By Nehal Jain, former Girl Up Teen Advisor
In February 2017, Nehal met and talked to girls who received a bicycle from the SchoolCycle campaign run by UNFPA in Chisec, Guatemala. Girls in Chisec are part of Abriendo Oportunidades, a UNFPA safe space program that Girl Up helps fund to support educational institutions that teach adolescent girls about their rights, provide girls with clubs where they can have a safe, public space to meet with mentors and participate in skill-building activities. After personally delivering one of the SchoolCycle bicycles and getting to know its recipient, fifteen-year-old Estefani, Nehal wrote the essay below describing what a bicycle means to Estefani and other girls she met and talked with who are living in rural Guatemala.
Two wheels, a handlebar, and possibly a basket or bell: a bike. A mode of transportation faster than walking, but slower than driving. The chime of its bell brings back the taste of mom’s apple pie, the smell of freshly cut grass, and the heat of the summer sun. Even the pain of disinfectant wipes on scrapes caused by falling off a bike brings a smile to one’s face. It defines a childhood, yet at the end of the day, it will always be another toy. No different from the latest Barbie or Mario Party. But for girls around the world a bike is so much more. A bike is freedom. A bike is hope. A bike is a future.
A smile lights up on Estefani’s face as I wheel her new hot pink bike towards her. Younger girls, supposed to be in math class, peer eagerly through the cracks of the wood paneled schoolroom wall to view the bike distribution ceremony. The boys look on jealously. Somewhere in the crowd, Estefani’s mother sheds a tear. For Estefani, this bike is a ticket to becoming a doctor. For her mother, it is the opportunity she never had.
Estefani is a 15-year-old indigenous Guatemalan girl from the rural town of Chisec. Her walk to school is half an hour, but in the hot Guatemalan sun it feels much longer. She arrives at school with her intricate braid drenched in sweat. With barely enough energy for Spanish class, she limps through the day, then lethargically walks home as the boys whizz by on their shiny bikes. Bikes are expensive, and girls are not considered worthy of them. Every time Estefani follows the well-known road from school to home she puts herself at risk for sexual assault. Her mother begins to worry; she considers taking her out of school.
Her worrying is cut short when she gets word that a Girl Up funded UNFPA program will bring bikes for girls like her. Estefani’s bike will help her arrive to school faster, safer, and fresher. It means that she no longer has to drop out of school to do housework, no longer has to be be married at 16, pregnant at 17, impoverished forever. She will get her education. She will get a job. She will be able to make a better life for her children, if and when she chooses to have them.
Her whole life Estafani had been held back, as if someone had put training wheels on her life. Her community had allowed her to go to primary school, but she didn’t have the tools, or resources, to continue on to secondary, safely and easily. Now, with her own bike, Estafani is free. Her bike opens an endless array of doors in her life. It is more than just a fun way to spend a summer afternoon or get to a friend’s house. A bike is a stethoscope, a beaker, a briefcase, a gavel, a microphone. A bike is a future.
Learn more about Girl Up’s partnership with UNFPA through SchoolCycle: GirlUp.org/SchoolCycle