sizes). To be fair to all the bicycles would be distributed through a ‘lucky draw’.

Inspecting each bicycle
Inspecting each bicycle
Testing out the bicycle
Testing out the bicycle

 

It took us a few hours to get everything ready for the ceremony, but we got it done and then we had time for a quick lunch in the village and a little look around. At 1pm the students arrived back together with their parents and the event, chaired by the Commune Leader was ready to begin. In true Cambodian fashion there were a series of very serious sounding speeches (by the school headmaster, our NGO’s Program Coordinator, a proud father, one of the students and of course the Commune Leader).. It all looked very hostile indeed, but my colleagues assured me it was all positive and uplifting.

Commune Chief making his speech
Commune Chief making his speech

 

As I stood there watching (and of course taking photos) I realised again that I am so privileged to be part of something beautiful like this: it was lovely seeing the parents and their children together, all looking very excited as if Christmas had come early! For me personally it was also a bit of a trip down memory lane, because it brought back memories of the days when I used to cycle to school too, the difference being I suspect these kids appreciate what they were about to receive a lot more than what I did when I was young.

Speeches over it was time for the kids to sign a contract (together with their parents). The terms of the contract covers things such as ensuring the bicycles are properly maintained; also the recipient of the bicycle should remain in school for at least 3 years after receiving the bicycle with an annual class attendance rate of at least 85%.

The contract.
The contract.

 

Finally the moment arrived: it was time for each student to come forward to draw a number and then go find their new bicycle somewhere amongst the 50 that were glimmering in the sunshine – the shiny bicycles looked like they were just as proud and excited to meet their new owners!

I positioned myself just behind my colleagues that were managing the lucky draw as well as receiving the signed contracts so that I could get a good view (and hopefully photo) of this exciting moment. One by one the children came forward – some shy and hesitant, others striding with confidence, but one thing that I noticed in each and every face was a twinkle of excitement in their eyes. What a truly beautiful moment!!!

Honestly, in this moment I felt a real purpose in my life: I had nothing to do with the donation of the bicycles, but I felt proud of being in an organisation that does such good and humble work; I felt proud of working with amazing people that are willing to get up very early in the morning if needs be; to sometimes travel long distances to get to the most rural places where the need is so great; to ensure they do whatever is required to get the job done: Yes, it is their jobs and they obviously get paid a salary to do it, but the utter dedication that I see in the teams is proof enough that this is a special group of people. This also spurred me on to try and take the best photos that I could, because these are essential marketing tools for the NGO to hopefully secure more donations further down the line.

Back to the ceremony, everyone joined in the laughter each time a number was matched with a bicycle and sometimes the combinations were a bit mismatched – i.e. when one of the smaller kids ended up with one of the big bicycles. This wouldn’t be a problem for long though, because they would either exchange the bicycle for someone else’s or they just make do because this is the kingdom of wonder and anything is possible!

I went and stood outside the gates of the pagoda where the ceremony took place and within moments kids came racing out on their new bicycles: of course the boys were first out of the blocks and eager to show off their new bicycles, smiling from ear to ear. Then the girls followed with a bit more dignity and elegance, but the same big smiles. And off they went into the sunset – they even left their parents behind in the excitement!

...and off they go!!
…and off they go!!

 

We cleaned up and started the long journey back to Siem Reap, exhausted but satisfied with the job and above all grateful to have been able to participate in this humbling experience.

If you want to read more about the SAP team and their work please follow the link below:

http://www.thislifecambodia.org/programs/student-assistance

 

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