Life on the line to get to school

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I remember being in high school when my mother entrusted me to take my junior school-going sister along with me. Naturally, as a teenager, I wasn’t too happy about this new development. Our school was a nominal 8-10 minute walk from our family home and, believe it or not, New Delhi was not nearly as hot back then. I still whined, and amply so, begging my parents to drive my sister to school separately. I didn’t want to be seen as the girl who came to school with her baby sister; I had a reputation to maintain. I came up with a solution that once we left home, I made sure that my little sister was ten steps ahead/behind me so that no passerby would realise I was her chaperone.

As a (sort of) grown-up now, I feel no pride over my behavior back then, especially after I stumbled upon this picture of 9-year old Daisy Mora from Colombia. Daisy lives with her family some 40 miles southeast of the Colombian capital of Bogota. The only way to get to the outside world, including a daily commute to her school, is by sliding over an abyss nearly quarter of a mile deep along a rusty zip line. Daisy’s family is one of a handful for whom these 12 zip wires are their only mode of transport to the other side.

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In this thought-provoking picture taken by author and photographer Christoph Otto, we can see Daisy controlling her speed on the zip line with a wooden fork. She does so while carrying her 5-year-old brother Jamid in the potato sack, as he’s too young to zip on his own.

Daisy’s story is mirrored halfway across the world in Hongde Village in the south-west Chinese province of Guizhou, where all 3,000-plus inhabitants cross a deep gorge via zip lines to get out of their village. From 2001 until 2012, the zip wire was the only way to get across “Wumeng Rift,” also known to villagers living on either side of it as the “Dead End”. The children from this village would trek for a while, then zip across the gorge (which is 140 meters deep and 80 meters wide), and then trek for another hour to get to the station where a train would take them to school. Finally in 2012, the villagers raised enough money themselves to build a bridge.

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The number of stories where people across the world have installed zip lines – also known as “flying foxes” – as their only mode of transport are far from few. Following a massive earthquake in 2009 that wrecked a bridge in China’s Sichuan province, locals built a zip line to get across to the other side for school and work.

In more developed communities, we have come to think of education as a basic human right. But when we look around the world, it’s really quite a privilege. How determined these young kids must be to get to school that they do not mind risking their lives on old, rusty zip wires. Do they not fear for their own lives, or is the fear of remaining uneducated greater still? Either way, their determination and courage shine through. Let’s hope that authorities will one day work towards better infrastructure, or at least maintain the zip wires regularly so that future generations don’t have to choose between education and life.

I, for one, am deeply grateful for the easy route I had to take to school. Of course, apart from the apology I owe my sister.

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