USING YOUR GIFTS AND DONATIONS TO SUPPORT AND POWER XO LAPTOPS IN AFRICA
Eshibinga IS A VILLAGE IN WESTERN KENYA. It has poor roads. In the absence of vehicles and good road networks in many Kenyan rural areas especially Western Kenya, young entrepreneurs have started up the environmentally-friendly “boda boda” bicycle business that ferries clients from main roads to villages off the beaten track. In the rural areas of Kenya, some opportunistic youth have capitalized on poor road networks and lack of vehicles to earn their daily bread. They now offer transportation on a “boda boda,” a bicycle with a brightly coloured cushioned pad attached behind the seat, used for carrying one passenger at a time. Bicycle shuttle services are, in some areas, the only way of getting around.
Now picture that. Our school, is located in a place with no or poor roads, no electricity, no running water, jigger infested and other issues that can drag you down yet; Sandra Thaxter an OLPC representative from the USA loved the kids for their attachment to xo’s. One big problem she noted was the fact that the school had no way of powering the XO laptops. Often times the teachers and pupils had to take boda boda rides to the nearest market where we can get electricity so as to charge our xo’s.
When Sandra of OLPC visited our village and school and saw the enthusiasm the kids had with XO laptops she wanted to help. She did not have money on her to buy for us solar panels or generators to power our xo laptops. But she had 8 bicycles that she left for the kids to play around with
The kids smelt an opportunity when we saw the bikes. The Pupils together with the teachers and Jane (one of the sponsors) agreed that they could use the bikes to generate money to power the XO laptops. Turn some of the 8 bikes into Boda bodas.
Boda bodas have been around since 1990, when young people in rural town of Busia, western Kenya, (a town that shares a border with Uganda), used bicycles to smuggle goods across the border. In fact, “boda boda” comes from the English word “border.”
These youth quickly realised that the same bicycles they used to carry goods from Kenya to Uganda and back could also ferry people in the transportation-poor villages of Western Kenya. The mania spread its wings to neglected rural villages in the west and beyond.
With an estimated 90 percent of Kenyan roads not being paved, according to the 2001 budget report on rural development, and many roads being impassable by vehicles, the boda boda has become a versatile, quick, and reliable form of transportation.
It has also become a source of income for mostly male secondary school graduates who would otherwise be unemployed. In Eshibinga, a boda boda operator can make approximately US$2.60 (Sh200) a day after deducting the cost of lunch and repairs to the bicycle.
Twenty-year-old Henry Ashioya is a brother to one of the pupils inEsgibinga. He is he dropped out of Eshibinga Secondary school two years ago due to lack of school fees. He was the first person to hire one of the Bikes that Sandra brought to us. He uses it to make money to support his younger sister in school and meet other obligations in his mother’s house. . He says: “I knew I must look for money, since the death of my dad I became the bread winner in our family. When I heard that Mzungu (White person) had blessed our school children with the Bicycles I approached the school with a view of hiring one,” he says. Henry charges approximately US$0.06 (Sh5) for every kilometer travelled. An operator cycles 50 kilometers a day on average, he says.
“When somebody has paid, you’re forced to ride even in hilly places,” says the sweaty Henry. “It is also hard riding in these ragged roads. Riding in the meandering paths is as perilous as going through a jungle; you have to be smart lest you fall down with your customer.” To make the ride easier, most operators have fixed a small transistor radio onto their bicycles, cushioned the carrier, and put an alarm bell on their bars.
“These boys are a blessing,” says Mary Atiaso, a primary school teacher in Eshibinga. “Formerly, we had to trek for long distances, getting late and missing lessons in school and important meetings. Now, it’s quick service.”
Boda-bodas are now a household name. They have become school vans for transporting pupils and teachers, busses for staff, and have even carried government ministers and other prominent people. It has also become the village ambulance. Says boda boda operator Omukuba another guy who has hired the Eshibinga bikes.: “When a villager gets sick, it’s our obligation to wake up even late at night and find our way to the hospital, which is always located far from the village.”
Boda boda drivers have the reputation of being honest and trustworthy. Some village traders entrust them with as much as US$13 (Sh1,000) – a large amount of money for the average person in this part of Kenya – to purchase goods from wholesalers in urban areas. “And they deliver,” says Joel Sifuna, a businessman from Khumusalaba. “Otherwise, if it were somebody else, our money would be disappearing into the air.” Sifuna has used boda-boda for over five years.
To be a boda boda operator, one must own a bicycle, which costs approximately US$39 to $52 (Sh3000 – 4000). That is expensive for an ordinary villager. So they resort to hiring a bike and paying the owner of the bike from his daily proceeds.
These money is used for powering our xo’s and we are saving some of it so that we can buy USB flash disks and memory cards so that our XO pupils can save their work. We also use part of it to buy postage stamps to post letters to epals whom we have found using xo laptops. Most of all we use the money to buy internet bundles which we use to browse the internet using xo laptops.
Prof. Shitanda, a lecturer in the Department of Economics at a Kenyan University, congratulates the boda boda drivers for their ingenuity and says he thinks the boda boda industry will become “giant.” “In business, we need the creativity, dexterity, and diligence clearly demonstrated by our boys. They now earn through their innovative ways. But the government should come in and provide loans, workshops, and protection so that they can expand the trade.”
This weekend, Sandra will hold a funds drive to get more bicycles to Kenya to support the xo projects. We pray for success.