“Any child who comes under the banner of Saddles and Pedals has been educated about the benefits of cycling. Hopefully they will spread the word. And I then would have done my little bit for society.”
Anyone who has spent any time in India will be familiar with sightings of homeless children on the side of the roads. Born into a vicious cycle of poverty, these children often find themselves begging for food while their parents struggle to make meagre sums of money by selling little trinkets at traffic lights to wealthy individuals rushing to their next appointment.
It’s never easy to see a child begging for food and water on the side of the road. Many who grow up in India struggle to face the reality of the situation, yet there often seems to be little one can do to help. Giving one of them something to eat and drink doesn’t solve the crisis of poverty. So what can one do to help in a meaningful way?
One teenager seems to have come up with an answer.
Malini Rao is a 17-year-old high school student in the southern city of Bangalore. Passionate about cycling, Malini has managed to turn her lifelong hobby into a campaign that provides Bangalore’s street children with a better life. Her creation is called ‘Saddles and Pedals‘.
Saddles and Pedals is a campaign that aims to promote cycling among India’s underprivileged children. With costs of bicycles being one of the main barriers to this aim, Malini started collecting old bicycles from her friends and neighbours to donate to children living on the street.Explaining how the campaign got started, Malini said: “My parents are cycling enthusiasts and so I have been cycling for years. In fact, we cycle tour in rural Spain, France, or Italy every year. But when I cycle in my neighbourhood [in Bangalore], I noticed that my cycle gets envious stares.”
The stares were from India’s unprevileged children, many of whom couldn’t afford the luxury of owning a bicycle. So Malini gathered a few of her old bicycles that were lying around the house and asked her cousins to donate their old bicycles as well. She then organised to give these to some of the children she cycled by every day.
“I figured that if I provide them with cycles, besides the environmental and health benefits, their family actually also save a lot of money on transport fees,” said Malini, who studies at Bangalore’s prestigious Mallya Aditi International School.
“I had been initiated into community service several years ago by my grandmother. In the ninth and tenth grade, I founded three libraries in after-school learning centres. Involvement with these underpriviledged children led to the foundation of Saddles and Pedals.”
It wasn’t long before Malini started a Facebook page for her campaign and the donations started pouring in, both in the form of old bicycles, as well as in the form of cash donations for her to buy new bicycles for children.However, Malini soon began to notice that some of the childrens’ cycles were often left in poor conditions. It was then that she expanded her campaign to also include workshops for the children on how to fix up their bikes and teach them about bike maintenance. The first set of workshops took place in Malini’s grandmother’s drive way and was promoted through word of mouth.
“The session would start with a few childen but passerbys would join in and the session would end with 15-20 kids. As we got more organised we started conducting the workshops in schools and learning centres. The children were very enthusiastic as we had mechanics on the spot to repair their bikes. And the kids loved washing their bikes!”
Since then Saddles and Pedals has gone from strength to strength. They have provided more than 60 underpriviledged children with bicycles, and have conducted bicycle maintenance workshops for more than 200. Every challenge that Malini faces is met with yet another growth for the campaign, and it seems like there is nothing that can stop this young woman from spreading her joy for cycling.
Malini explains: “One parent did not want me to gift a cycle to her daughter since she was working part-time as a maid and they thought a cycle would make her too independent. So we started counselling the parents and taking written consent from them.”