Dhaka and Chittagong between February 8th and February 13th 2010. We were met at
the airport and escorted to our accommodation at Centre for the Rehabilitation
of the Paralysed, CRP, Savar by Md. Lutfar Joarder and Md. Krishna
Bhattacharjee. We were ably but modestly entertained throughout our stay, with
every need being provided for.
The first day we visited the John P Hastings School which now meets in a
very small space as the rent for the previous garage was becoming prohibitive.
Professor Suraiya Siddiqui also expressed her need for new premises for the
office as developers were taking over the premises and they needed to vacate
them by the end of April.
There were many children at the school and all appeared to be learning
well and appreciating the chance of an education they would not otherwise have.
The space was small, down a small alleyway and crowded, but the teachers seemed
committed and there was plenty of art and handwritten work around the bamboo
screen walls. The children were happy to sing songs for us and recite poems that
they had learned.
We learned that the Soroptomist group (a Business Womens Association)
from the UK had visited the school the previous week, showing their support.
Deborah Rogers of Cementing Futures had shown particular concern for this school
so we intend to contact her and work together for its continuation and
development. They have made a DVD of their trip.
Following this we visited the head office in Dhaka and met the current
staff who all seemed busy and had lots of signing for Prof Suraiya to do. She
is having to sign over 2500 certificates for the children who had become
literate through the Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Working Children
project (BEHTRUWC). We then enjoyed lunch cooked on the premises with the
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Md.Mahfuz Ullah, a journalist, TV talk show
host and environmentalist, as well as previous executive director Rezia Salam
and present executive director Professor Suraiya Siddiquy.
We travelled to Chittagong by coach with Md. Joarder and Md. Krishna as
we had not previously seen the work there.
We met the Project coordinator Md. Khaderful Hasan Khan and his two young
assistants, Md. Saiful Alam and Md. Azizul Huq, as well as Md. Mazum Mullah
assistant coordinator. We visited 4 learning centres accompanied by them and saw
the well organised set up of the Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Working
Children project (BEHTRUWC). Each class had 25 members, all keen, well
motivated children who were able to demonstrate their learning to date. They
learn from 4 main subjects – maths, English, Bengali and life skills. This
project is commissioned by the Government of Bangladesh with assistance from
UNICEF, with Nijera Shikhi being contracted to help implement the Governments
policy of Education for All.
These children, aged between 10-16, 60% girls (15) and 40% boys (10) were
able to attend the classes for 2 and a half hours a day, five days a week, with
permission from their employers, where they worked for the rest of the time. It
is difficult as you can imagine to organise this break from work and to find
suitable accommodation for the classes. The children work in various
occupations, many as maids or house boys in houses, some in shops and flower
cultivation, car washing, two as guides at the local tourist attraction, Foy’s
lake. One boy who worked here, aged 10, pleasantly and ably showed us round
Foy’s Lake after we had visited his class. His father was unable to work due to
a leg injury and his mother worked as she could to support them. This child
earned between 20-50p per day, working between 10 am and 8 pm. His education was
a welcome break and a chance for improved job prospects in the future.
At another learning centre one of the women’s committee who help run the
classes was in tears as she expressed her love for the children in her care, as
she had no children of her own and was so glad to be able to work with these
disadvantaged children to offer them a better life. The teacher at this class
demonstrated her commitment to the project by buying uniforms for the whole
class from her own pocket. We gave out these uniforms to the delighted children
and various speeches of encouragement were made.
Although we only visited 4 learning centres in total, it was good to see
the staff who made these classes possible and to meet some of the children who
were benefiting from this programme.
We heard that the work of Nijera Shikhi, on the other side of the
country, in Jessore and Shatkira, which we visited in 2007, continues to go
well, with the Revolving Loan Program, Women’s Empowerment groups, Income
Generating Projects, Awareness Building Programmes and the Children’s Club are
all continuing. In addition, HIV/AIDS awareness seminars have been held due to
an ongoing increase in infection rates near the border areas.
The staff at the office appear to have been pared down to the minimum,
with all staff busy. Prof Suraiya Siddiquy continues to go into the office every
day despite being under medical treatment. She expressed some of her vision for
the future with us, the plan she has for starting a vocational school in Dhaka
for occupational training to improve job and life prospects for young men. She
also spoke about her desire to start a free health clinic in Faridpur in the
Her son Raden Siddiquy who resides in London has been in contact with
myself in order to apply for grants from The London Borough of Tower Hamlets to
initiate new work through Nijera Shikhi. The project proposed is computer
training for children which will enable them to get better jobs after obtaining
a certificate. Prof Suraiya had completed this project proposal and it is
currently being considered for approval.
We were pleased to receive copies of the 2008 Annual report which hadn’t
reached us by post, available to anyone on request. Project reports were now
being collected for the 2009 annual report to be published soon.
Professor Suraiya expressed her problems of finding affordable
accommodation for all the projects she has in mind, including premises for the
head office which needs to move again soon. In addition there are problems of
getting the board of directors to attend meetings to enable decisions to be made
legally. We wish her and all the staff well in the coming year in the light of
all the difficulties they face. We were very grateful for the hospitality and
care shown to us while we were there. We were very ably looked after at all
times, with accommodation and transport at our disposal to enable us to make the
most of our time there.
So overall we felt Nijera Shikhi was in good shape. We were able to give
£4000 from funds collected over the last year, with which they were very pleased
and felt able to support the John P Hastings School and the popular Revolving
Loan Programme. Gratitude is felt for all those who donate to Nijera Shikhi and
particularly those at Farnworth Methodist Church who made Nijera Shikhi their
project for the last year and raised £2033 over the year, involving all groups
at the church. Another lady from the church has just donated £300 so we thank
everyone who enables this work to continue, in Bangladesh and in the UK.
Karen Drayton Chair Nijera Shikhi (UK)
Joyce Hastings Secretary Nijera Shikhi (UK)
22nd February 2010