Final exams start in an hour. But before they head to school, a group of sponsored kids meet on a quiet street to show off their brand-new Gifts of Hope — bikes!
To keep them safe and scratch-free, some of the bikes are still wrapped in plastic and thin Styrofoam padding. The students ride them up and down the street, with bells ringing. The children smile, and laugh, and race each other. It’s a bike parade!
We’ve met up with the children where they live in Pune, India to take photos and video of this special morning. These students just got their bikes last week. And while some already knew how to ride a bike, many are still learning. They wobble and teeter a bit as the pedal, but fearlessly continue — eager to show their generous Gift of Hope-givers just how much they love their new bikes.
Because here, having a bike is a big deal.
In the slum communities where sponsors and donors support kids in India, riding a bike isn’t a given childhood activity. Bikes are expensive. And for families who are living in poverty, owning a bike is out of the question. Instead, children walk several miles to and from school. In some places, they walk for hours.
Later in the day, we visit an all-girls school in Pune where sponsors support 250 girls. At this school, ten girls received bikes. These girls live farthest away.
“I used to have to walk my daughter to school each day,” says 12-year-old Sejal’s mom. As in many places where Holt works, it’s unsafe for girls to walk by themselves to school. Violence against women is especially common here, and in the time it takes to walk to school alone, girls like Sejal would be an easy target.
But now that Sejal has a bike, she can get to school in a matter of minutes. And her mom has more time to work, earning a much-needed income to support her family.
When girls get bikes as a Gift of Hope, they also get safety and independence.
Like many schoolgirls in India, Sakshi wears her hear in long braids, doubled up into cute braided-loops on either side of her head. Her school uniform, a light blue smock with a dark blue scarf, is neat and wrinkle-free.
In confident English, she shares what it’s like having a bike.
“It makes me very happy, very happy,” she says in the tiniest, highest voice, one that sounds younger than her 14 years. Her father is in prison, but her mother stands proudly beside Sakshi, holding her younger son in her arms.
“I like my cycle very much,” Sakshi says, smiling. In a family with a very limited and stretched income, she knows having a bike is an enormous privilege.
She’s excited to ride her bike to school, to tutoring classes after school and to the market to pick up items for her mom. That is, once she learns how to ride.
“I don’t know how to ride it,” she says, undiscouraged. “But now that I have it, I’m practicing.”
Her Holt social worker, who is often here at the school, also stands beside her.
“Why should girls learn how to ride a bike?” she asks Sakshi.
“We should learn all things. We should not be lacking in anything,” she says, switching from English to her first language, Marathi, halfway through. “We should learn each thing we can — whether it’s a cycle, or anything else. If we have the opportunity to ride a cycle, we should learn it.”
For Sakshi, the gift of a bicycle is the gift of opportunity.
The courage and confidence it takes to learn to ride a bike — to wobble, to sometimes fall down, and to get back up — is the attitude that Sakshi and other girls here take with them in everything. Not just in riding bikes, but in school, and in pursuing their dreams.
A bike as a Gift of Hope will take them to school, take them to tutoring, take them to the market, and to endless other places in life. Riding a bike is just the beginning.
Each of the children in the bike parade, and all ten of the girls at this school, had one overwhelming message to give to their generous gift-givers — the people far away who gave them a bike.
“Thank you for my cycle!” says 13-year-old Manisha.
“Thank you very much,” says 11-year-old Vaishnavi.
“Thank you!” says Sakshi, standing tall and proud beside her bicycle, her tiny voice switching back to English. “I very love you and I very miss you!”