In 2013, Dutch financial institution ING launched its Orange Bike Project. In collaboration with World Bicycle Relief and World Vision Philippines, ING has brought bicycles to 5,000 children living in remote areas in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.
The program’s impact is carefully monitored, and the results have been amazing. ING recently shared updates on two of the bicycle recipients from its first two distributions.
From 7 km to the finish line
Efren Gonzales almost lost the ability to walk as a child, afflicted by a rare form of bone tuberculosis. A decade or so later, however, the teen from Cabangan town in Zambales, the Philippines, is training to compete as a national athlete.
To get to where he is, Efren had a long journey. In grade 5, World Vision referred the family to a bone specialist, and a long process of medication and therapy eventually gave way to reprieve as Efren slowly regained strength in his legs.
“I became a very active child, and I persisted,” Efren says.
On his last year at junior high at Cabangan National High School in Zambales, Efren gained a different sense of mobility. In 2013, he became one of the 509 students from Zambales to become beneficiaries of the ING Orange Bike Project.
For Efren, the 7 kilometers between his house and school was a route he dreaded on a daily basis. “It takes me an hour if I walk,” he says. “I could also take the tricycle, but it costs 10 pesos per trip, and there are days, up to twice or thrice a week, when I simply couldn’t go to school because I had no fare money.”
The bicycle propelled him toward his dream: to finish high school and go to college, Efren says. The ING Orange Bike also enabled him to improve his performance in class. He even finished junior high with academic distinction.
Efren’s high school trainer, impressed by his athletic ability, referred him to a coach at Arellano University in Manila, which competes in the prestigious National Collegiate Athletics Association.
“It sounds too good to be true, to be honest,” he says. “Imagine, free tuition and other benefits, which means I could go to college without burdening my parents.”
Whenever he takes stock of his life story, Efren says it was no longer the disease and the pain that he remembers. As a long-distance runner, he had always believed that life is not a sprint but a marathon, in which endurance is key.
And while he knew it was his dogged persistence that moved him closer to the finish line, Efren says it was the support he enjoyed from his family, as well as from institutions like ING Bank and World Vision, that propelled him toward fulfilling his dream.
Pedaling toward her dream
For Lovelyn, there are days when the thought of giving up has crossed her mind.
After her father passed away in 2010, and her mother fell ill, the family became mired in debt.
“It gets really difficult,” says the 19-year old, who grew up in a small farming town in central Isabela in the Philippines. Every time the future seemed bleak, however, Lovelyn always relives the memory of a sunny October day four years ago when she received the gift of hope from ING. It gave her the extra push to help overcome a grueling path toward her dream: finishing school, her ticket out of poverty.
Then 16 and in her last year at San Isidro National High School, Lovelyn says the bike transformed the way she looked at life. It brought much-needed change to her taxing morning routine, which started with waking at dawn to catch a packed tricycle to school.
“When I received the bike, I remember becoming excited to go to school,” she says. “I was no longer rushing. I had control over my time. The trip used to be rough, then it became enjoyable. I was no longer haggard reporting in my morning class.”
The Isabela project was monitored for three years, and by the end of the period, the student beneficiaries were able to improve their class attendance by 50%. Of this group, 47% had improved academic grades.
By the time she handed over the bike to its next owner at her high school graduation, Lovelyn said she had already taken full advantage of the gift.
Lovelyn’s journey took her beyond her small farming town, and closer to her dream of finishing school. She’s now in her third year as a business administration major at Isabela State University (ISU) in nearby Echague.
Lovelyn knows that all the hard work—going to school in the morning, working in the afternoon, studying at night—will serve her well some day.
And on long days when these dreams seem to be slipping from her grasp, Lovelyn says she just thinks of the Orange Bike and what it represented to her: that there were people who believed in her and invested in her future. This hardens her youthful resolve, she says, and pushes her to pedal forward.
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