Loveness Chikanuka was one of the first students to receive a Buffalo Bicycle from World Bicycle Relief in 2009. Five years later, WBR’s Creative Director Matt Pierce met with Loveness at her family’s farm in Chongwe Village, Zambia, to see where her bicycle has taken her.
The first thing I notice about Loveness is her smile. When we meet, she extends her hand and welcomes us. She motions for us to sit with her on wooden stools borrowed from the nearby hut.
“Thank you for coming to visit,” she says.
We’ve traveled to meet with Loveness at her family’s farm in Chongwe Village, located outside of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Her mother, brothers and sisters join us.
Loveness, now 22, was among the first students to receive a bicycle in 2009 as part of World Bicycle Relief’s Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program (BEEP). We’re eager to hear where Loveness’s bicycle has taken her these past five years.
Loveness is a confident young woman, full of questions. “What do you think of our country?” “What is America like?” “I hear it gets very cold there.”
She remembers World Bicycle Relief founders F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day, who were there in 2009 when Loveness received her bicycle. “How are Leah and her husband?” she asks. I tell her they’re doing well. “That’s good,” she says. “Leah was so kind and her husband, F.K. That man knows a lot about bicycles!” I agree and tell her I will say hello to them for her.
We sit in silence for a moment.
A man and several small children pull a large cart, heavy with a heap of newly found bush meat. Flies dart around the cart. Even from a distance, the pungent smell invades the serenity of our surroundings.
After an hour at her home, we head out to visit Loveness’ old school.
When we first met Loveness, she was walking nearly 9 km to and from Chilyabale Primary School. It would take her two hours each way. She often missed class due to the distance. Her new bicycle cut the commute time in half, but it also provided more than just transportation.
Loveness’ attendance improved dramatically, she received good marks and was able to successfully complete school. Now, at Loveness’ old school, we enter an empty classroom where she had studied history. She points to the far corner in the back of the room. I asked if this was where she sat during class. “I was a back-bencher,” she says, laughing. “But I made good marks.”
AFTER I RECEIVED THE BICYCLE, IT WAS EASIER TO CONCENTRATE.
To our amazement, the original BEEP contract, photos, and letters of thanks are all still in the school headmaster’s office. When Loveness went on to secondary school, her bicycle was given to her younger sister, Doris. Bicycles are often passed down to younger siblings, and it is Doris’ name that is now listed on the contract. The headmaster tells us he is grateful for the effect the bicycle program has on his students, particularly the girls.
Of the BEEP bicycles distributed, 70% are provided to girl students. World Bicycle Relief’s work supports the belief that when you invest in girls, the return is exponential. Educated women invest more money in their families and communities. Teenage pregnancies, family size and the number of people infected with diseases decrease in communities where girls’ education is prioritized.
Before we leave, we stop to take photos of Loveness in the schoolyard. Faces appear in the classroom windows, watching and giggling. I imagine the teachers saying to their students, “If you work hard and stay in school, one day you could be photographed by a goofy Mzungu too.”
Back at her home, Loveness’ mother talks about the bicycle’s impact on the family. “Sometimes on weekends, we use the bicycle to make money. We go to the market to buy tomatoes and sell them here in the village. The bicycle is very helpful for me. I’m very grateful for it.”
Loveness completed twelfth grade in 2012. She now lives with her uncle in Lusaka. She has two part-time jobs: serving in a restaurant near Kabalanga and selling clothes in a local shop. She moved to the city because there were more jobs and opportunities. “I really like the city,” she says. When she’s not working, Loveness spends time with her friends playing volleyball and eating good food. “One of the best things about working in a restaurant is that we get to eat the food!”
Loveness is saving money to attend Mumbaza School of Nursing. Fees are $300 per term, and she will need to complete nine terms to receive certification.
Why nursing? “I always want to be helping people,” she tells us.
Loveness travels from the city to visit her family in Chongwe Village about once a month and stays for a few days. She takes a taxi bus on the main road, then walks the remaining distance to her family’s farm. She tells us she enjoys coming home to help with the farm work and that she has plans for her family’s business.
After several minutes of jovial conversation over tea, Loveness pauses. She stares out at the tall grass swaying in the afternoon breeze.
“It’s very quiet here,” she says. “But it’s good to come back.”