For Thea Garlitos, the second-hand bicycle loaned to her by a nongovernment organization is not only good for the environment but also for her confidence. For with every push on the pedal, this vehicle of hope can take her closer to her dream and her family out of poverty.
The 17-year-old from Angono, Rizal province, is just one of over 400 students selected by the Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) program, which aims to help underprivileged youths “improve their lives by making it easier for them to get where they want to go, one bike at a time.”
Instead of taking a jeepney, Garlitos used the bike lent by BfP to go to school in Angono. Money otherwise spent on transportation went to other essentials, like her family’s next meal.
“My mother has tuberculosis and my father is unemployed. He grows vegetables in the yard while my siblings and I do our share so we could buy rice. It’s basically a hand-to-mouth existence,” said Garlitos, the second in a brood of five and an incoming senior high school student at Regional Lead School for the Arts (RLSA) in Angono.
Two of her younger siblings go around their barangay (village) selling pan de sal, earning P200 a day. This summer break they are the ones using the BfP-loaned bike to sell bread, since Garlitos is currently working as an encoder at a Quezon City office of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Theirs is a story replicated in rural areas reached by BfP over the last four years. Founded in 2011 by Joel Uichico, a former resort owner and business consultant, BfP hands out “preloved” bicycles donated by an American NGO, Bikes for the World, to students from poor families.
The loaned bikes end up being used not only as a transport to school but also for livelihood tasks.
Since being given bikes, brothers Erick John and Erwin Valdivia, also of Angono, have been saving at least P80 a day, allowing their mother, a seamstress, to have a bigger budget for food.
If you see their progress (once given bikes), you really won’t stop. It’s addictive to join them in their fight. They don’t really need pity because you will see the determination in their eyes. All they ask is that they be given a chance.
Aileen Carbonell, RLSA senior high school program coordinator
Graduates get to keep bikes
Another beneficiary from RLSA, JE Guardiano, excels in his math class while serving as his family’s sole breadwinner. He works after class as an errand boy at the local public market for P50 a day and as a jeepney terminal “barker” on weekends.
Thanks to the bike he got from BfP in September last year, Guardiano no longer had to walk to school for two kilometers. Relieved of that hardship, he became more active in sports and other school activities, RLSA senior high school program coordinator Aileen Carbonell noted.
Guardiano finally graduated early this month. Under their agreement with BfP, beneficiaries who graduate get to keep the loaned bikes.
The Inquirer met BfP officers and some of the beneficiaries on Sunday at Bonifacio Global City, where a sporting goods store held an activity to raise awareness about the program.
According to Uichico, he developed the concept for BfP during his stay in Baclayon, Bohol province, in May 2010 while helping Ayala Foundation with its ecotourism program in the area. He was moved by the sight of children trekking through dirt roads just to go to school and back, some covering a total distance of seven kilometers a day.
He realized then that the solution could be quite simple: Give them bicycles.
But more than a year passed before Uichico found a sponsor and set up the needed organization and network with the help of six like-minded friends and relatives.
The first batch of 114 bikes—collected from donors, some needing reconditioning—was handed to Baclayon National High School students in January 2012. BfP later loaned more bikes to students in Pagnituan National High School in Maribojoc, also in Bohol; and in RLSA in Angono.
Amanda Schoof, BfP’s communications head, said beneficiaries are first taught bike-riding safety and repairs before receiving their rides. For this purpose, the group’s “vice president for training,” cyclist Bans Mendoza, has developed a module for the students.
There has been no major accidents involving BfP bikers since the program began, Uichico said, stressing that any road incident resulting in injury or death among the beneficiaries would be a serious blow to the group.
“It’s depressing to see [the condition of] these kids. They have talents, just like our children, and the only difference is that they don’t have the opportunity because of their situation,” Uichico said. “We cannot be oblivious to what’s happening out there.”
For Carbonell, “if you see their progress (once given bikes), you really won’t stop. It’s addictive to join them in their fight. They don’t really need pity because you will see the determination in their eyes. All they ask is that they be given a chance.”
And putting them on bicycles is one way to get them going.