Riding a bicycle could keep your daughter in school
When motorcycle taxis also popularly known as boda boda first entered the market as an affordable, fast and convenient means of transport particularly in the rural areas where reliable transportation is hard to come by, it was a welcome relief.
At the time , there was no obvious connection between boda boda , the alarming number of teenage pregnancies and the consequent high school dropout rates in Kakamega County.
“Kakamega is a bicycle riding community but most of these bicycles are owned by the male head of the family who often lend them out to their sons to shorten the distance to school, leaving the girls without a means of transport,” explains Japheth Wanyama, a teaching assistant in the area.
Parents who could afford boda boda rides quickly embraced them and for a small fee their daughters arrived at school on time and safely, or so they thought.
In the face of early motherhood
As early motherhood soon came knocking at their doors, they quickly realized that they had put their stamp of approval on predators hiding behind a boda boda.
“Boda boda riders are often young men with a little money to impress, so it is easy for a young girl to fall for their sexual advances. In the last five years, the boda boda culture has highly contributed to teen pregnancies and many empty desks across the County,” Wanyama expounds.
Tucked deep into Mahanga village in Kakamega County, Western Kenya is Mahanga ‘K’ Secondary School, a mixed secondary school that has experienced the full brunt of teenage pregnancies.
“In 2014, we began to see a sharp rise in dropout rates among our female students. It got to a point where there was at least one pregnant girl in our school at any given point,” recalls Enock Keya, the head teacher, Mahanga ‘K’ Secondary School.
*Bernice Sirengo (not her real name), 17, is not only a student here but a mother of a one year old child.
“Our home is about three kilometers away from school, just like many of my school mates I have to walk long distances every day and if I do not get to school on time I get punished,” Sirengo explains.
“My parents cannot afford to pay for a boda boda ride every day because I come from a poor family so walking is the only option,” she adds.
But a lack of riding fee was no problem to one particular boda boda rider who offered to ferry her to and from school at no cost at all. She was 15 years old and in her first year at the secondary school.
“The free rides were not on a daily basis but every other day. It was during my second term in school and we quickly became very close and this is how a sexual relationship started, by third term I was already pregnant,” Sirengo explains.
The 2015 National Adolescent and Youth report released by the National Council for Population and Development revealed that rogue teachers and boda boda riders were mainly responsible for teen pregnancies.
The report further revealed that approximately 47 percent of young women aged 18 and 24 had their first sexual experience before the age of 18.
Consequently, the report showed that at least 15 percent of young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are already mothers and that three percent are pregnant with their first child.
Implication to education sector
Against this backdrop and the devastating implication the scenario has on the education sector, health and the lifelong well being of children across the county, the World Vision Kenya, a non-governmental organization (NGO) has intervened.
The NGO teamed up with the World Bicycle Relief under a project dubbed Bicycle Education Empowerment Program (BEEP) in a unique way to address some of the challenges that the rural girl is facing in her pursuit of education.
“We realized that many students have to walk more than three kilometers every day just to get to school. The situation is worse for girls who have the extra burden of doing house chores before and after school,” explains Judith Okungu, a child well being facilitator at the World Vision office in Kakamega County.
“The girls then arrive to school late and already exhausted, many are absent from school most of the time and some fall prey to the boda boda riders who come offering free rides for those who cannot pay,” she expounds.
Okungu explains that there is a criteria that is used to select beneficiaries for the BEEP program, the student’s home must be at least three kilometers away from school.
The most vulnerable students be they orphans or from very poor households also get priority and even though boys receive these bicycles, there are more female than male beneficiaries.
“There is a bias towards the girl child because she is more vulnerable,” Okungu affirms.
An estimated 1,000 bicycles have been given to rural students in Siaya, Uasin Gishu and Kakamega Counties where students cover long distances to access an education.
To own a bicycle under the BEEP program, beneficiary students are only required to pay a onetime fee of Ksh1, 000 ($10) for the spare parts.
“The bicycles are clearly numbered at the back to avoid confusion and theft,” she expounds.
Guardians and parents are allowed to use the bicycles over the weekend to run errands such as going to the local market but they cannot use the bicycles during school days.
The area Chief, teachers, parents and students are all involved in ensuring that these rules and regulations are followed to the letter.
According to Okungu, bicycles have become a double edged sword, preventing more teenage pregnancies while also assisting those who are already mothers like Sirengo, to cope with the new responsibilities by getting to school on time and being home before dark.
“Girls ride their bicycles in groups, young men find it difficult to approach them as a group compared to when a girl would just wander home alone,” Keya observes.
He says that grades at the school are higher since most students who walk long distances can get to school on time and remain behind for after school revision.
Further affirming that since BEEP was rolled out in 2015, “the school has not experienced additional cases of pregnancies and for the first time in the history of the school, girls are catching up with the boys in all subjects.”