© Sara Cameron Links | Terms and conditions
Originally produced for UNICEF
Farzana Begum Lucky, Teacher, Ward 5, 11/B Mirpur I thought it would be so easy – just a couple of hours teaching some little kids! I thought I would be able to fit it in with my studies with no problem. But now I know that this is one of the most challenging teaching jobs anywhere. I will feel terrible when I finish this job and have to leave these children.
Selima Begum, Teacher, Tekatuli, Ward 75 The first day I opened the centre more than 45 children came. I didn’t know what to do. Parents had sent their children along because they thought they were going to get food and a uniform. After a couple of days the extra kids dropped out and only the ones who had properly signed on showed up.
I had taught kindergarten and thought this would be the same just with older children. I was wrong. The kids didn’t show up. I had to go out and find them and physically escort them to the centre. Everyone came late and left early. They didn’t know how to be in a classroom. They didn’t know how to learn. It took a long time, but now they understand. They come on time and we are learning together.
When I first started teaching at the Hard to Reach centre I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I planned constantly what I was going to do the next day. I worried about how would I hold their attention, what I would do about this child or that if they had stopped coming. I thought about it so much that I even dreamed about it.
The teaching method is very simple, not like the formal school. We use a lot of pictures to help the children read. Children going through this system seem to learn more quickly. One of the government schoolteachers who is a member of our Centre Management Committee started luring my students away to join her school.
“Why are you taking my children,” I asked her. She told me that our students learn very easily, very well.
Syed Taurina Ali, Teacher, Wards 2 and 5, Surovi There was one hotel boy who came to the school but he disappeared during Ramadan. I saw him in the street and asked what happened. He said he couldn’t come any more because he had to be on the street at dusk every night to sell iftar. As soon as the sun set everyone was buying, and if he came to the centre he would be too late. I spoke with the hotel owner and asked him to let the boy come back. At first the employer said no but I bargained with him and in the end he agreed as long as the child left the centre 30 minutes early.
There was another hotel boy who was taken out of the Hard to Reach centre by his parents. They sent him to work in a garment factory. I spoke to them: “Why did you send him there! Don’t you know terrible things can happen to a child who works in those places? They lock the doors and seal them in. There can be a fire and no one is able to get out.” The parents wouldn’t listen to me. They said they needed the money but about 20 days later there was a terrible fire in a factory in old Dhaka and people died. After that the parents came to see me. “We realize work in the garment factory is too hard,” they said, and asked me to take him back. It was difficult for him to catch up but he stayed after school everyday and studied hard.
When the girls reach 12 or 13 years old and begin developing they sometimes get harassed on their way to the centre. Men make nasty comments as they pass and the parents complain. Sometimes the CMC members can talk to people in the community to make it stop, but if it doesn’t the parents often end up sending the girl to live with her grandparents in the village. Whether she will get an education or not while she is there is not a priority.
Sometimes parents send younger kids with the children they have already enrolled. They say to me, “Just let the kid come along to get into the habit of coming to school and learning.” But others criticize us because we don’t give the children uniforms or food and because we use the same book for two years. They don’t understand the reasons why we are so different from the government schools. They think we cannot be teaching them properly.
It is a continual struggle to explain what we are doing and why but I never had any doubts about what I was trying to do. My father tells me that a teacher who imparts knowledge to a child will be remembered in that child’s prayers and will be blessed.
Nazmul Haque, Supervisor, Hazaribagh, Ward 18 One of our learners worked in a carton factory. During Ramadan he dropped out of the centre so I asked the teacher to go to the boy’s home. The parents scolded the teacher for disturbing their Ramadan. “Don’t you know that every time our son doesn’t work the employer deducts money from his wages? If you can guarantee that money then he can come to your school.” So the teacher and I both went to see the employer and we asked him to let the child go. We bargained and agreed to give up half an hour of school time, if the employer would release the child on full pay for the other hour and a half. The employer finally agreed.
I never used to think about what children were doing at all but now when I see them I stop and ask who they are, what are they doing and why are they not in school. I have become so famous for this that now some of the kids run away when they see me coming because they know I will ask about school. People never used to think that school was necessary for children like these. These are the attitudes we are trying to change.
Md. Wahiduzzaman Bablu, Supervisor, Mirpur Ward 18 I was closely observing one learner, a girl who was a very good student and had been studying at the centre for a year. Then I noticed she had stopped coming and asked the teacher what had happened. He said that she was a domestic helper and the family had prohibited her from coming back. He had been to the house but the employers had abused him. They said to him, “Who do you people think you are? She’s not coming back! Get out of here!”
Soon after we heard that she had lost her job and she and her mother had returned to their village where they were in a very difficult situation.
It turned out that this girl had taken part in a child rights discussion and in one of the groups she had talked frankly about the way her employer physically abused her.
Some other students from her Hard to Reach centre who were at the same meeting gossiped about what she had said, and word of this got back to the employer. The employer was angry with the girl, angry with everyone and in the end the girl lost her job.
We have to be very careful when we encourage children to speak out about their conditions of work. It can even be dangerous for them.
Some of the Hard to Reach Schools seemed to be better organized than others, but the enjoyment of the children in these classes, whatever the format, was never in doubt.
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