An educated adolescent girl has the unique potential to break the cycle of
poverty for herself, her family, and her community. By providing a girl with a bicycle,
she can go places - to school, to after-school programs, the market or to health facilities.
In Rajasthan, 51% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. There is strong son (male child) preference that is connected to the custom of the dowry. Families traditionally pay a dowry comprised of money and property to the groom's family when their daughter is married. Many Rajasthani families choose to educate their sons but not their daughters, preparing them to be married at a young age. Consequently, many girls never go to school.
It was 105 degrees outside and the American students we were hosting could feel the oppressive heat of the Thar Desert as we toured Sododada, a village in Rajasthan, India. I sensed they were also overwhelmed as they saw and heard the stories of women and girls who struggle with water shortages, illiteracy and lack of opportunity.
To witness this change in action, I invited the students to come with me to meet Mamta, one of the bike recipients, and her family. I wanted them to hear her story first hand so they could learn how a simple bike can change the future for girls like Mamta in this region. There is a wave of change riding through these desert villages that is powered in part by bikes (a Revive Project initiative WomenServe is championing).
When we arrived at their home, Mamta and two young women greeted us. The young women were excited to have foreign guests and they wanted to show us their taanka, an underground rainwater catchment tank, right away. As she showed us the rainwater in the taanka Mamta told us, "This has changed our lives. My Mother is so much happier now."
As is customary in Rajasthan, they led our group to the courtyard where we were invited to sit on an elevated mat and enjoy tea with the men of the household. I greeted the men politely but asked instead to join the women in the kitchen to learn how the tea was prepared (and be able to speak freely away from the men and elders in her family). We were led into the small hut made out of cow dung (which was a simple kitchen). The tea was being prepared in the traditional way by burning dried cow dung cakes for heat. Sitting together in the kitchen crowded around the stove was Mamta and the two young women, her mother Kamla Devi and several other small children. I greeted Kamla Devi and thanked her for making time to speak with us. I noticed that one of the young women was preparing the tea and I asked Kamla Devi who she and her friend were. "They are my married daughters visiting from their husbands' villages," she told me.
I asked Kamla how her family and neighbors have reacted to Mamta's new bike and she replied "Some people say 'She is a girl. Why are you investing so much in her? One day you have to marry her off. But there are others in the village who are encouraging me to keep Mamta in school." Kamla Devi went on to say "My family did not believe in girl's education before so I am illiterate and so are my eldest daughters. I did not know any different when they were young and we also had to walk many miles every day to collect water which made school impossible for them."
I asked Mamta what her favorite subjects are in school and one of her sisters quickly answered for her, "English, Science and Arts!" Her joy for her sister was obvious, and there was not a twinge of jealousy or envy.
With a bike in her hands, Mamta now rides into a different future than her mother and sisters. Kamla Devi says she wants to keep Mamta in school with the hopes of her attending college.
As the students and I continued our conversations with Mamta and her family, we began to feel this positive change.
We know that girls are the most powerful force for change. An educated girl has the potential to break the cycle of poverty for herself, her family, and her community. By providing a girl with a bicycle, she can go places - to school, to after-school trainings, community meetings and to health facilities. Mamta is already going places thanks to the generous help of our donors.