African youth have a set of new inspiration they can draw from at this year’s Youth Olympics. Young Rwanda cycling duo Benitha Uwamariya (pictured below), 18, and Clementine Niyonsaba (pictured), 17, who are the first female cyclists to compete at the Youth Olympic Games from their East African country, are already giving the continent a lot to cheer about even before the pedal their bikes in China.
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Although bicycles are popular in rural Rwanda, they are mostly used by men in these poor areas as a means of commercial transportation.
Kimberly Coats, the women’s coach for Team Rwanda observed, “It is very rare to see a girl on a bike.”
Like in many other African countries, bikes are used for the transportation of goods and people as bike-taxis. The male-dominated activity has seen a few of Rwanda’s bike-taxi drivers transition into professional cycling sportsmen.
After the genocide of 1994, which left the population skewed to the extent that just 30 percent were male, females took more leadership roles in the landlocked country. Now, the country boasts the highest proportion of female MPs of any country in the world.
This is why the exclusion of girls from bicycles frustrated Coats, who moved to Rwanda from the United States in 2009. Coats sees biking as a tool for change and believes it can help girls escape poverty.
Coats told the BBC Sports, “What they found is that girls who have bikes stay in school longer, don’t get pregnant out of wedlock and tend to delay marriage. So having a bike can absolutely change a girl’s life.”
The notion that bikes can improve a young lady’s life can be seen in Uwamariya’s, where her life being transformed since the coach discovered her.
Breaking the news of her love for cycling was a difficult process for her parents, but through the sport, the teenager has already bought “cows and is now looking to build a house with the money she has earned from bike competitions.”
An additional benefit is that the bike has reduced her daily commute to school by 2 hours.
Academic achievement is certainly on the minds of these two young inspiring African ladies, but in the short term, their focus is on winning a medal at the Youth Olympics Games.