Think Bangladesh, and instantly the mind conjures up images of cyclones, floods and poverty. It is undeniable that Bangladesh is continually presented as a country of disaster to the rest of the global community. Nonetheless, to dismiss an entire nation as a hotbed of trouble and hopelessness only causes more damage. Bangladesh is in fact fighting to improve its economic status; the country still has much development potential.
I recently visited rural Bangladesh, and witnessed the expected – areas rife with poverty, where people struggle to access basic necessities, including safe drinking water. In fact, most people can’t afford for their children to go to school. It is very common for children to drop out of school to earn money for their families, often by driving “rickshaws”. I visited some schools in Nikrail, the pupils were working incredibly hard for their exams, though despite their determination, many factors continued to hinder their educational development. There was barely any light in the classrooms, which was unquestionably damaging for the children’s eyes. Additionally, many of the children I met had been at school all day without being given any food; however the school soon hopes to be able to provide their pupils with food so they can concentrate better and keep motivated to stay in their education.
Though Bangladesh has achieved gender parity in primary school enrolment, far fewer girls complete their education in comparison to their male counterparts. Of the 67 million adults that are illiterate in Bangladesh, 42 million are women (Source: DFID) – thus a key aim in Bangladesh’s development would be to break down the barriers to girls’ education. The main problem is gender perception – women are not valued as equals to men. In fact women are often made to leave school early to get married and then have children, leaving no time to have a full education and career stemming from it. As a result of the role of women in Bangladeshi society, to truly release girls’ academic potential, it is important to put a special focus on girls during their education.
In the Nikrail area, I came across many women that left school in their early teens. This is a typical occurrence all over Bangladesh, however one that will hopefully one day be eradicated. To improve the situation, my sister and I set up a charitable organisation, called “Arohon” (meaning “climb”) which will be opening a women’s education centre teaching basic numeracy and literacy skills. By teaching such basic skills, women will have many more career opportunities opened to them.
As a result of poverty around three million children (half of which are girls), miss out on state primary education (Source: UNGEI). Consequently, Arohon will also be supporting the extension of a currently struggling public library, so that local citizens have free educational resources available to them.
Though it can be argued Bangladesh is plagued by natural disasters and that this should be the prime area of focus, education must not be sidelined. An improvement in education would lead to an increased income. With an increased income and more educated citizens, including scientists, engineers and doctors, there is hope that Bangladesh will adapt better to the effects of climate change. Perhaps it is a mistake to perceive Bangladesh as a country that cannot be helped in the fight against poverty and disaster.
For more information on the charitable organisation Arohon, please visit http://www.arohon.org.uk/