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     Volume 5 Issue 80 | January 27, 2006 |

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A skit by the school students (left) and a puppet show were part of the entertainment

Educaton with a Social Commitment

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Anything that happens at the Bangladesh China Friendship Conference Centre at Agargaon is bound to be a grand affair and last Friday was no exception. Sir John Wilson School celebrated its 10th birthday at the magnificent auditorium of the centre impressing the audience with a delightful cultural show. Skits, songs, dance and an amusing puppet show by artist Mustafa Monwar and his troupe entertained the audience that included parents of the school as well as students. But the grandeur of the event, which had a host of generous sponsors, does not lie in the flamboyant venue or the colourful performances. It would have been an ordinary school celebration had it not been for the fact that this is a school that carries with it a huge social responsibility. Being a project of a charitable organisation, the school has the added task of raising funds to prevent and treat disability. The school also carries the name of a remarkable visionary, Sir John Wilson, a blind man who devoted his entire life to help the disabled and to stop avoidable disability. The school's challenge for the future is to educate its students and imbibe values of charity and patriotism while at the same time raise enough funds for the noble causes of its parent organisation.

Ten years ago, Sir John Wilson School started its first faltering steps with only nine

Sabrina Shaheed, vice principal and head of the junior section has been with the school from the beginning

students, a handful of staff members and a deeply committed British principal Sarah Streeton. Today it has 580 students and 70 staff members. Some of the teachers such as Sabrina Shaheed, now vice-principal and Mahfuza Khatun the administration side, have been with the school since the very beginning and have been instrumental in making the school a reputable institution. It is a regular English Medium School following the British National Curriculum up to the Ordinary Levels. Class size is limited to 20 students per classroom and emphasis is given on working independently and thinking creatively. But students are also sensitised about their surrounding environment, about people far less privileged than them and about those who are disabled and in need of help. They are encouraged to raise funds to help the needy and visits have been arranged for students to visit charitable projects. Last academic year, for instance, students from class 6 to class 9 went to visit Jibon Tori, Bangladesh's first floating hospital that reaches patients in the remotest areas and is one of the innovative projects of Impact Foundation.

Impact Foundation is an international charity that specialises in helping disabled people and the poor. It's founder, Sir John Wilson whose birthday coincided with the school's day of celebrating its 10th anniversary, lost his sight at age twelve by an accident in a chemistry laboratory at school. Perhaps it was this very tragedy that made Sir John determined to overcome his disability, continuing his education by learning Braille and earning a scholarship to Oxford where he studied Law and Social Science/Sociology. In 1941 he joined the Royal Assistance for the Blind as assistant secretary which involved him in working for the rehabilitation and employment of the blind. But it didn't stop there. He wanted to do more and, so in 1946, he along with his wife Jean visited many countries that were then colonies of the British Empire. The trip inspired him to establish Sight Savers International in 1950 of which he became director. During this period he helped to pioneer efforts that restored sight to more than one million people in the British Commonwealth. He founded the IMPACT movement, a UN initiative to prevent major causes of avoidable disability.

In 1993 Sir John founded IMPACT Foundation Bangladesh (IFB), a charitable trust and non-governmental organisation continuing the work of the global IMPACT movement in the country. Interestingly, the organisation is headed by another dedicated individual who also lost his sight in a childhood accident. Mansur Ahmed Choudhuri is IFB's dynamic leader and an example of how an individual can defy all odds and use his talents to help others. With respect to the school, Choudhuri says that modern education should incorporate two aspects: "They are firstly to equip the pupils with the present day need as opposed to traditional rigid syllabus-based studies and secondly to train them towards an innovative attitude for the nearer future."

Sir John Wilson students at the celebration function

With more and more students pouring in and its first batch of O'level students appearing in the examination this summer, the school is ready to expand. Its premises will soon shift to a 2.75-acre land at Bashundhara, which has been bought by its governing trust. The trust, called the Social Services and Management Trust, includes five organisations: Duncan Brothers, Camellia Duncan Foundation, United Insurance Company, Octavius Steel and Impact Foundation Bangladesh. At present the school's principal is another British woman, Ann M Burghard who emphasises the need to adapt what the students learn within the cultural context of Bangladesh: "Our students are learning English in a Bangladeshi culture. We must embrace the local heritage and make children of all nationalities within the school proud of their time in Bangladesh." She also mentioned that the coming ten years would be spent on developing students' social and global awareness. "As a school we wholeheartedly support one charity but we need opportunities for our students to be more hands on, to work with disadvantaged youngsters, the sick or the elderly so that they develop their social conscience. We need to continually up-grade our computer facilities to keep our students abreast of technological developments." Consi-dering the school's founder Sir John Wilson, who combined altruism with farsightedness, such goals are in complete harmony with his philosophy.

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