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     Volume 7 Issue 18 | May 3, 2008 |

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Kids helping Kids

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Looking for Nooraloy, a free school for underprivileged kids is certainly not the easiest task, considering it has a rather unconventional address with no house or road number. Sheikher Bari, Jame Masjid Baitul Nanur, Notun Bazar is the tongue-twisting location of this tiny little school that caters to about a hundred children from very poor families. After asking many passers by one may finally find the small rectangular room inside an old house. From the outside it is hard to believe that this is a primary school of sorts; the dull-brown walls and rusty grills of the windows do not give away the infectious energy of around a hundred little people ready for the lesson of the day.

Inside, there is happy chaos as children between 5 and 10 fidget and shift about again and again to find a place while the school's sole teacher Rehana Akhter struggles to bring about some semblance of discipline. Eventually everyone is seated and 'Madam' as they call their teacher has achieved almost pin-drop silence although spurts of stifled giggles can be heard from time to time.

The school gives the kids a kind of jump start before they can enrol
into regular primary schools

It is hard in fact, not to let a smile creep in watching those countless adorable faces that belie the harshness of their lives. They are children of day-labourers, rickshaw pullers, tea sellers, garment workers, domestic workers etc. men and women whose everyday struggle is to get just enough food for their families in order to survive. The school being free and in the neighbourhood gives these kids a chance to forget the squalor and cruelty of their circumstances and for a few hours learn the basics of Bangla, Mathematics and English equivalent to class one and two of the national board curriculum. These two years of schooling help students to get a jumpstart and perhaps continue their education in other schools. There are two shifts: 8:30 am to 10 am for the younger children and 10 to 12 pm for the older ones.

But it is not just textbooks and lessons that these kids are provided with although it is quite a lot compared to many others who haven't even seen the inside of a school, let alone go to one. Every month on a certain day, the excitement level of the schoolchildren soars as two shiny buses come near the school. These are school buses from the American International School of Dhaka (AISD) and they come to pick up the kids and take them for a day of pure fun. Students from AISD come with the buses and become older brothers or sisters to these kids. They take them to their school's swimming pool and teach them how to swim, offer them refreshments and have fun projects for the little ones such as drawing or painting sessions. Usually batches of fifty children from Nooraloy are taken and are divided into groups that are managed by the AISD students.

"This is definitely their most favourite day," says Rehana Akhter and some of the five-year olds nod their heads vigorously in agreement. "They (the children) start coming in at seven in the morning or earlier on those days." Obviously for children as poor as they are, a visit to a school like AISD is beyond their imagination. But now that the initial awe has worn off, the kids just enjoy having a day of fun and spending time with their 'aunties' or 'uncles' as they call them.

Rehana Akhtar (left) the school's only teacher with her students
including Sathi (right) who is now appearing for her S.S.C. exams
from another school

The most remarkable fact about Nooraloy, is that the school itself has been funded by the AISD students who raised money through various activities such as dodge ball matches, fairs etc.

The Nooraloy School was initially a small project run by World Vision quite a few years ago. To prevent it from closing down a High School Counselor from the American International School (AISD) decided to continue with it as a community service project. The funds raised by the students provide textbooks, exercise books, one teacher's salary and rent of the building.

The school's survival however, depends on collecting enough funds for the running of the school which includes rent, teachers salary, electricity and cost of textbooks and stationary. There are fears that the school may close down unless a sustainable flow of funding is maintained. Obviously one teacher for over a hundred students is not a desirable teacher-student ratio. Another teacher, says Akhter, would be really helpful.

Inspired by the school's success and concerned about the possibility of its closing down because of lack of funding, another school, the Australian International School (AUSIS) has decided to support the Nooraloy School and try to make a difference in the lives of these children by donating the funds raised from its first Charity Ball at the Radisson Hotel on May 9 2008. The management of AUSIS hopes that the event will initiate a sustainable relationship between AUSIS and Nooraloy with students of the former getting to know children from less privileged backgrounds. The intention is to sensitise the students to the harsh reality of thousands of children, to inculcate a sense of responsibility and empathy for the less fortunate members of society.

“This would be an invaluable experience for our students in terms of community service", says Sylvia Gillett, Principal of AUSIS Campus 1 who mentions that AUSIS plans to initiate more such activities that will help schools like Nooraloy.

Rehana Akhter, who joined the school in 1998, has much to be proud of. "Many of my students have now gone on to high school and are doing very well", says Akhter, "some of them come to me from time to time, to tell me when they do well in class or exam." One such former Nooraloy student is Nurunnahar Akhter Sathi who is taking her SSC exams this year from a nearby high school. With a roll number of 3 in her class, Sathi is an above average student with a penchant for math and a dream to be a doctor when she grows up. Such dreams are being born everyday, even in the most difficult circumstances. The wealthier members of society can make them come true by supporting schools like Nooraloy. The initiatives taken by AISD students and AUSIS may be a modest step in the movement to provide better opportunities for poor children but it is a step nonetheless, and important because it also attempts to make children of the privileged become less isolated from the rest of society.

Anyone wishing to support this cause can buy tickets for the Ball or make donations. Tickets are available at AUSIS Campus 1 (Hs 5, Rd 135, Gulshan 1) and Campus 2 (House 28, Rd 84, Gulshan 2). Phone numbers: 9881259, 8831904.

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