“In this country, many times the girl comes last. At least with this program we can help them come first.” ~ Ezekial Kamara, Educaid Port Loko Secondary School teacher talking about VBP’s Learn to Ride program
Although VBP doesn’t teach only Sierra Leonean girls for our Learn to Ride Program, the impact of a program that teaches them how to ride and gives them access to a bicycle is more easily apparent for female students. It’s rare to find a boy here that doesn’t “sabi ride bicycle” (know how to ride) but girls are lucky to steal a few opportunities for practice from a brother or neighbor’s bicycle. One of the girls even told me that she used to pay her neighbor to “rent” his bicycle to try to learn how to ride. Traditionally, cycling has been an exclusively male activity but these views are rapidly changing. It’s exciting to get to know this next generation of Sierra Leonean women and watch them discover the joy of riding a bike.
At the moment, Jak and Kadiatu are conducting Learn to Ride classes at the Educaid Port Loko Secondary School and the Guadalupe Secondary School in Lunsar. The age of the participants range from 14 to 20 and proficiency at riding varies considerably. The social pressure is always constant in these classes where, without fail, there is always a peanut gallery of other students shouting advice, laughing, and providing constant commentary. To their credit, though, the girls (for the most part) are keenly focused on the task at hand. Thus far, we have just practiced keeping their balance on bikes with their pedals removed. Since the school grounds of both locations are quite flat, we’ve put the peanut gallery to work pushing some of the girls on their bikes. It’s such a simple activity that it’s hard not to be skeptical that they will progress to the much more complex tasks of pedaling, braking, and navigating traffic (how I miss the bike lanes we have in the Unites States!). We’ll see the fruits of our labor soon enough when we put the pedals back on the bikes for the next class!