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Author Picture By - Nov 10, 2014

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By Zoe Fox and Lauren Bohn

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and is rarely mentioned in the news. In the country that’s roughly the size of Pennsylvania, three-quarters of the population live below the poverty line. Less than 25% of girls finish primary school – even though it’s free. Among those, just 13% will enroll in secondary school. And only 5% of them will finish.

We visited Malawi last year on a United Nations Foundation reporting fellowship. There we met 16-year-old Rosa, a bright girl who hopes to be a nurse despite facing many obstacles. We met charismatic 13-year-old Shakira, the leader of a Girl’s Club that encourages girls to continue attending school, even if they marry early and have children. We met countless girls who all cling passionately to the same dream: to graduate from school and to achieve their dreams. But few will ever get that chance.

In the country’s isolated Mangochi district, we spoke with the principal of a girls’ high school about the endless challenges facing her students.

“What’s keeping these girls from staying in school?” we asked.

Poverty, a lack of materials and teachers, early marriage, and teen pregnancy are all factors, she explained, but her students’ biggest challenge is their exhausting commute to school. Some girls walk up to 10 miles in each direction. Too tired to make their way home by foot, many are forced to sleep overnight at schools or simply skip their classes altogether.

“Everything is far when you live in Malawi,” explained 14-year-old Joyce, who has stayed in school and hopes to become a doctor.SchoolGirls_Smiling-600px

Some relief came to the Mangochi girls’ high school a few years ago when a British charity donated 30 bicycles, dramatically shortening the commutes of a handful of students and increasing their chances of graduating.

“But we need more bikes,” the principal pled. That’s when we realized we needed to do more than write a story.

Upon returning home, we approached the UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign to figure out how we can fill this need, and SchoolCycle was born. SchoolCycle is a global giving campaign that will launch on #GivingTuesday (December 2) to raise money for the United Nations Joint Program on Adolescent Girls in Malawi to provide bikes for girls.

Girl Up’s goal is to provide bicycles to 550 adolescent girls in Malawi to increase their access to social services and to improve their school attendance and retention. For $125, a girl will receive a bike, bike parts, and training.

SchoolCycle tackles one of the most expensive and complex pieces of the development puzzle: infrastructure. It’s a problem that requires political will and cannot be solved overnight. But Girl Up’s SchoolCycle is one piece of the puzzle we can all help align.

When it comes to giving, we don’t buy into the notion that people don’t want to help, or that people don’t care – they just need to feel like they can make a difference. And when problems like Malawi’s are so complex, effecting change can seem elusive.

SchoolCycle is about investing in future change-makers by giving them a simple tool – actual wheels of progress – to make sure their voices are heard, so they can transform the course of their futures.

These girls are already going places. This holiday season, let’s help them go farther.

Stay tuned to GirlUp.org for the launch of SchoolCycle on December 2.

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