Bringing School Close to Home for Bangladesh’s Children

Tribal children in western Bangladesh can attend school in their villages thanks to CRS partner Caritas Bangladesh. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

Available in French

I’ve rattled over a lot of dirt roads in trucks to get to CRS projects. We work in very remote areas—we’re everywhere Visa doesn’t want to be. But Bangladesh topped the list when it came to modes of transport. It took no fewer than five different kinds—planes, rickshaws, motorcycles, cars, and ferry boats—to get me and my colleague where we were going.

Bangladesh is one-third water and contains Asia’s biggest delta, so reaching coastal areas involves crossing dozens of rivers. On our way to visit cyclone survivors, we took a tiny seaplane towards the coast, landing smoothly on a river. On its banks, villagers lined up to see the newcomers.

We then got in a car, but not for long. Every hour or so we’d drive aboard a ferry and stand on deck as we drifted over a river.

Back in the car, we bumped over rapidly deteriorating roads. When those gave out, we switched to motos—small, lightweight motorcycles that can navigate narrow paths over Bangladesh’s many embankments.

As we heard cyclone survivors talk about the 5-foot-high water they struggled through in past years, I marveled at how CRS’ partner Caritas Bangladesh managed to get help to them so quickly. It had taken us the better part of a day simply to get to their villages—and there were no cyclone winds and waves to contend with.

On other days, we took rickshaws through the capital city of Dhaka and more bumpy car rides to the northwest of Bangladesh. In villages near the town of Rajshahi, we used the last mode of transport available—our feet—to walk through rice stubble to a village that wouldn’t have a school if not for Caritas.

The children there are mainly from adivasi (tribal) communities that are discriminated against, and their remote location makes it that much harder for the government to provide a school for them. The ones who do go to the nearest middle school have their own access difficulties. During the rainy season, the roads there are nearly impassable; to walk through the knee-deep mud, “we take off our flip-flops and hold them in our hands,” says one girl.

Thanks to Caritas Bangladesh, the village has its own small primary school and preschool. The children learn to read, write, and do math only a few steps from their homes. “If the school hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have studied, because the other school was too far away,” says one student.

Caritas has set up 193 similar schools in Bangladesh’s most far-flung areas. Now over 4000 children are getting an education—no seaplanes required.

– Laura Sheahen is CRS’ Regional Information Officer for Asia. Catholic Relief Services is a Caritas member. this article first appeared on their blog CRS Voices



J’ai roulé dans un bruit de ferraille sur de longues routes poussiéreuses à bord de camions pour arriver aux projets de CRS. Nous travaillons dans des zones très reculées, nous sommes présents dans tous les endroits où Visa ne veut pas l’être. Or, en ce qui concerne les transports, le Bangladesh est en haut de la liste. Mon collègue et moi-même avons dû prendre pas moins de cinq moyens de transport différents — avions, rickshaws, motos, voitures et ferry-boats — pour arriver à destination.

Le Bangladesh est pour un tiers couvert d’eau et comprend le delta le plus grand d’Asie. Pour arriver aux zones côtières il faut donc traverser des douzaines de rivières. En allant visiter les survivants du cyclone, nous avons pris un petit hydravion vers la côte, qui a atterri en douceur sur une rivière. Sur les berges, les habitants des villages étaient alignés pour voir les nouveaux venus.

Ensuite nous avons pris une voiture, mais pas pour de longs trajets. Nous sommes montés pratiquement toutes les heures à bord d’un ferry, en restant sur le pont pendant la traversée de la rivière.

Nous avons repris la voiture qui filait en cahotant sur les routes détériorées, et quand il n’y avait plus de routes, nous sommes passés aux motocyclettes, des véhicules petits, légers, aptes pour rouler sur des sentiers étroits à travers les nombreuses digues du Bangladesh.

Pendant que les survivants du cyclone nous racontaient comment ils avaient lutté contre l’eau qui était montée jusqu’à 1,5 mètre ces dernières années, je me demandais avec étonnement comment CRS, partenaire de Caritas, avait réussi à leur apporter l’aide si rapidement. A nous, cela nous avait pris la journée simplement pour arriver à leurs villages, alors que nous n’avions pas de cyclone, ni de vents ni de vagues à affronter.

Un autre jour, nous avons pris les rickshaws pour traverser la capitale Dhaka et roulé avec une voiture plus cahotante encore jusqu’au nord-ouest du Bangladesh. Dans des villages près de la ville de Rajshahi, nous avons eu recours au dernier moyen de transport disponible — nos jambes — et nous avons marché au milieu des rizières jusqu’à un village qui n’aurait pas d’école si Caritas n’y avait pas pourvu. Les enfants proviennent principalement des communautés (tribales) adivasi qui sont discriminées. De plus, étant installées dans des zones reculées, il est plus difficile encore pour le gouvernement de leur fournir une école. En fait, ceux qui vont au collège le plus proche ont aussi des difficultés d’accès. Au cours de la saison pluvieuse, les routes sont quasi impraticables; pour marcher dans la boue qui arrive jusqu’aux genoux, “nous enlevons nos tongs et les tenons dans nos mains,” explique une fille.

Grâce à Caritas Bangladesh, le village a son école primaire et son école maternelle. Les enfants apprennent à lire, à écrire et à faire des mathématiques à quelques pas de chez eux. “S’il n’y avait pas eu cette école ici, je n’aurais pas fait d’études, parce que l’autre école est trop loin,” affirme un étudiant.

Caritas a implanté 193 écoles similaires dans les zones les plus éloignées du Bangladesh. Aujourd’hui, plus de 4 000 enfants vont à l’école, sans nul besoin de prendre l’hydravion.

– Laura Sheahen est chargée de l’information régionale de CRS pour l’Asie.

1 Comment

Filed under Asia, Bangladesh, Development, Français, MDG

One response to “Bringing School Close to Home for Bangladesh’s Children

  1. paul Phillips

    These children need to have equal access to an education if they are to one day take up their rightful place in the future global economy. Do not give up on these kids and if you can push harder for them by supporting their right to the same educational tools as children in America have easy access to.

    THE EQUAL RIGHTS OF A CHILD TO AN EDUCATION
    WITHIN A GLOBAL KNOWLEDGED BASED, INFORMATION SOCIETY
    IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR, or THIER FAMILY’s
    SEX, COLOR, CREED, NATIONALITY OR SOCIAL/ FINANCIAL STANDING

    This paper argues the right of every child to have equal access to an education irrespective of his or her colour, creed, nationality, ethnicity or social & financial status so he or she may obtain gainful employment and contribute to the growth of his or her society in the 21st century. Within a knowledge based global society the basic tools of education must include educational & operational softwares.
    The interpretation of Intellectual Property Laws today is a morally unjust construal of the law and must be immediately revisited so as to allow the poor children of our global societies their human right to an equal education.
    This paper seeks to rally all those who seek equality for all the children of the world, irrespective of their sex, colour, creed, nationality, or financial standing, to join the fight against those who seek only riches, by economically coercing poor & developing nations to enforce their immoral interpretations of the Intellectual Property Laws.
    UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS
    Article 1.
    • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
    The Declaration of the Rights of the Child
    1. The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
    2. The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and secured.
    3. The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.
    4. The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
    5. The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of its fellow men.
    Surely ‘The United Nations Human Rights’ & ‘The Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ leave no doubt that it is the right of every child to have equal access to education, irrespective of his or her, colour, creed, nationality, ethnicity, age or financial status.
    Knowledge now forms a major component of all human activity, economic, social & cultural and has become the major creative force of all developed societies, hence creating new ‘Knowledge Based’ societies & economies. Knowledge is gained from access to education, hence both are essential elements for the development of all children, societies, countries, economies & humanity.
    Knowledge societies are not a new occurrence. Fishermen have long shared the knowledge of predicting the weather to their community and this knowledge gets added to the social capital of the community. What is new is that,
    • With current technologies, knowledge societies need not be constrained by geographic proximity
    • Current technology offers much more possibilities for sharing, archiving and retrieving knowledge
    • Knowledge has become the most important capital in the present age, and hence the success of any society lies in harnessing it.
    All governments & individuals who truly believe in Human & Child Rights & the equality of all, must surely also believe in providing equal access to all information & tools required for their education, irrespective of a child’s, colour, creed, nationality, religion, ethnicity, age or financial status. Hence the tools & information required for a child’s education should not be withheld for the monetary gain of a few. Humanity can never allow a global society to develop that promotes the haves & have nots of a basic education.
    In this high tech, computerised, interconnect world of the 21st century, both filled & reliant on high speed access to information no one country, state, city, community or village can hope to compete on equal footing with others unless their children have equal access to the programs & softwares that all others enjoy as part of their education & vocational training.
    All men & women, have but their labour to give, or trade in return for the basic necessities of life, of which education is one. A man or woman from a developing country is not a lesser man or woman than that of one from a developed country. Their labour has always afforded them the basic necessities of life within their own communities because their government ensures the cost of the basic necessities of life are commensurate with the average weekly income of their country. The advent of a ‘Global Economy’ has however strained this basic principle of human existence for the poorer nations & people..
    Software Piracy does not occur because the populations of poorer, or developing countries are inherently criminals. It occurs because the young people of these developing countries need to gain an education that their families can no longer afford, because of the exorbitant costs of ‘legal copies’ of these very necessary educational software programs.
    PUTTING THE PROBLEM IN CONTEXT
    2009 Average Salaries for Developed Nations
    Luxembourg 49,663 2 United States 49,483 3 Ireland 44,013 4 Switzerland 42,980 5 Netherlands 42,514 6 Australia 42,019 7 United Kingdom 40,825 8 Belgium 40,591 9 Norway 40,177 10 Denmark 39,143 11 Austria 38,682 12 France 35,430 13 Germany 35,292 14 Sweden 33,586 15 Japan 31,773 16 Finland 31,211 17 Italy 29,198 18 Spain 28,871 19 South Korea 27,587 20 Greece 26,929 21 Hungary 21,161 22 Czech Republic 18,922 23 Portugal 18,300 24 Poland
    In 2009 the average weekly wage of an American is approximately $950 / week or 49,483 /annum
    The cost of Microsoft Office is $499 (December 2009)
    This equates to a parent who is earning $23.70 / hour, paying the equivalent of 21 hours of their labour ( approx 3 days) to buy an essential educational tool for their child’s education .
    In Vietnam the average weekly wage is $25 / week ,or $1,300 / annum
    The cost of Microsoft Office is $499
    This equates to a parent who is earning $0.62 / hour paying the equivalent of 804 hours (approx 100 days) of their labour to buy an essential educational tool for their child’s education .
    We stated earlier that all workers have but their labour to give or trade for the necessities of life. So with that in mind if we were to reverse the situation for American workers, by developing a proportionate cost for Microsoft Office based upon their hours of labour, we would find that they would need to pay $19,050, (equivalent to 804 hours of labour,). If this was the retail price of Microsoft Office in America we would surely expect to see a Software Piracy Industry emerge in America similar to that of which we presently see in developing countries. Not because American children over night had suddenly become criminals, but because the cost of the tools needed for an education had suddenly exceeded their parent’s ability to buy.
    Intellectual Property Laws are meant to protect the rights of an author to his or her developed intellectual works from being copied. They should never be misinterpreted or misused to protect his or her rights to riches, by way of exploitation or disregard of the basic human rights of all.
    Equal rights must not be idle worlds of the rich, or already haves. The right of every child to shelter, food, safety & education are fundamental human rights, far outweighing economic or intellectual property rights which would not be considered fundamental Human Rights by any moral, thinking human being.
    INDEXING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
    Within a global, economic society the only way to achieve equal rights & access for all to an education & job, is to put in place a ‘Global Index System’ based upon the average salary of a country.
    A simple example of this would be to allot America the base index of ‘1’. Hence ‘1’ would equal the average annual wage of America.
    If in 2009 America’s average salary is $49,483.00 then this number will become the base (1) for all other index calculations.
    If Australia’s average salary is $42,019 then its index would be 0.84 (42,019 divided by 49,483 = 0.84)
    If Vietnam’s average salary is $1,300 then its index would be 0.0262. (1,300 divided by 49,483 = 0.0262)
    The Intellectual Property Rights of any Educational or Vocational software would then be valued, within any country, by taking the price the software is retailing for in America and multiplying it by that country’s index. (These indexes would be set by a reputable organisation such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or United Nations (UN) and would be updated each year.)
    Hence for equality of access by the children of Vietnam to Microsoft Office the price should be the price of Microsoft Office ($499) multiplied by Vietnam’s index of ( 0.0262) which means for equality of access the sale price for Microsoft Office should be $13.07.
    INTERUM ACTION
    Countries cannot disadvantage their young citizens to the right of an education by enforcing unjust & unequal global laws, when those laws do not take into account the differences between a developing and developed country. If developing countries enforce present interpretations of Intellectual Property Laws, they are ensuring that their countries will forever remain developing nations by dramatically impeding the young peoples of their countries from ever gaining the necessary education that will allow them to compete equally within the global economy, as computer literacy & skills in the 21st century are just as important as literacy itself.
    Until there is a decision reached regards this very important matter, companies & governments should restrain from prosecuting persons in developing countries for using educational & vocational pirated software.
    If companies do prosecute during this time of decision making, developing countries must rally behind each other and fight the case in the highest courts of their lands and in front of the Human Rights Tribunal.
    If developed governments, global organisations or software companies believe that a moratorium on prosecutions for the use of pirated software is wrong then maybe they need to start implementing an interim scheme which would see Microsoft Office retailing in the United States for $19,000. This would be another way of achieving equality for all the young of the world in the short term.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s