Dreaming on two wheels
When I was little, my friends and I used to explore every corner of our hometown on our bikes. Back then, bicycles were more of a toy than a means of transportation. I still diligently spin the two wheels along the riverside these days as part of my regular exercise.
I read a newspaper article published on Jan. 14, 2013, about Sri Lankan children who commute to school barefoot because they don't have bicycles. After I read the article, I realized that there are many children out there whose life could be better with a bicycle. So I would like to join to help them and let foreigners in Korea know about them. Here are the stories of three girls who go to school in harsh conditions without a bicycle.
Binozyt is a ninth grader at Lamanantapurang School in Kilinochchi, Northern Sri Lanka. Her daily routine begins at 4 a.m. to do work she could not do the night before as power goes out every night.
She begins her homework as soon as the sun appears over the horizon. She sets off on her journey to school at 6 a.m. and arrives at 8 a.m. The journey is about 8 kilometers long, a four-hour walk a round trip every day. She suffered from jaundice during her stay at a refugee camp during the Sri Lankan civil war.
She says, “I easily get dizzy walking under the direct sunlight, so I have to take a break often.”
There are only four women in Binozyt’s family. Her father died from a heart attack when her brother was drafted into military service and killed in a bombing attack during the civil war.
Binozyt’s mother was injured in the pelvis and has difficulty walking. There is one reason Binozyt wakes up so early to study instead of doing house chores to help her family. She says, “When I was ill at the refugee camp, the doctors gave up on me, saying there is no cure. Bedridden, I resolved to become a doctor and help people.” Her mother also hopes that Binozyt will someday fulfill her dream, which once had been her brother’s.
Eleven-year-old Bu Laksala, who lives in a nearby town called Selbana, leaves for school at 7 a.m. She walks about 3.5 kilometers, over a two-hour walk round trip.
Bu Laksala wears slippers and her twin brothers are barefoot. Halfway through their journey, they must walk on a half-paved asphalt road. The gravel scratches their feeble feet and injures them.
The older one of the twins cannot walk well due to a developmental disorder. They eat their first meal in school at 10 a.m., provided by the World Food Program. The school’s principal, Kisiswan, says, “Over 70 percent of our students walk to school. There are buses, but they operate only once or twice a day and they don’t run at all during the monsoon season.”
Despite the troublesome trip to school, Binozyt and Bu Laksala have never missed a day of school because they cannot give up their dreams.
Bu Laksala lives in dugout house, made of woven leaves and mud. Bu Laksala’s mother suffers from low blood pressure and her father, a lung and heart disease. Bu Laksala’s sister, who suffers from a pain in the shoulder where a bullet penetrated during the civil war, does whatever she can to get her hands on things to make ends meet, but work isn’t always available.
Bu Laksala’s mother, Anita Byakumave says, “We would be much better off if she did house chores for a wealthy family, but we would be happy only for a short time that way. In the long run, however, it is better for Bu Laksala to study hard in order to break this vicious cycle of poverty.”
Moon Sang-Mi, who is a social worker from the Korea Children’s Foundation, says, “Parents in Kilinochchi have a passion for children’s education, so that 97 percent of children in elementary school graduate successfully despite the harsh conditions.”
However, the rate of students graduating from middle school is as low as 50 percent. They fail because middle schools are located farther away from home. In general, a bicycle is the most effective and convenient form of transportation in this area, since most of the local roads are not paved and closed frequently even by a small amount of rainfall.
However, the price of a bicycle is about 12,000 rupees which is equivalent to the monthly salary of a public school teacher. In Kilinochchi, it is common for students to take after-school classes provided by their teacher. Binozyt wants to be a medical doctor and should take the classes. On her way back, she has to walk several kilometers in the dark. Binozyt says with her eyes twinkling, “With a bicycle, I could be a medical doctor.”
Bu Laksala has a dream to be an elementary school teacher and thus should go to middle school. With a bicycle, she would not be late for school, after taking her brothers there.
Her father, who pants for breath, can ride the bicycle to sell mangoes in the market place, and her elder sister can also use it for work. A journalist asked Bu Laksala what is the most needed for her. After some hesitation, she said, “I need a bicycle. Not just for me, please help others as well.”
Even though I read this article in January, I am ashamed that I did not find actual ways to help them. Several weeks ago, I also read an article about 10-year-old Abinaya living in Sri Lanka.
Film director Back Jong-Ryul donated his talent to the TV commercial “Two-Wheel Dream Road” for children needing a bicycle desperately. The article about his meeting with Abinaya, tells me that she needs a bicycle to go to school, in comparison to that of mine for fun or for a workout.
Most infrastructure in the northern area of Sri Lanka was destroyed during the 26-year-long civil war. Abinaya has to walk for four hours to and from the school with her sister on her back. She says, “It is the happiest time for me to attend classes, because it is the only way to communicate with the outside world in a remote village with no TV or Internet connection.”
Bicycles are the only means to take her to school and to make it possible to carry drinking water. Furthermore, it gives children a motive to get out of their impoverished situation and have a new dream.
The Dong-A Ilbo and the Green Umbrella Children’s Foundation plan to provide bicycles for the children in Sri Lanka as well as in the African nations of Uganda and Senegal through a joint campaign; “Two-Wheel Dream Road.”
Since last November, 309 people have participated in the campaign to raise more than 100 million won for charity which is enough to buy 889 bicycles. For about two months, “Kajania,” a theme park to give children’s job experience established by Lotte Department Store, donated 12 million won to the Children’s Foundation after exchanging children's donation in virtual “Kizo” money for cash.
At the end of February, KBS announcer Kim Kyeung-ran who has been appointed as a goodwill ambassador of the Children’s Foundation delivered 500 bicycles to Sri Lanka and 300 bicycles to Cambodia. This campaign will continue to provide bicycles for children around the world.
The campaign plans to ship 500 more bicycles to Sri Lanka and to send another 200 bicycles to Uganda and Senegal. There are also new plans to ship bicycles to Cambodia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
People can join the Two-Wheel Dream Road, by donating 120,000 won at once, a monthly payment of 10,000 won for a year, or a monthly payment of 30,000 won for both a bicycle and living expenses. We can happily take part in the Two-Wheel Dream Road, knowing that a child’s life becomes much better with only a small donation.
To sponsor a child call 1588-1940 or visit www.dreambike.or.kr.
Lee is a sophomore at Seoul National University, majoring in biology and chemistry.