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Attacking Poverty in Cambodia and India With Education And Bicycles

  • Les Carpenter

At a time when many school systems begin classes around the world, many poor children in some parts of the world may be staying home for any number of reasons. One, it seems, is a lack of transportation to get the children to a school that may not be near their homes. That's where a project called "Lotus Pedals" steps in in Cambodia. It is a program administered by Lotus Outreach International that, among other things, provides sturdy bicycles to a group of poor children so they can travel to their school.

Public secondary schools are few and some are a considerable distance from the students in Cambodia and India and Lotus Outreach says that is usually the greatest hurdle for children to continue their education. Spokesman for the program, Glenn Fawcett, Executive Director of Field Operations says there are usually more primary schools than secondary schools in some of these poor regions. So, he says, "when a student finishes sixth grade, they may find themselves faced with a trip of 2, 6, 8, 10, 30, 40 kilometers away from the nearest secondary school."

Mr. Fawcett adds that most parents don't have the resources to send their children those distances to school. The San Diego, California based Lotus Outreach International has scholarship programs "in a number of provinces right across Cambodia with 761 girls already in these programs." Those girls get bicycles to help them get to and stay in school, among other benefits of the scholarship programs. Mr. Fawcett says his organization concentrates on girls because girls are "far and away getting less educational opportunities than boys" in these regions.

Fawcett says the situation in India is very similar to that in Cambodia, but has additional problems, including a dropout rate of about 50 percent. He says the key to poverty reduction is just getting a basic education. That's why, he says, that in the most rural areas of India Lotus Outreach is working on "mobilizing communities and pushing the education authorities to provide the basic amenities for schools, such as toilets."

Secondary schools in India are, as in Cambodia, sometimes a long way from communities forcing families to keep their children at home. "In India," he says, "it's worse than in Cambodia because of the very traditional families will not send their girls out of their sight." In a Muslim district in India, Lotus Outreach has begun "the Blossom Bus", in which a parent chaperone rides the bus to deliver village girls to school each day, one way around the reluctance of parents to allow their girls to attend schools.

Why concentrate on educating girls? Mr. Fawcett says there are several studies that show that girls who continue their education will not only have an enhanced salary capacity, but are more likely to invest that income back into their own community. So, educating girls is a greater community resource and becomes a very powerful and strong thing. That, says Glenn Fawcett, is what educators call the "girl effect".