Empowering tribal students: The Bicycle Project leads the way

How many of us have old bicycles rusting in our backyard just because we have grown old to ride the bike or have childhood memories that hold us back from giving it away?

Written by Aaditi Jathar | Pune | Published: March 11, 2009 2:14 am

How many of us have old bicycles rusting in our backyard just because we have grown old to ride the bike or have childhood memories that hold us back from giving it away? ‘The Bicycle Project’ initiated by three professionals from Mumbai give owners of such bikes a satisfying and concrete option –of donating them to tribal school children,who otherwise have to walk kilometres to reach school.

Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra along with their friend Simona Terron began this project by distributing 68 repaired bicycles to students of Sri Binoi Gharde Vidhalaya in Alonde,Vikramgarh Taluka,Mumbai on January 26 this year. The couple chose this village,as it is near to ‘Hide out’ an organic farm started by them.

Hemant,who manufactures and supplies purses and handbags made of eco-friendly material to Fab India and Bombay Store,bumped upon this idea when he saw a villager waiting at a bus stop in scorching heat during one of his village visits. “It is a very basic idea that many of us might have thought of but never cared to act on it,” he said.

Hemant along with his wife Sangeeta then spread a word among their friends to hand over their old bicycles to the couple to be distributed in Vikramgarh. Simona too joined them in this exercise. “We received an amazing response. I remember a mother who handed over her teenage son’s bicycle to us with tearful eyes. The boy had expired in an accident,” Hemant said. In another incident,a child decorated his bicycle with a ribbon and scribbled ‘Happy Biking’ on it for the recipient.

The tribal students were visibly elated with their new bikes. However,Hemant,Sangeeta and Simona made it sure that only the needy ones got the bicycles. “We asked the school to forward us a list of such students in the basis of the distance they travel,their school performance and attendance –in that order. Although the school gave us a list of 137 students,we could get only 68 bikes by the day of distribution,” Hemant said. Today,however,Hemant’s mailbox is flooded with volunteers and he has even established collection centres in Mumbai and Delhi. The Rotary Club of Pune Deccan has shown interest in the project Pune is expected to get a collection centre by the end of this month.

Once the 137 needy students from this school have received a bicycle each,we will move on to the next village and so on. Those interested can also provide sponsorship for repairs of the bikes. On an average each bike costs Rs 400 to fix up,transporting the bikes from the donors’ homes to the repair shop and then to the village or sharing a space where all the bikes donated in your area can be collected,before they are picked up in a single trip,which will save a lot of time,money and energy.

However,as Hemant says,this is only the first step. “ We e ventually the plan is to introduce and expose these children to two things that will help them enter the mainstream English and computers.”

Hemant and Sangeeta has offered free food and accommodation at their Hide Out getaway to anyone wishing to spend a month or so,to visit the school in Alonde and spent time with the children. “No expertise in grammar or teaching is needed,these kids just need to hear English the way it is spoken by people who use it in their day-to-day lives,” says Hemant.

Old computers that are too outdated to upgrade and which will fetch not more than a couple of hundred rupees in the scrap market are also welcome,for the kids to get accustomed to using a computer.

“Those who donate their old computers will receive a discount if they choose to visit The Hideout for a stay,” he added.

Until the Pune collection centres are finalised,those interested can mail on thebicycleproject@gmail.com or visit http://www.thebicycleproject. blogspot.com for details.

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