Nonprofit's gift of bikes helps Cambodian girls get to school safely

The number of girls making it to school is increasing because of Lotus Pedals, a program that last year gave 500 bicycles to young Cambodian girls.

Adrees Latif/Reuters/File
Children play in their village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The number of girls in Cambodia making it to school is slowly increasing because of Lotus Pedals, a program that gives bicycles to young Cambodian girls.

For young girls in rural parts of Cambodia, the road to school is often not only long but also perilous.

Because girls risk rape or abduction by sex traffickers, many parents prefer to keep their daughters at home rather than exposing them to danger on the daily journey to school. Attendance figures bear out the result: Only 11 percent of girls in Cambodia reach secondary school.

But the number of girls making it to school is slowly increasing because of Lotus Pedals, a program to give bicycles to young Cambodian girls.

It’s hard to attack a girl on a bike, says Erika ­Keaveney, executive director of Lotus Outreach International, the San Francisco charity that runs the program.

“Lotus Pedals is a simple intervention but a terrifically effective one,” she says, adding, “And donors like it because a one-time gift can make such an enormous, direct difference in one girl’s life.”

The charity spends $80 to provide each bike, counting the costs for transport and delivery, a repair kit, and a pump, along with project management and follow-up.

Lotus Pedals distributed 500 bikes in Cambodia last year, and Ms. Keaveney says the goal is 2,000 in 2013. Lotus Outreach International was founded in India in 1993 by Khyentse Norbu, a Buddhist teacher who sought to serve the world’s most dispossessed people through education.

A decade later, the charity opened a U.S. office that serves as headquarters, coordinating affiliate operations in seven countries. The charity now serves 30,000 women and children, mainly in India and Cambodia, with a 2013 operating budget of $925,000.

Contributions from individuals account for two-thirds of the budget, with most of the rest coming from foundations. This year the charity hopes to increase donations through marketing deals with bicycle manufacturers and retailers.

“We have seen how one bicycle is so much more than two wheels,” says Ms. Keaveney. “It is amazing how many Cambodians can fit onto a bike. Our girls often give their siblings or neighbors a ride to school on the handlebars and anywhere else they can hold on, so one bike actually enables multiple kids to get to school.”

This story originally appeared at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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