Umoja is a Swahili word meaning Unity. Umoja Secondary School takes this to heart with their motto, “Together We Rise,” a constant reminder of the school’s diversity and the vital role of education in any community.
Thanks to your generous support in 2016, World Bicycle Relief’s Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program (BEEP) began Buffalo Bicycle distributions at Umoja Secondary School in Eldoret, Kenya. With bicycles, students at Umoja are rising – and thriving.
Since 175 bicycles were distributed at the school more than a year ago, performance has increased by 50%. Students – girls in particular – have more control of their time, increased confidence and are recording better grades.
Through BEEP, 70% of bicycles are distributed to girl students. Prioritizing girls’ education makes a significant impact in their individual futures, as well as those of their families and communities.
Umoja educates 805 students – most of whom are in need. Many students live in the semi-slum areas surrounding the school. The Christian-funded school has embraced its name and motto and is welcoming to all students, including those of Muslim and traditional African faiths.
Families and students could attend a school closer to home, but the quality of education would not be as high, nor the diversity as rich as that at Umoja Secondary School.
While all students at Umoja are required to attend Christian education classes, Muslim students are welcome to pray five times a day, says Vice-Principal Catherine Makhokha. The school’s schedule allows Muslim students to eat lunch first so they have time for midday prayers. And when it comes to holidays, the school recognizes both Muslim and Christian celebrations.
At this school, we are a family. All of us. We encourage each other. – Susan
Students welcome these dynamic changes in their lives and see the value in diversity and of learning from people of different faiths and backgrounds. When describing their community, many students refer to each other as brothers and sisters.
“Education is a tool that can be used to change the life of somebody, the life of society, the life of a country,” says Umoja Principal Sosten Kipchumba “The people who go to school get a chance to see the world as one.”
Conquering the Challenge of Distance and Time
Without safe, reliable transportation, walking to school is the only option for many students at Umoja School. The resulting high absentee rates, late arrivals and punishments lead to poor performance in class. Bicycles provide students with a safer, more efficient alternative that gets them to school with the energy to learn.
“I was a frequent latecomer,” says 16-year-old Salwa whose journey to school is 10 kilometers each way. “There were days I wished to drop out of school. I would get caned every day. The punishments were severe and teachers could not pardon us.”
Ayan, 16, who would rise at 4:00 a.m. to go to school says, “Now, I can sleep until 5 or 5:30. Now, I ride and it takes me a quarter of the time to get to school. Now, I have a B+ average.”
Inspired with Confidence to Persevere
Ever since 16-year-old Ibrahim started riding a Buffalo Bicycle 10 kilometers to and from Umoja School, he’s been able to manage his time better.
“A lot of my friends admire me and want to come to our school. My peers want to know how they can learn time management too. I tell them, if they will come to school, they will be benefitting too,” says 16-year-old Ibrahim.
And Susan knows that every minute of education is vital.
“I have to look at every minute I am wasting – it will cost me my life. Now that I have the bicycle, I have a lot of time. When you enter the class, you are so energetic. You just want the teacher to come so that she can refresh you with more and more knowledge.”
Beyond improved attendance and early arrivals, something else shifted for students when bicycles entered their lives. For Salwa, she no longer suffers if she fails a test because she has experienced the courage to try again and again. While riding past men on her way to school initially intimidated her, Salwa says she now believes in herself.
The bicycle teaches you to persevere. If you fall down, you just get back up. – Salwa
Cycling to Overcome Cultural Barriers
For Salwa, convincing her parents to allow her to cycle was initially a challenge.
“My parents are very conservative. I had a lot of resistance against me cycling. They cared more in what people will think of me and what will be negative to them … community acceptance.”
Among her father’s concerns was the lack of modesty while cycling in a skirt. So Salwa agreed to wear pants under her uniform while riding to and from school. And even with the widespread thought that cycling would take a girl’s virginity, Salwa’s mother encouraged her to ride anyway.
Ayan’s family didn’t have objections to her riding, but cultural norms in her community still stood.
“When I cycle as a Muslim girl, people ask me how I can do it. It surprises them. Me cycling has given more Muslim girls courage to cycle in public.”
Kelly, a 14-year-old student at Umoja, says she was initially surprised to see Muslim girls cycling. “It changed my opinion because I now know Muslim girls, they are just like us.”
As a male, Ibrahim faced no roadblocks to receiving a bicycle. And he saw the benefits of Muslim girls riding bicycles too. That’s why Ibrahim took it upon himself to teach his fellow sisters how to cycle.
“I strongly advocate for girls, women’s rights and I believe the stereotypes are enslaving. … I believe riding a bicycle will make them less vulnerable.”
Education is the key to success. – Ayan
With her newly acquired free time and confidence, Ayan is able to enjoy swimming and playing football – despite the cultural barriers.
“I feel good that I am playing part in changing our culture and showing girls anyone can cycle. I don’t care what people say. I am the one benefitting from this bicycle. The most important thing that anyone can do is stand up for him or herself.”
Because, ultimately, Ayan says, “Without education, there is not life. Without education there is nothing. Education is the key to success.”
Despite their cultural and religious differences, students at Umoja School are rising above barriers together, with The Power of Bicycles.
“No one gets left behind. If we fall, we fall together,” Susan says.
You can help more students rise above barriers together and pursue their education. Donate today and give The Power of Bicycles!