When driving over the Tejgaon-Bijoy Sharani Flyover, the thought of children playing and learning right underneath is beyond the spectrum of imagination for most people. Adjacent to the flyover is a narrow footpath, almost invisible to the unobservant passenger in a car. However, if you were to step out of the comfort of your bubble and walk through the pathway constricted by walls with barbed wire and the polythene walled houses, you would soon be greeted by a burst of colour and happiness that is 'Deyal Kotha'.
At its very basest, Deyal Kotha is a structure consisting mainly of bamboo and board panels against a backdrop of a bright green “tree of knowledge”. It was the product of a Master's thesis project at Harvard University Graduate School of Design that aimed to use unused spaces. Then at the BUET library, the idea bloomed in like minds of Srijon Barua, Samain Sabrin and Naziha Mohammed of the Department of Architecture. Once the project was awarded with the Edward M Kennedy Center Small Grant in 2014, Deyal Kotha began coming to life. The project is being supervised and implemented by Avantgardes, a non-profit organisation, in co-operation with DCC North and funded by EMK Center.
The whole concept evolved further with each brainstorm session as the enthusiastic architects spoke to the people in the area. From just a jatra stage, it transformed into an informal school, where children from the slums could come in and simply learn without being restricted to any curriculum. There, everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher – a perfect ecosystem for learning in the most unlikely of places.
The minimal space under the flyover and the lack of security of working in a public place did not hinder the effectiveness of Deyal Kotha. The classroom hovers a few feet above the ground to offer the children a semi open space to hold their attention without creating a feeling of confinement. Instead of traditional staircases, it has ladders that serve to symbolically represent how one has to climb one's way up. Underneath is a web of bamboos that act as a makeshift playground of monkey bars. The multifunctional stage not only exhibits plays for educational and recreational purposes but once it is folded it acts as bookshelves and storage as well.
Srijon Barua, who named the project “Deyal Kotha” as it served as a crude building against the wall for children to call it their own, said, “The biggest accomplishment was that the kids loved it once it was installed. You should have seen how they were jumping around it!”