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On Two Wheels to Empowerment

Updated: Jun 5

A new reality has arrived for the women in rural Tanzania.

two African women sitting on motorbikes
Mariam and Germana, the first women in the Kilimanjaro region to own motorbikes (own image)

I spent decades working in the international aid sector. Specifically, I was engaged in women’s empowerment in Nepal, where we did a lot of grassroots-level work. But most of our efforts for rural women seemed to focus on the same initiatives as all the other organizations, such as training women in tailoring or teaching them how to make extra income by selling “food to go” on the roadside.


While these were undoubtedly valuable efforts, they have never truly touched my heart.


I didn’t know what I was after until I stumbled across an idea of how women’s empowerment could possibly happen on two wheels.


A dusty roadside encounter sparked a vision

Since I began riding, I have been inspired by the notion that women should experience the incredible sense of independence that comes with it. But I knew it’s not always a matter of choice but rather a lack of access that prevents most women from realizing this possibility.


Three years ago, something happened.


An African woman dressed in a floral robe sits on a motorbike
Germana on my bike in Rundugai in 2021 (own image)

I bumped into a young Tanzanian motorbike enthusiast in Rundugai, situated at the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Dressed in a floral robe and yellow plastic flip-flops, she showcased her skills to me with a single spin on my bike. Germana neither had a license nor a bike. Typical in Tanzania, where women do not ride motorcycles, not even scooters. Those who do it anyway rely on borrowed two-wheelers on dusty backcountry roads away from notorious police checks.


That’s where the dream typically ends for most Tanzanian women.


But it was right there on the dusty roadside in Rundugai where a moving story of determination, ambition, and cross-cultural empowerment was born.


Fast forward three years, and nothing is the same anymore

Today, Germana and her village friend Mariam own motorcycles.


These did not miraculously appear out of nowhere but were the result of successful fundraising, which I organized with around 30 sponsors from 12 countries around the world. With a budget of a mere US$ 1,600, we were able to buy two second-hand motorcycles in good condition, along with insurance and additional safety equipment.


“The bikes are more than a dream come true,” Germana and Mariam both expressed, clearly overwhelmed when we rode their bikes into Rundugai on 3 May 2024.

Germana did not sleep the night before the bikes arrived. The excitement was too much (own image)

They are now the first women to own motorcycles in the broader Kilimanjaro region — the breakthrough they had hardly dared to hope for.


Crossing into no-woman’s land is no mean feat

Of course, empowerment requires more than just a motorcycle if it is to go beyond cruising for pleasure. And this is precisely what Germana and Mariam intend to do in their village.


Thanks to their new two-wheeler buddies, they can finally realize their boda boda (motorbike taxi) business. They now chauffeur village people and goods to nearby markets and run all kinds of profitable errands. Boda boda is a coveted and vital service in rural areas of Tanzania, where reliable public transport is virtually non-existent.


However, this business was, until now, the exclusive preserve of men. With the arrival of their motorcycles, Germana and Mariam are entering no-woman’s land for the first time.


But they are ready to accept the challenge and well-equipped.


They both have a valid driver’s license (a rare document hardly any woman owns in Tanzania), riding experience, supportive family members and village elders and have already gone on small motorcycle safaris, touring around Kilimanjaro.


When women support women, change happens

The attitude of these two women has changed in a short period. Now, they boldly and proudly join their male boda boda colleagues and openly offer their services for all, but primarily for women.


And while the shillings slowly but surely begin to fill their once-empty pockets, they are already pondering the next step.


Perhaps a motorcycle club together with all the other aspiring women in the village who are not yet qualified. It could provide motorcycle and maintenance training and business help for the new start-ups. A savings association maybe, which could be used to finance more licenses and motorcycles for more women in the future.



With all these thoughts of what the future may bring, our hearts begin to beam.


A new reality has arrived for the women in rural Tanzania

Germana and Mariam are aware of their unique situation.


And they want to help more women join them in the future. Because there are plenty of opportunities out there for them. But they have work to do before any of this happens.


First, they have to get their new business onto a stable footing. They want to prove to themselves, their families, and the sponsors of their bikes that their plan works. That the motorcycle provides them with the tools they need to change lives.


When I see that Germana has earned nearly TZS 150,000 in just a few days while on her bike, I have no doubt this will happen.


And who knows what will be next?

Germana and Mariam dream of touring with BIKE ‘N SOUL one day. A thought that profoundly touches my heart.


BIKE ‘N SOUL is the result of my own motorcycle journey. It has led me to the freedom that comes from sharing my dreams and vision with women from around the world, including those who would never have the chance to be empowered on two wheels otherwise.


This is what I have always craved.


And just as the turn of wheels has propelled me forward on my journey, it is now fueling the dreams and visions of women in Tanzania.


Hongera sana, Germana and Mariam!

Heartfelt congratulations!

 

I am so grateful to all the sponsors who helped make this dream a reality for the women of Rundugai. If you ever find yourself in the region and need a boda boda, keep an eye out for Germana and Mariam.


Much love from Tanzania

Kerstin ❤️🇹🇿❤️

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