For children in the villages bordering the Sundarbans mangrove forest, shadows should be especially long. Not only are there tiger tales to consider but forest darkness must hold a mystical, almost magical quality for a child's imagination to fear and celebrate. That same darkness is nothing but a nuisance, however, when it comes to completing homework.
Mitali Barmon, a class-V student of West Khejuria village had the habit of visiting neighbouring houses in search of a solar lamp in order to study of an evening. Her father Monoronjan is a day labourer who can neither afford costly kerosene for lamp nor provide for education expenses, including stationery and books.
West Khejuria is situated across the Passur river from Mongla. Its Binapani Government Primary School is housed in a cyclone shelter; students from many struggling families living in surrounding villages study there.
According to teachers many face extreme financial hardship. Family income is often dependent on day labour and catching fish. Many families even try to complete their dinner around sunset due to their inability to purchase kerosene for lamps. While most of the children attend school regularly, like Mitali they can't easily study at night due to the lack of light.
Fortunately the situation is changing. A number of environment organisations including the Korea Green Foundation and Bangladesh Environment and Development Society have distributed solar lamps to the students. Solar home system has been installed on the primary school's roof for recharging the lamps. West Khejuria's school goers these days carry their lamps to and from school, and they carry them with pride.
“I can't explain how much having a solar lamp has changed my life,” says Mitali, “or how much it has reduced daily life's burden for my family.”
Classmates Suchitra Shil, Akash Barmon and Dipok Mondal are equally delighted by the change. Speaking with The Daily Star they expressed greater confidence in being able to continue their education and excitement at being able to study more easily of an evening.
“Our students never had enough after-school time to prepare homework,” says the school's Headmistress Jharna Mondal. “Now they do. Our students have become more serious about attending classes and more competitive performers in examinations.”
Around 1,500 solar lamps have been distributed across Banishanta union to which West Khejuria belongs.
Union Chairman Shudeb Kumar Roy says that solar lamps have done not less than to light up in local students a spirit for learning.
Parents are happy too.
“The solar lamp is very helpful to us,” says Mitali's father.