How a small initiative makes marginal people smile!

By Bodrul Alam

In a society, with clear social stratification, the marginalized people always face huge discrimination within the traditional education system. And, this type of discrimination stands as a barrier on the way of ensuring education for all. Alienation, social exclusion, and physical abuses against marginal people transcend all levels of education, from primary education to higher education. Due to these various types of social and structural factors, illiteracy and drop-out rates are relatively much higher in socially marginalized groups. Almost the similar pictures were seen in the case of marginalized communities living outside urban areas of Manikgonj. They were even deprived from their fundamental rights such as education-health-housing-treatment posing them to social and structural exclusion. However, BARCIK has been working to facilitate the communities to fight for their rights as well as to have access to natural resources. The establishment of ‘Health and Education Centre’ in Manikgonj is of the initiatives that BARCIK has initiated to assist the community prepare themselves to fight for their rights and increase their access to resources as the very citizens of Bangladesh.

“Our community people do not have the opportunity to study for lack of facilities. Besides, being considered as lower cast by the mainstream people, it becomes hard for us to sit together with them and continue study. The discriminative situation as well as struggle for earning bred for family members led us to not be able sending our kids for education. This has resulted in the less illiteracy rate in our community. We do not want our kids to be illiterate alike us anymore”- Rabindra Monidas, representative of marginalized community from East Dashora while depicting the situation of marginalized communities living in Manikgonj said the above things in 2008. It is however, the poverty that leads the marginalized community students getting dropped out from education due to their parents could not meet their ‘needs’ to continue education. Coaching support either by family members or teachers is required for any student in present education system. But due to being poor and illiterate the marginal community could neither hire teacher for coaching nor get themselves to support their kids. This situation maximizes the dropout rate among the students of the marginalized communities in Manikgonj.

Realizing the facts and understanding the reasons for lack of educated people among the marginalized communities in Maninkgonj, BARCIK established an informal educational institution titled “SISHU BIKAS KENDRA” with the objective to provide the very supports for the students of this community. The previous name of the institution later on got familiar among the community as the “SASTHO-SIKKHA KENDRA” and turns out to be complementary towards the mainstream education system in context of marginalized community. The Centre Assistants who are also mostly from the marginal community help the students to understand their regular lessons and prepare their daily school homework as a part of routine activities. The support enables the students preparing their regular homework and students could attend their school next day with much comfort and interest. In this regard, the Center Assistants play the dual role: one as a family member and as private tutor to the students. The sincere work and dedication of the Center Assistant as well as facilitative role of BARCIK turned to be effective as the rate of dropout decreases and rate of enrolment increases where the poverty and illiteracy of the community could not stand as hindrance for the progress!

In addition to regular educational activities, the students at the centre are also provided with personal hygiene education once in a week. On that day, the centre assistant checks out the nail, hair and teeth of the students. The students are also advised to brush their teeth regularly before sleeping and in the morning, wash their hands properly before meal and after toilet and wear clean dresses when they attend class at school. The Center Assistants also teach the students regarding the necessity of maintaining personal hygiene and the harmful consequence of being soiled. The issue of cleanliness and hygiene is also discussed among the parents of the students, particularly their mothers. Besides, the issues of family planning, treatment and nutrition and negative impact of early marriage are also discussed among them so that they become aware about that.

The center formed “MA SOMMEETTEE” with the mothers of the students. The students’ overall performances both at centre and respective schools are generally discussed in the meeting of MA SOMMEETTEE every month. This enables the mothers of the students know about the progress of their kids as well as perceive the importance of education. As a result, now-a-days, almost all families from that marginalized community provide minimum primary level education to their children. Their mentality to spend more for their kids’ education has increased as well. They today try to allocate a proportion of their income to purchase materials as well as to bear other educational expense of their kids. The parents also have the will to send their kids for higher education should they have financial capacity! As Bisakha Monidas, a guardian from Purbo Dashora, illustrates, “At the earlier stage, we let our children go to the centre as it was free. However, today we offer the Centre Assistants honorarium for their contribution in the education of our kids. We will run the Centre by ourselves if BARCIK leaves in the future ensuring the full payment of Centre Assistants. We will give our children the opportunity to study.”

Alongside education, a diverse array of issues like health, nutrition, family planning, homestead gardening, livestock rearing and concurrent social issues are discussed during the monthly meeting of “MA SOMMEETTEE”. As a result, they farm vegetable and rear domestic livestock within the limited space of homestead which in turns meets their vegetable and nutritious food demand. They even earn some cash selling the surplus in the market. Besides this, frequent interaction among members of socially marginalized community through various meetings has contributed to ease their personal and social conflicts and increased harmony and cohesion. Leadership among the members has also developed through regular functioning of “MA SOMMEETTEE” activities and increased mentality of joint venture has been observed among the community to fight for their rights.

The activities of health and education centre, facilitated by BARCIK, initiated noteworthy changes within the education and health scenario of those communities. A notable stake of these communities crosses the border of primary education and receives higher education. The state of education as well as the lifestyle of the community has changed optimistically. They today look for various services essential for improved livelihood through communication with public and private service providers. Most of the guardians of the students mentioned that the pre-primary activities play the important role to reduce the dropout rate as well as to boost the literacy rate of the marginalized communities. Saberi Begum, a guardian from Boro Boriyal centre thus said in this regard, “In previous time, we just got our kids enrolled to primary school when they are old enough to attend school but we could never make them prepared for school due to being illiterate. Because of lack of preparation our kids seldom do well in the schools and many times they got scolded by teachers for their failure to prepare lessons. Thus they were in panic and did not want to continue. But today they get enrolled in school after having necessary preparation at the centre. So, they do not have to face those kinds of problems.”

The distance between marginalized peoples’ residence and schools always remains long due to the higher class’ unwillingness to live aside with marginalized people, marginalized people’s tendency to live in isolation and establishment pattern of schools in the heart of the main village. This relatively longer distance mostly influences the low literacy and high drop-out rates among the marginalized communities. As Kobita Rani Karmokar, a guardian, explained the fact, “We, both husband and wife have to work all day long to run the family. We do not get enough time to look after our kids. In the past, we were not eager to send our children to school due to the long distance fearing that some unwanted situations might happen when crossing a long distance. But today, since BARCIK managed an education centre within our living area that is why we send our children to the Centre Assistant’s responsibility and go for work without any hesitation. So, our children get the opportunity to study.” Thus through facilitating “Sastho-Sikkha Kendra” within the living areas of marginalized community, BARCIK provides an environment whereby the students have the family environment for learning, and the guardians have a feeling of assurance towards their children’s security. As a result, the literacy rate has significantly changed within in these communities.

The activities of health and education centre initiated a momentous change in the mindset of marginalized population. Being aware of and to ensure their rights, they communicate with public and private institutions effectively. They try to solve their various problems through communicating with the representatives of local and central governmental officials for the wellbeing of their population. Besides this, the Centre Assistants got an opportunity to raise their social and individual status in their way of managing centre responsibilities. At the initial stage, Centre Assistants were selected from the respective marginalized communities and most of them have the ‘eight grades’ of educational qualifications. But the opportunity to work in the center and inspiration from BARCIK has also benefited them to some extent. Teaching and caring the students they also realize the importance to upgrade themselves paving the way to resume their education! Centre Assistant Promila Rani Roy while explaining the change thus said, “When I started to work here, I was on the side of SSC. After then being inspired by BARCIK as well as getting inspiration from my work, I have gradually admitted to graduation course and completed fourth semester recently. I have been benefited many ways working here. My students respect me and people from the society admire my profession as well.”

From this backdrop, it can be said that an initiative either it is small or big can illuminate a whole community should it is implemented focusing on the needs and consultation of the community. The success of the center does not lie on BARCIK’s efforts alone but also on the contribution, sincerity, ownership and, more importantly, partnership of the community for whom the initiative has been conducted! Treating it as their own they thus dare to say, “We will run this centre, whether BARCIK remains with us or not.” This ownership ensures the sustainability of any development initiative. We hope this health and education centre for marginalized communities of Manikgonj create an example for people in different parts of Bangladesh as in this Centre, students are not only taught academic lessons but also the moral and social characters that enable them to grow as active citizens.

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