Nineteen-year-old Stella is full of life. She has great ambition. She is currently being molded at Our Lady of Peace Secondary School in Western Kenya. But three years ago, Stella faced a barrage of challenges.
“When I was approaching my Kenya Certificate of Primary education (school testing),” Stella shares, “I gave birth to my daughter. I stayed at home to breastfeed. My father was a drunkard, a polygamist. He considered my step-mother more than my mother.” Stella’s education was halted and her hopes dimmed. But Stella, guided by determination, re-wrote her exams, passed, and continued to high school.
Now a single mother, Stella cares for her 2-year-old daughter while finishing Form Two. With a bit more maturity than her classmates, Stella takes on extra responsibilities, like serving as Secretary of Sports at school. Meanwhile, the distance she covers to reach school is the longest of any of her peers – 12 kilometers each way!
Stella used to begin her day at 3 a.m. She woke up, nurtured her daughter and completed her expected chores – fetching water, tidying up and cleaning dishes. She then would set off for school on foot.
Now that Stella has a Buffalo Bicycle, she starts her morning routine two hours later each day.
For Stella, her bicycle is more than just a means of transport or a time-saving tool. It’s also a form of security. The daily route Stella travels to school is unsafe for girls her age – especially in the early morning hours and in the evening, after dusk. Traveling in the dark used to frighten Stella. “The path I walked to school passes a stand of motorbike riders. They want favors, my contact number, or to learn where I come from. I don’t talk to them.” When walking, Stella had to be vigilant – on guard. She had to reject these overtures, which were sometimes laced with gifts, such as a ride to school in exchange for sexual favors.
According to the Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey, such acts have been blamed for the rise of HIV infection as well as unintended pregnancies among young people. At present, in Kenya, 46% of new HIV infections are reported among people 15-24 years old, with girls and young women recording the majority of cases.
“With the bicycle, I feel safe. I cycle past the motorbike operator’s sheds, and I’m not worried about them stopping me,” Stella says.
Stella’s mother is filled with gratitude for Stella’s bicycle as well, “My daughter can now confidently cycle past the sugar cane cutters who have always had the tendency of sexually harassing young girls and women who they come across.”
The bicycle has given Stella new status and positive energy. She rides past the motorbike sheds, seeing, “All eyes are on me,” though now in a different way. Boosted with confidence, transcending a dented self-esteem, the bicycle has brought life back to young Stella.
Distance never kept me from school, it was the lack of school fees. Going to school has become fun for me. I never want to miss one day,
With enhanced efficiency in performing her chores, Stella’s bicycle is also sparking innovation. She plans to start transporting extra goods from her garden and fetching water for neighbors. The money she hopes to earn will help with her school fees. “Distance never kept me from school, it was the lack of school fees. Going to school has become fun for me. I never want to miss one day,” says Stella.
Stella’s aunt is her role model. “She encourages me to work hard, because of everything I want,” she says, “including money for my brother’s school fees.” Stella aspires to become a Commercial Attaché (Embassy Ambassador). “I would like to deal with business and trade matters outside of my country to promote Kenya as a diplomat.” Stella’s position as a student representative in her school’s Bicycle Supervisory Committee should look good on her resume for this position.
Stella’s story embodies the struggles, sacrifices, and odds that teenage mothers in rural Africa overcome to continue their education. Every day when Stella bids her daughter goodbye, hops on her bike, and rides to school, she says it is the thought of her daughter that inspires her. She strengthens her resolve to study and work hard, to actualize her dreams for their future.