Change Maker

For the love of a language

Non-profit organisation out on a mission to save Chakma language from going extinct
Children from different schools hold certificates that they earned after taking lessons on reading and writing in their mother tongue -- Chakma. Photo: Collected

In a country where people laid down their lives about seventy years ago to uphold the dignity of their mother tongue, Bangla, the struggle is still on to preserve mother tongues of smaller ethnic communities. 

In an attempt to preserve the languages that are on the verge of extinction, the government in recent years has started publishing textbooks for pre-primary and primary-level students who speak in those languages, such as Chakma.

The effort however met with a setback caused by unavailability of teachers who can read and write using the Chakma alphabet.

The setback did not deter the young members of 'Changma Sahitya Bah' -- a literary and cultural organisation -- from following a dream, in which every Chakma is able to read and write in their mother tongue.

In an initiative that started in 2004, the volunteers of Changma Sahitya Bah so far gave Chakma alphabet lessons to about 10 thousand native Chakma speakers, including a good number of students of all ages as well as teachers in primary schools.

Currently, the organisation provides free Chakma language lessons at 200 locations across the country, but mostly in Chattogram hill tracts and Dhaka. They also have their own alphabet lesson book, titled 'Pattam Adi Pudi'. 

This correspondent recently visited one of the Chakma language teaching centres at Amrokanan Buddhist Monastery in Khagrachhari, where a good number of students from different local schools and colleges gathered to take lessons in Chakma language from volunteer teachers of Changma Sahitya Bah.

Toshi Chakma, one of the teachers there, said she has been working with the organisation for a long time and she takes pride in this great endeavour that aims to preserve a language.

Their efforts are being praised by native Chakma speakers who are also showing keen interest in learning how to write and read in their own alphabet, she also said.

University student Anweshan Chakma said lots of Chakma students like him, enrolled at different universities, still do not know how to read or write in their mother tongue. 

Utilising the free time, which became available after the closure of educational institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he took Chakma language lessons at the monastery and finally he has learned to read and write in his mother tongue, he added.  

Sohagi Chakma, an assistant teacher at Babuchhara Friendship School in Dighinala upazila of Khagrachhari, said she did not know the Chakma alphabet when she started teaching at the school. But after taking lessons from Changma Sahitya Bah, she is now able to give lessons in Chakma language at her school.

Changma Sahitya Bah President Injeb Chakma said languages and alphabets of many nations in the world went extinct due to a lack of practice and the Chakma language runs that same risk as most Chakmas cannot read or write using the Chakma alphabet.

In order to prevent it from happening, they made it their mission to provide free Chakma alphabet lessons to native Chakma speakers of all ages, he also said. "We want every Chakma -- from children to the elderly -- to know how to read and write in our alphabet."

Reached for his comments over the initiative of Changma Sahitya Bah, Ananda Mohan Chakma, a Chakma language writer and a member of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, said the youths of Changma Sahitya Bah are playing a pivotal role in the advancement of education by providing Chakma alphabet lessons to students and teachers in the Chakma community. 

All out support should be extended to them for their commendable efforts, he added.


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