I've just returned from a life-changing three-week trip through Vietnam and Cambodia. I was humbled and inspired by the “Tiger” Women I met during my travels, and have so many insights to share from my conversations with them. Here’s the first in a series of posts on the surprising and fascinating things I learned while traveling through rural countryside.
Bicycles: More Than Just Transportation
Bike culture here in the U.S. is getting stronger every year. As more people start using their bikes to commute to school and work, more cities create bike lanes and bicycle-friendly cultures to support this eco-conscious movement.
But in Vietnam and Cambodia, bikes aren't just a way to get around. They represent a means of traveling safely, access to education, personal freedom.
Young Cambodian girls often have to travel long distances on foot to get to the schools closest to their homes. Since they are at high risk for rape or abduction by sex traffickers, many families choose to keep their daughters at home rather than put them at risk by sending them to school. Because of these well-founded fears, only 11% of Cambodian girls attend and graduate from secondary school.
But give those girls bikes for their daily school commutes, and they are much faster and substantially harder for potential abductors to catch. And when they can commute safely, they can attend school and learn and grow. Organizations like Lotus Pedals donate bikes and repair kits to girls in rural Cambodia, enabling them to get to and from school safely. World Bicycle Relief, another organization that provides bikes to children in developing countries, reports that access to functioning bicycles can help boost school attendance, grades, and graduation rates for both girls and boys. I was overwhelmed to see the huge difference that bikes were making in the lives of the beautiful Cambodian children I met while traveling.
And it's not just the young girls who benefit from bikes! Cambodian women are two-wheeling their way to better living conditions, too.
Vietnam and Cambodia have enormous stretches of sparsely populated rural land, which means that farming families may have a difficult time getting supplies or selling their crops. Although large amounts of cargo cannot be moved on bikes, women are able to transport small deliveries, carry messages, and travel to local markets by cycling. Many families cannot afford cars or trucks, and those who can must conserve precious gasoline, so this alternative mode of transportation is incredibly helpful.
Both women and men have also been seen to use their bikes as mobile market stalls. Bikes 4 Life has donated hundreds of bikes to children and adults in Cambodia, and the organization's founder, Ebony Butler, reported seeing riders with stalls full of goods constructed on the backs of their bikes! What a creative way to make the most of your mode of transportation!
A Simple Machine Makes a Huge Impact
I spent the majority of my visit biking through the countryside myself, so I got to see firsthand how much bikes meant to the girls and women of Cambodia. A beat-up secondhand mountain bike might not look like much to an American consumer, but to a Cambodian third-grader hoping to get to school safely or a struggling Vietnamese woman trying to sell her wares at market, it can be a tremendous blessing.
Interested in helping Cambodian and Vietnamese women who need access to bicycles? Here are some amazing organizations that can help you change the lives of Tiger Women with your donations!
• Worldvision – Donate a Bike
• Lotus Pedals
• 88 Bikes
• World Bicycle Relief
• Bikes 4 Life (Australia)