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  • Writer's pictureMina

Everyone at The Orphan Trust wishes you a joyous Eid-al-Adha. We hope you are able to have time to spend it with your family and friends.

If you are able to donate to help others less fortunate so that they too can celebrate Eid then please click our donation button.

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‘Education is a battle against poverty that everyone should fight.’ – so said Nitin Namdeo. The problem is, apart from teachers, few people take up this battle.

One inspirational person who has risen to this challenge is Korvi Rakshand. In 2007, shunning the corporate career which one would presume from his education, Korvi created the Jaago Foundation to help educate the children from the slums of Dhaka.

There are many slums within Dhaka and other cities of Bangladesh. They are cleverly hidden away but are there if you look carefully enough.

The ramshackle tin huts and crumbling buildings house the service workers which Dhaka and other cities rely upon. The rick-shaw drivers, maids, cleaners, street sweepers and their families are crammed into one-room homes with poor sanitation. These workers are low-paid and uneducated. With little money and encouragement, children within the slums normally follow in their parent’s footsteps, missing school entirely or leaving early to take up low-paid work in order to help supplement the family earnings.

State schools do exist within the slums for these children but the facilities are poor and so is the standard of education. Children often don’t attend and certainly no one notices if they fail to turn up.

In this way, the cycle of poverty remains and a whole section of society within Bangladesh is unable to rise up the social hierarchy.

Jaago challenges this. It has set up 11 schools within slum areas across Dhaka and beyond. It offers an oasis of education for children from the age of 4 until 16. It provides high-quality, free education to over 4,500 children within the slums themselves. Children are provided not only with lessons following the national curriculum in English, but also a uniform, books and snacks. One child from each family within the slum is offered a place – a deliberate policy to get at least one person within each family educated whilst allowing other children to remain as workers to help supplement the family income.

We visited the Jaago Koralli junior school in a slum near the affluent Banani district of Dhaka. The approach was through the Government housed workers area. When this ended, the slum began. It was what you would expect. Disorganised, dirty, smelly and very, very poor. Small stalls lined the streets and people sold whatever they could from the floor in front of them.

The school appeared with a yellow frontage. As we stepped through the door, we entered another world. Children’s colourful artwork lined the walls and hung from the gantries built to support the 4 classrooms. The children milled around and were smiling, mostly in uniform and clearly delighted to be there.

We were shown around and then joined one of the classes. The students were in year 5 – aged around 7 or 8 – around 40 of them. I was invited to read to them from one of the set texts. The idea was they would repeat each line and follow the text in their books. I was reading in English and they did a really good job of following me and repeating although some were better than others. When we had finished children volunteered to read out sentences themselves. Some had an excellent grasp of English whilst others clearly lagged behind. The teacher explained that those who struggle are given additional support to try to keep them up.

It was a lovely experience to read and interact with the children. They seemed to enjoy having us there as afterwards, several of the girls surrounded Mina and revealed their ambitions to be doctors, airline pilots and scientists. It was amazing that those girls now had the hope to be something other than servants.

Before we left we saw some older, year 11 children who were getting extra lessons in business and engineering before they sat their GCSE equivalent exams. Although no longer 40 children in the class, it was incredible that these children had benefitted from the Jaago teaching since year 5 and were now on the brink of achieving qualifications which would propel them to another life. Even those who did not manage to achieve formal qualifications now have skills including English which has enabled them to escape the roles they would otherwise have been pre-programmed to undertake.

Mina and I had the pleasure to stay with Korvi and his wife whilst in Dhaka. They have been very generous to us but their generosity to the children is the most telling. Korvi explained to us that several of his students were now at university including two who had been offered scholarships to universities in America!

The cost to educate a child from the slum is just £20 per month – a pretty insignificant amount for most people. Currently they have just over 700 children unsponsored so please let us know if you would like to help. You will be given personal updates from the team at Jaago and you can even have virtual meetings on-line directly with your sponsored child.

It takes someone special to have a vision and see it through to the end. Korvi’s vision has helped thousands of destitute children. Those he and sponsors have helped will themselves help their families and their children for years to come. This is how the cycle of poverty is broken.

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When the British occupied what is now Bangladesh in the 18th and 19th centuries, they moved large numbers of Hindu people to predominantly Muslim areas in order to serve them. This included Hindus who many at the time were considered to be ‘untouchables’ or ‘Dalits’ - the lowest caste.

These Hindu communities continue to exist in Bangladesh today in most cities.

The Dalit community in Sirajganj is made up of 3 subsects of the lowest castes; the Harijans operate as cleaners, the Dhoom remove dead animals from roads and public spaces and the Muchis are the shoe repairers. Despite the Muslim community not operating the caste system, the segregation remains within the Hindu communities themselves. Marriage between Harijans, Dhooms or Muchis is frowned upon and, although in Sirajganj the 3 sects live close together, they remain separated in stature with The Harijans higher than the Dhooms and the shoe repairers right at the bottom.

Five years ago, The Orphan Trust joined forces with Shudha, a local businessman’s charity to refurbish the school room used by the Harijans and Dhooms. A small library room was added as were desks and benches.

The school room is used by children to get extra tuition in order to attempt to break the cycle of poverty thrust upon them by the fate of their birth. Although the Government has provided some housing and schooling for families, sadly the standard within the school system is very poor and, without the additional lessons, most of the children within the community would be unable to progress to high school or beyond.

When we visited the school we were struck by how happy the children were and keen to learn. Their teachers came from the community and had themselves benefitted from the additional tutoring provided by Shudha.

It was amazing to see how a little money had made such a difference to so many children. It was also lovely that the Orphan Trust's name was placed on the sign as a thank you from the community.

We then visited the Muchis community. The Muchis are considered to be the lowest caste of the lowest caste. They lived in a mini slum with ramshackle tin housing and very poor facilities.

When we arrived at their school, it was packed with children all delighted to see us. The building was little more than a corrugated cow shed. It was clearly in need to repair. There were no real facilities for the children who sat on the floor underneath one light and one fan. It was stifling hot inside – I have no idea how they could concentrate.

We spoke to one of the teachers who again had grown up in the community and had benefitted from the additional lessons. She was really keen to have better facilities but also asked for things such as sewing machines so that they could learn a different trade which could help them to earn more money.

Visiting the Muchis community was humbling. They had very little - so much less than anyone reading this blog.

Mina and I there and then decided we had to help. We have spoken with Shudha and they are going to put together a detailed costing to transform the school room into a proper teaching facility with a new roof, refurbished walls, lighting, fans, desks and benches, blackboard, a bank of computers and the sewing machines they asked for. Once we know how much it will cost we plan to hold a fundraiser to get these children the school they deserve. We hope you will come on this journey with us and help with this transformation.

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