In the villages on the isolated Teesta river chars (landmass emerging from riverbed) in Lalmonirhat's Hatibandha upazila most students face a particularly arduous school commute. Boat rides and walking for several kilometres to reach a classroom is a common experience. For girls the topography is especially challenging; many attend class just one or two days per week. Now, the Teestakoli Students' Hostel is making a difference. In providing convenient accommodation, girls finally have a fighting chance to focus on education.
“Before the hostel opened it took me up to three hours on foot to reach my school,” says Farzana Yasmin, a Class X student. “There was no way to attend regularly. Now I stay at the hostel, which means I can actively participate in school.”
“Many girls from our shoal villages dropped out before the Secondary School Certificate due to the difficulties of getting to school,” says Class IX student Lovely Akhter Lata. “With the hostel available staying on at school is much easier.”
“We are getting better test scores now than even the students on the mainland,” adds Ayesha Khatun who studies in class ten.
The two-storey hostel attached to Parulia Tafshili High School has the capacity to accommodate up to 52 students, who study from class six through to class ten. Each student spends just Tk 18 per day on meals, with meals provided for free two days per month courtesy of the school development fund.
“Meals are cheap here,” says Mousumi Akhter, a boarder studying in class eight. “We are also growing our own vegetables on the hostel grounds. My home is on Dawabari shoal. Without this hostel I couldn't even dream of education.”
Naturally, the hostel is also popular with parents. “It costs around Tk 1000 per month for my daughter to stay at the hostel,” says Sahedul Islam, 46, from Paschim Haldibari char. “That's about half of what it used to cost me to pay for her transport to and from school each day. The girls have good security at the hostel too.”
“This hostel is a first-of-its-kind facility for girls in the shoal areas,” says Anil Chandra Roy, the head teacher of the adjacent school. “It has both grid and solar electricity. The girls are well looked after.”
The hostel was built by non-government organisation Plan International Bangladesh in 2016, with joint funding provided by the Integrated Social Development Project and Plan Canada.