Every day, Mariangel’s father would walk her to school in the morning and back home in the afternoon.
“The 4 km she has to travel would be too dangerous for a girl to walk on her own,” says Jorge Romero of his 13-year-old daughter.
In Galapa, a small town on the outskirts of Barranquilla, Colombia, the trek to Alpes de Sevilla Galapa School can be long and dangerous for students on foot. And the price of transportation via motorbike remains far too high for most families.
The Romero family returned to Colombia from Venezuela two years ago because of the dire economic situation there. Money had been tight even prior to COVID-19. Like many families in Galapa, they are refugees who spent much of their savings crossing the border. Her father, a day laborer, prioritized walking his daughter to school and sacrificed getting in the labor queue early in the day, missing opportunities to work. Bertha, Mariangel’s mother, had worked in a nearby restaurant to support her family. She lost her job recently because of the pandemic.
Mariangel lives with 8 members of her family in a two-bedroom home. Most of the family sleeps in one bedroom, while the other is used for storage of their few prized possessions – including the Buffalo Bicycle Mariangel recently received from World Bicycle Relief.
“All of our hope rests on Mariangel,” says her grandmother. “She is a smart girl and we want her to complete her education. This is our highest priority – the only way she will be able to thrive and also support her family. This bicycle is a godsend.”
Mariangel has big dreams for herself and her family too. “We look forward to enjoying a different way of life now that we are back,” she says. “My dream is to go to the United States, study with a music concentration, plus dance and guitar. Since I was little, I was a singer. I still sing during church and hope to sing in public one day.”
Despite the high hopes that families have for their daughters’ futures in many communities in Colombia, barriers still stand in the way of girls’ education.
“The problem is they arrive at school late and with no homework done because they are tired. It’s not motivating,” says Mariela Madrid, the head teacher at Alpes de Sevilla Galapa School.
Along with long treks to school, many girls wake early to complete chores and take care of younger siblings.
But with a bicycle, they can save hours of time, arrive at school safely and with more energy to learn. For Mariangel and her family, the impact will go beyond her education.
“Now, with the bicycle she will be able to cycle on her own and I will be able to use the morning hours to find a job and work,” says Mariangel’s father Jorge. “We believe in her. She will make it.”
All of our hope rests on Mariangel. She is a smart girl and we want her to complete her education. This bicycle is a godsend.
COVID-19 has significantly affected Mariangel’s community. Like many schools across the globe, Mariangel’s is navigating how to resume classes and educate students safely. Despite their many hardships, Mariangel’s family has been using their bicycle to get essential groceries and supplies, as well as safely pick up assignments from school.
This pandemic continues to bring to light the many challenges that families like the Romeros face. It also highlights how bicycles are essential to keeping families afloat.