For these students in rural El Salvador family is everything. Many dream of growing up and finding good jobs to help support their families. And a bicycle could be the difference between a successful engineering career or being stuck in subsistence farming. For families struggling to survive, sending a child to school is often a difficult decision. It's not a question of education but time.
While El Salvador is a relatively small country, you could cross the border in less than four hours, once you leave the city access to basic human needs drops dramatically. Many families living in rural areas of the country lack electricity and potable water. Here the distance to school is often measured in time rather than distance.
Four brothers, Edgardo, Kevin, Elmer, and Cristel, used to walk more than two hours to school every day. This burden was a hardship on them, their education, and their families. For many fathers the choice to educate their sons becomes easier once their grades begin to drop. As students enter harder grades and the school work becomes more challenging boys often start falling behind. Families can no longer justify sending the boys to school when they are desperately needed at home on the farm.
This problem compounds as boys get older and spend more time working in the fields while still going to school. The long walks in the hot sun after already working in the fields in the morning makes them tired and late for school. Sometimes they miss the whole first half of school, arriving as late as lunchtime. Once they fall behind in their work, boys are less likely to find out what they missed and attempt to catch up. After the long walk home, they are again working in the fields instead of concentrating on homework. It's a vicious cycle that's hard to break.
But this year, Edgardo, Kevin, Elmer and Cristel got a break...or rather a set of brakes! After an article came out highlighting the burden of their three mile walk to the Las Brisas Mandinga School Center, neighbors stepped up and donated four bikes. The new rides shortened their commute to school to under 30 minutes. But the story didn't end there.
When another story came out about the bike donation, a video camera caught nine year old Juan Zetino running after his friends on their new bikes. Another call for help went out, this time answered by local bike organization, and BfW partner, CESTA. CESTA is focused on promoting environmental awareness and cycling projects in the community. Additionally they work with many school districts and students and have set up several affiliated bike shops in coastal towns throughout the country.
CESTA was currently working in 19 schools where they have placed bikes for students to borrow during school. When the story came out about the students of Las Brisas Mandinga they decided on a different approach. This time they donated 23 bikes directly to the students with the longest commutes and therefore most at risk for dropping out before graduation. The idea being the bikes would shorten their commutes, ease the burden of attending school, and eventually they'd graduate.
Juan was thrilled when CESTA came to his school to deliver the bikes. Both Juan and his cousin Romero were chosen to receive bikes. Now Juan and his buddy Elmer can travel to school together at the same pace. He said it used to take him over an hour to travel through the sugar cane fields to get to school and now it only takes 20 minutes. He is so proud of his bike, he keeps it in a special place and gets up early to clean it and run errands for his family. He and his cousin often race to school to see who can get there faster.