Bikes Empower Students in Mali

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Bicycles are helping encourage girls to attend school in Mali.

"Forty-five girls each received a bicycle during this first phase of the donation in the Ségou region,” says Moussa Coulibaly, project manager for Projet Défi éducation des filles au Mali, or DÉFI. “The second phase of distribution will take place during the next school year in 2024 in the other regions," he says.


students on bikes in Mali

Students with bicycles provided by the DEFI project.

Photo by Moussa Coulibaly/CRS


Although education in Mali has improved over the past decade, according to UNICEF data, more than two million children aged 5 to 17 are still not in school, and more than half of young people aged 15 to 24 in Mali are illiterate.

In Mali, girls face several obstacles to school attendance, retention in the school system, guidance and the quality of education they receive. Among the greatest obstacles is the remoteness of schools, which hinders enrollment and retention in rural areas.

"When the school is too far from the children, parents prefer to not send their daughters to school, says Moussa.

He says that some families consider sending their daughters to live with host families in villages where schools are located, but he explains that “the difficulties encountered with host families lead some girls to drop out of school.”

According to figures from Mali’s National Statistics Institute, the country’s net primary school enrollment rate was 50.5% in rural areas, compared with 80.7% in urban areas. DÉFI works partnership with teachers and school management committees to identify and enroll girls who must travel more than 2 miles to school, or who come from vulnerable households, are displaced or orphaned.


sisters share a bike in Mali

Djenebou and her sister ride a bike provided by the DEFI project.

Photo by Moussa Coulibaly/CRS


"It was our dream to have a bike so that my sister and I could continue to go to school,” says Djénébou Naparé. “With the bike that the DÉFI project has given us, we arrive at school on time and less tired.” Djénébou and her sister attend Tata Sako de Sebougou, a primary school that is 3 miles from their home.

For Djénébou's parents, the bikes solve a major problem—they are delighted that their daughters are now more confident about the journey to school. In turn, they reassure the project team that they will maintain the bikes.

Catholic Relief Services’ implementation of the DÉFI project in Mali the country’s national priorities and focus on supporting vulnerable children. In 2022, thanks to the project's mobilization, a total of 1,096 girls were enrolled in school: 346 in the Ségou region; 362 in the Mopti region; 184 in the Gao region; and 204 in the Timbuktu region.

DÉFI is working in those regions to improve the education of young children, particularly girls, in crisis-affected areas. Along with bicycles, the project also provides school kits, scholarships and birth certificates. DÉFI is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada from 2020-2025.