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|Volume 10 |Issue 40 | October 21, 2011 ||
Bringing a Smile to a Child's Face
On October 7, 2001 at The Patio, Gulshan Club, Naveed Mahbub, Bangladesh’s first stand-up comedian and Nemesis, one of Bangladesh’s prominent bands, came under one roof to enthral a very mixed audience - from children to teenagers to senior citizens. It was to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Soroptimist International (SI) Club’s Free Primary School for Marginalised Children at Maghbazar. Amidst the infectious laughter evoked by Naveed's hilarious observations and the electrifying sounds of Nemesis was a deep appreciation among the audience for the efforts of the organisation to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children.
Established in 1981, the school started by taking children from a basti (slum) near Eskatan and providing them with basic education. Since the project is solely funded by the club’s annual donations, it does not have the financial capacity to acquire its own premises and that too in close proximity to the slums. Lessons start therefore, after regular hours at the Shah Noori Girls’ High School in Maghbazar. They are provided with books and copies, taught and allowed to use the computers. Tiffin is provided to the children as incentives to come and study. The teachers are given an allowance for their service. However, it is not sufficient enough to be called a salary. Despite that the teachers are eager to teach and the children are enthusiastic about learning new things. The teachers have been trained by the club’s other programme in collaboration with Nijera Shikhi. At the beginning of the academic year; uniforms and even shoes (bought at subsidised prices from Bata) are distributed among them. The children also get Eid clothes during Eid-ul-Fitr.
“The response of the students is very satisfying and can be called sustainable; as the number never falls below fifty-five,” says Zebunessa Rahman Vice President of the Club. “However, expansion is an issue we cannot deal with any time in the near future since it is very difficult to fund. It is almost impossible to find proper premises for the students in busy occupied areas like Maghbazar.” Thus the students who successfully complete up to class-III are linked to other local schools. “This year eight of our students were admitted into Anjuman Mufidul Islam Primary School and we are funding their education. One of our students recently passed SSC (Secondary School Certificate) and another has passed up to Class-VIII which is quite an achievement”.
Pinky, a very eager student of Class-II, who comes from a nearby slum in Pagla Mazar, says she wants to continue studying as long as she can. Even when she is asked about her aim in life, she insists, “I want to continue studying.”
Mahbooba Arju, who has a teaching experience of twenty-one years and has been trained at Nijera Shikhi, also talks about the keenness of the under privileged students to come to school and learn. “The students of class- I, II, and III are often seated together and taught basic subjects like English, Bangla and Mathematics. We also teach them how to draw and colour. They are all quite good at picking up whatever is on the blackboard”.
However, when the primary school was first started it targeted everyone who would come to study and students were taught up to Class-III. Eventually the process has become more selective and now students performing significantly well are integrated into the Shah Noori Girls School and other schools such as the Anjuman Mufidul Islam Primary School and their education is financed by Soroptimist International, Dhaka. Currently, the number of students at Shah Noori is falling. Ever since the club has been using the site, the school has not been renovated much, thus in the future; the club aims at helping the school which was established in 1965 developing it as a gesture of appreciation for letting the club use its premises for the education of under privileged children. This will also mean a larger number of students can be accommodated and classes can be further extended.
Besides providing under privileged students with basic education, once in a while the parents of the students are called in to discuss various issues like their health and sanitation and various other awareness needs.
Soroptimist International, Dhaka which started its journey in 1981, is affiliated with Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) and has focused most of their activities in trying to empower women. Started in 1921, Soroptimist International (SI) is an international service organisation of women who are working in professions that aim to advance the rights and status of women and girls. SI has more than 3000 clubs in 125 countries and territories, including Bangladesh.
The dream of the school having its own premises is always something to look forward to. Meanwhile, the teachers, students and of course the Soroptimists, try to make the best of their modest resources.
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