The sun is rising again after a very long night in Cambodia. In the Phnum Kravanh District of Pursat Province, in the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, we embarked in the early morning to deliver 150 new bicycles to school-age girls with no transportation options to get to school.
Here, the roads are difficult and unpaved. The rutted dirt tracks are lined with heavy forests leading up into the mountains and hillsides. By dawn’s light with a truck full of bikes, we trundled through the ancient hills until we reached the provincial capital.
For many of the beneficiaries of Lotus Pedals, having an all-terrain bike will mean cutting their transportation time to school from hours to mere minutes. The bikes are outfitted with tough tires, baskets and wheel-covers, so these girls can get to school rain or shine! We even provide maintenance kits and pumps, all for just USD $62.00!
Phnum Kravanh is named for the same Cardamom Mountains by which it is located, and it is also the site of Lotus Outreach’s well-drilling program. While local community leaders showed us that a well we installed last year was still flowing perfectly, villagers began to gather near a local school in preparation for our big bike distribution ceremony.
We rolled up to the schoolyard where more than 100 schoolgirls and their families, teachers, and representatives from the local government had assembled. Speaking before the group we explained to agreeing faces importance of education and the terms for accepting a Lotus Pedals bicycle. Girls and their families agreed to keep their daughters in school for at least two years after receiving the bicycles, and 95 previously-selected girls were presented with brand-new all-terrain bikes!
As the sun rose high into the noon sky, 95 girls took off in all directions wobbling and laughing as they got used to their new bikes. Their parents followed behind, alone or in pairs, and watched as their young ones raced forward towards their homes and their own brightening futures.
Lotus Outreach’s work was not done after this one stop. Our truck, now lighter of load, still had 55 bikes which we intended to distribute in Veal Veng. It took 3 or 4 hours to get there, and we arrived thankfully before nightfall.
In the morning, we investigated more water wells as the preparations began for another big bike giveaway. This time the District Governor and the head of the District Education Office spoke before the audience, underlining the importance of girls’ education and thanking the donors who made this program possible. Once again, 55 fortunate girls spun off on their bikes into the bright afternoon.
By dusk we had returned to the capital. Our truck was empty, and the stars were peeking out from the indigo sky above the darkened, distant mountains. Cambodia, and in particular Pursat, has seen some dark days in the past 40 years. But the sun is rising again in Cambodia, and the new generation is racing ahead to a developing future.
Thanks to YOU for brightening the lives of these girls through your generous contributions. Please consider donating to support Lotus Pedals and give a girl the gift of education!
Sross is a student at Hun Sen Prek Pra Lower Secondary School, a school named for Cambodia’s longtime dictator, Hun Sen. Living just outside of the country’s largest city, Phnom Penh, Sross’s family subsists on just a few dollars per day of income. She has three sisters and two brothers, but only she and one of her brothers have not quit school.
“My three elder sisters all work in the garment factory,” she tells us. “Some get $70 or $80 per month, but if they work overtime, they can get $100 per month.”
Life working in a garment factory is not easy, and even though the pay is not high, the modest wages are highly sought after by men and women throughout Cambodia.
Young Sross though, has higher aspirations: “As for me, I am not working in the garment factory. I am studying.” She explains, “In the future, I want to work using my intellect. I don’t want to do manual labor.”
Sross is one of the hundreds of Cambodian girls who have received bicycles from Lotus Outreach’s Lotus Pedals this year. Since January of 2013, Lotus Outreach has ensured that 302 young riders can get to school to attain their dreams. The program has identified 381 additional students who may qualify to receive a bicycle, and still thousands of girls across the country want to attend school, but have no means of transportation.
Before she received a bike through Lotus Pedals, Sross either had to get a ride with friends, or walk 4 km to school by herself. Her eyes well up with tears talking about the difficulty of getting to school. Walking long distances is not just inconvenient; it can be dangerous because of violent crime or very difficult and muddy in the rainy season.
To overcome the difficulty of a long commute, even in rainy weather and muddy roads, Lotus Pedals provides its young scholars with heavy-terrain bicycles. The bikes come equipped with a basket for carrying supplies, all-terrain wheels, and a back wheel cover to shield the rider from mud and rain thrown by the wheels.
“Now that I have the bike, I can go to class and even attend additional sessions on some days. I never miss school!”
Less than 24 percent of Cambodians finish secondary school, and the percentage of girls who graduate college is in the single-digits. Nonetheless, Sross is determined to be the first in her family to complete college and become a lawyer. She says she wants to serve the falsely accused and the poor who cannot afford representation.
So many girls are determined to do great things if we just give them the opportunity that an education affords! Just US$80.00 provides a girl with a fully equipped bike, a repair kit and a pump. This small expense is affordable for so many but out of reach for these young women seeking to improve themselves and their community.
With tears in her eyes, Sross tells us, “I am very thankful to the donors for providing me with this bike.”
Thank you so much for supporting Lotus Outreach and making the dreams of girls like Sross possible!
The profile of 20 year-old Mealea is typical of the hundreds of girls we support through Lotus Pedals in Cambodia, and her inspiring story underscores the extent to which a bicycle can alter the course of a girl’s life.
Survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, Mealea’s illiterate parents were forced by poverty and high-interest debt to migrate illegally to Thailand in search of work, leaving Mealea and her five siblings—all under the age of 13—alone to fend for themselves. Though Mealea struggled to help feed and care for her siblings, she always placed a high value on her education. “When I was in the fourth grade, I started to work making rice wine and feeding pigs,” she shares. “I often got to school late because of those chores and the long distance from home to school. However, my school performance was not bad; I was always among the top 10 in my class.” Recognizing both her aptitude and her precarious situation, Lotus Outreach began providing Mealea with a scholarship—including a Lotus Pedals bike—in junior high school to prevent her from dropping out. This scholarship not only covered Mealea’s school fees, supplies, healthcare, books, uniforms, bicycle, and lunch money, but provided her with a large bag of rice each month to ensure her young siblings wouldn’t go hungry if Mealea continued going to school instead of work. We shared Mealea’s pride when she passed her rigorous exams to graduate high school in 2010, and was admitted on a full tuition scholarship to the Vanda Institute of Accounting in the capital. Mealea continues to receive support from Lotus Outreach for her living expenses, food, travel, and school supplies through our GATEways university program, and looks forward to graduating next year. In the meantime, she continues to excel in her studies and has expressed a deep and passionate commitment to helping other children in Cambodia. In addition to studying full-time, working part-time to help pay down her parents’ debt, and learning English on the weekends, Mealea volunteers at her school as well as with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. “I feel very deep gratitude to the donors for supporting me,” shares Mealea. “When I was sick, you cared for me. When my bicycle broke and I couldn’t get to school, you helped me fix it. You educated me and offered me every opportunity you could. You have been like my parents, and I will not be satisfied until I have been able to repay your generosity by helping others!”
We thank you for clearing the path for hundreds of girls like Mealea to pursue education and contribute to the development of their families, their villages, and their country. To learn more about Lotus Pedals and pledge additional support, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/lotuspedals.
Despite inclement weather, spirits were high on June 4th when Lotus Pedals distributed 40 new bicycles to young girls at a giveaway ceremony in the Kampot province of Cambodia. The giveaway was sponsored by the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group in Washington DC, which raised funds among its staff in observance of International Women’s Day on March 8.
“This has been a much appreciated initiative by both school girls and their parents,” shared World Bank field representative Alassane, who attended the ceremony on behalf of IEG. “These students walk some 2-8 km to get to school. Some say they will no longer be late coming to school, others say they could now afford the time to take additional private tutoring.”
Lotus Pedals was also recently awarded a grant of $25,000 from Impact Giving, a women’s giving circle based in Orange County, California. This grant, combined with the generous financial support of our donors on GlobalGiving, will mean at least 600 more girls will receive bicycles this year.
On behalf of all of us at Lotus Outreach, thank you for giving these girls the opportunity to get to school safely!
Starting at 9:00 am EDT on June 12, donations made to Lotus Outreach projects will be matched 50% by GlobalGiving. We are using this rare opportunity to help us complete our sponsorship campaign for poor university girls in Cambodia at http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/gateways/.
The GATE Women and Youth Scholarship (GATEways) project will allow Lotus Outreach to send 100 impoverished Cambodian girls to university, enabling them to rank among the 2% of women in their country to possess tertiary education. By supporting women's higher education, GATEways is working to rebuild the intellectual class in Cambodia which was tragically purged during the Khmer Rouge genocide.
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We travelled three hours south from Phnom Penh to Svey Rieng near the Vietnam border for a recent Lotus Pedals bicycle giveaway. Svey Rieng is one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia, primarily due to poor soil quality and insufficient rainfall which greatly inhibit agricultural output. Only half of Svay Rieng’s children will receive primary school education, with poverty driving the other half to work to contribute to the family purse. There are many reports of parents selling or “leasing” their children to begging syndicates working across the border in Vietnam, and girl children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.When we arrived at the community hall, we were amicably greeted by the Assistant District Governor (ADC) of Chantrea and the families of the 25 young girls about to receive their first bicycles. While addressing the families, the ADC remarked there are no other organizations working on education in the three communes of his district despite the tremendous need. Even though these poor families had travelled a long way in the heat of the day, their mood was upbeat during a serious yet humorous meeting.Primary schools are generally available within a few kilometers of people’s homes, but lower secondary schools average 5-10 kilometers or more in this district. Without a bicycle, a girl is given little choice but to drop out when she finishes her primary education. Lotus Pedals is designed to ensure these vulnerable girls will not be forced to drop out due to something as tragically simple as a not having a ride to school.It was truly delightful to see the joy and hope in the eyes of these children as they answered questions about their studies, plans, and dreams. A bicycle seems such a small thing to us but to these families its often the difference between whether or not their daughter will have a future. We are deeply grateful to GlobalGiving donors for supporting Lotus Pedals and the 1,000 girls we will have distributed bicycles to by the end of 2013.To watch a video of the giveaway in Svay Rieng, please click here.
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