Ride on time: 10,000 recycled bikes from Singapore, Malaysia get Myanmar kids to school

Ride on time: 10,000 recycled bikes from Singapore, Malaysia get Myanmar kids to school

Children aged 13-16 living more than two kilometres from school will be at the front of the queue
Children aged 13-16 living more than two kilometres from school will be at the front of the queue for donated bikes. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung THU)

YANGON: When bike-sharing firms oBike, Ofo and Mobike pulled out of Singapore and Malaysia, they left behind thousands of perfectly-usable bikes in "graveyards".

Tech investor Mike Than Tun Win saw it as an opportunity to improve the lives of children in his home country of Myanmar. Buying up 10,000 bikes earlier this year, he shipped them home to be handed out to children, in hopes of giving them easier access to education.

One of the first 200 children to benefit from the scheme - called Lesswalk - was Thae Su Wai, who will no longer need to trudge 10km for two hours to and from lessons, she told AFP.

"I'll have more time to study and play with friends," the 11-year-old said, as she excitedly wheeled away her new bicycle at Nhaw Kone Village school near Yangon.

The aim is to keep up momentum and hand out a total of 100,000 bikes over five years
The aim is to keep up momentum and hand out a total of 100,000 bikes over five years. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung THU)

Mike grew up and was educated in Singapore before returning home eight years ago with a business degree.

"I saw students walking for many hours to get to school and I felt really sorry for them," the 33-year-old said.

UNICEF estimates 55 per cent of children in Myanmar live in poverty, while half of 17-year-olds enter adulthood with little or no education.

UNICEF estimates 55 percent of children in Myanmar live in poverty, while half of 17-year-olds enter
UNICEF estimates 55 per cent of children in Myanmar live in poverty, while half of 17-year-olds enter adulthood with little or no education. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung THU)

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He hopes the bikes will help keep more kids in school for longer, giving them an education so they can "escape from poverty".

Each cycle cost him just US$35, including shipping and distribution, and he footed half the bill, with the other half coming from sponsors.

After exchanging the bike-share lock for a seat on the back, he is now starting to hand out the bright orange and yellow cycles to more children.

Lesswalk hopes the bikes will help keep more kids in school for longer, giving them an education so
Lesswalk hopes the bikes will help keep more kids in school for longer, giving them an education so they can escape from poverty. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung THU)

Yangon is Lesswalk's first stop before Mike rolls out the scheme in Mandalay and Sagaing regions later this month.

Children aged 13-16 living more than two kilometres from school will be at the front of the queue.

"Most parents here are poor," says Ni Ni Win, 55, headteacher of Thae Su Wai's school.

"Many children don't even have umbrellas - they just use pieces of plastic to cover them when it rains."

Mandalay entrepreneur Mike Than Tun Win bought up cycles from bike-sharing companies who had pulled
Mandalay entrepreneur Mike Than Tun Win bought up cycles from bike-sharing companies who had pulled out of Singapore and Malaysia. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung THU)

Mike says this is just the start - the aim is to keep up the momentum and hand out a total of 100,000 bikes over five years.

"They might not be worth anything in Singapore, but they're valuable in a poorer country," he said.

Source: AFP/nh(mi)

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