We began our Bicycles for Education project in 2006, The idea for this project arose while we were brainstorming for ways our US communities in Washington could be involved directly with the shea butter cooperative and community projects. Fair trade is a social movement, and there is a need for people on both sides of the trade - producer communities in poor countries and consumer communities in wealthier ones - to participate in projects funded by the fair trade social premium.
It is clearly evident through personal experience and published United Nations reports that rural children, girls especially, are severely underrepresented in the Togolese secondary school system. According to UNICEF reports, over 90% of girls in rural areas of Togo drop out before finishing 6th grade. While there are many factors leading to this high dropout rate, the time spent walking to and from school is one of them. Many children in rural Togo walk 5-15 miles to school, making it impossible for them to have time to study. This is especially true for girls, who traditionally have more household chores than boys.Bicycles for Education History
In January, 2005, we presented the idea for this project by our cooperative members and shea nut collector groups. The cooperative members and collector communities unanimously agreed with the idea of collecting used bicycles in Washington State and distributing them to students with the most need in central Togo. Immediately, we began posting flyers and notices in local bike shops and natural food stores. By June 2006, we had collected more than 600 bicycles and shipped our first container full of bikes to Togo. Since then, we shipped over 6,300 bicycles.
We have distributed bicycles in 60 villages around Sokodé. These villages are located in cooperative member communities, shea nut collector communities and beyond. We have a very systematic selection procedure that begins with the village chief or school official applying to our project director. If the village meets our initial criteria, that it is located at least 7 km from the nearest secondary school, the students are invited to apply for a bicycle. Students are selected based on family income and gender. Girls are given preference due to their much higher dropout rate.
All costs of this project - shipping costs, repair costs, distribution costs and follow-up costs - are paid for through the sales of Alaffia retail products. Based on our follow-up studies, this project is extremely successful. Not only are students who received bicycles staying in school and passing their exams, there are other unexpected benefits, such as a reduced pregnancy rate in female students.
The Bicycles for Education project is impacting our donor communities as well. Over the past five years, we have seen interest and participation in this project growing in our U.S. communities. We are involved with several youth and school groups, who are expressing pride at being able to use their skills (in repairing bicycles) and resources to help their counterparts in less affluent areas of the world. As we only collect used bicycles, this project also keeps bicycles from ending up in landfills. Any bicycles that are not in good enough condition to ship to Togo are sent to scrap metal recyclers; and small bikes are donated to local food banks and foster care programs in Washington State.