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.