As the bicycle parade pedaled past, onlookers stopped to stare, their eyes temporarily fixed on the parade of cheerful children whizzing past them. "Where are you going?" they called out in wonder. "To Gayéri!" they called. "We are going to take our CEP exams!"
Students from the Bandakidini Primary School on their way to their exams in Gayéri, the provincial capital of Burkina Faso and twelve miles away from their village, were a sight to see. They were riding on new bicycles, provided to them through the Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program (AGSP), which is funded by USAID.
Transportation has long been a barrier to children attending school and accessing testing centers. When AGSP first started at this school in the village of Bandikidini, there were only 53 students. Now, due to AGSP's efforts, enrollment is at an all-time high of 127 students. However, students still face the crucial problem of getting to exam sites. While the government has made efforts to transport students from their villages to the central exam locations, there is rarely enough space for all the students.
In Bandikidini, the responsibility of transporting students to the testing centers falls on the community. Means of transportation are limited, as are supervisors to travel with the students. The Certificat d'etudes primaries (CEP) exams fall during the growing season, normally just around the time when there is enough rain to start planting the fields. As the majority of families in the area are subsistence farmers, it is very difficult for children to leave their fields, even for something as important as exams.
In response, AGSP made it a point to include bicycles as part of this area's scholarship package. By 2010 they had given out 817 bicycles to scholars, which have proved to be beneficial in many situations, whether for a student to get herself to a crucial exam, or to ride across town to a classmate's house for an extra study session. The means of transportation has eased the burden on many children, and for those scholars who live far away, access to a bicycle means that they have more time to sleep and study.
AGSP's funds are limited and cannot provide a bicycle to every needy child. However, by the time they reached Gayéri, almost every AGSP bicycle was carrying two students, some of whom were not AGSP scholars. AGSP scholars in this area are known for their spirit of sharing, which can be witnessed in the homes and schools where they share lamps and books with other students.
The biggest celebration of all came when the results of the CEP exams were announced. Ninety percent of the AGSP scholars in the bicycle parade had passed—the greatest proof of how the support that AGSP scholars receive goes beyond the material aspects of the scholarship package.
More Features Stories at World Education…