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Wheels of change

A group of St Xavier’s students distributes bicycles to schoolchildren in rural areas

Written by Alison Saldanha | Published: October 6, 2013 1:59:39 am

Gleaming new and unused bicycles,lying idle in the city,have found a new purpose through the Campus Bicycle Project,an initiative by a small group of students from St Xavier’s college.

Giving a fillip to rural education,the project collects and delivers these cycles to children in far-flung parts of Maharashtra. These children would otherwise have to walk for miles to school every day.

“We began the project last year in September after volunteering at a day-long event in college. We wanted this to be a sustained effort and took inspiration from international programmes such as the World Bicycle Relief in Uganda,” said Vaishali Janarthanan (20),the project’s operations manager,who is in her final year of graduation. “To see this effort bear fruit is a different feeling. We realised how much we take for granted in the city. Kids out there have to walk for two to three hours just to get to school. This gives a whole new significance to something as simple as a cycle because just owning one could make such a great difference to them,” she said.

The project has six core members and five volunteers. The group raised awareness and funds for the initiative by putting up posters,setting up stalls at college festivals,holding a benefit at Orlem Church,Malad,and Christmas carolling at Bandstand,Bandra.

“Our first objective was to raise as much money as possible to buy second-hand cycles as we realised that refurbishing and repairing the old ones did not serve the purpose. They were not financially feasible as it cost more to repair these.”

Since its establishment in September 2012,101 cycles have been distributed to students in rural schools. Of these,51 were new,15 second-hand and the rest,repaired old cycles.

“To identify the villages for distributing cycles,we got a lot of help from NGOs and charitable trusts that we interacted with during fundraisers. Two months

after the project began,we spoke to the principals of these schools and got a list of students. We found out who the neediest kids of the lot were,” Janarthanan said,adding that the children were also chosen on their academic performance.

For now,the project supplies cycles to four schools in rural Maharashtra — Alonde school in Vikramgadh,Bolhara High School in Makhada near Nashik,SGPVK school near Ganeshpuri,and K G Somaiya High School in Nareshwadi. The latest distribution ceremony was held on September 21. During the Diwali break,the team will revisit the villages to gauge the project’s success. “We needed to make sure the children understood the commitment they were making. We made them sign an agreement saying they will not misuse or resell the cycles. By making the schools the owners of the cycle,we have made them accountable,too.”

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