(Our land, our house: This is our Moanoghar. Sad or happy, we live here maintaining our brotherhood.)
The morning starts with children waking up listening to the prayer song of the Moanoghar. The Moanoghar is one of the most traditional institutions of Chittagong Hill Tracts. It is situated at Rangamati's Rangapani area. Here, underprivileged ethnic children from the three Hill Tracts area come to study. Once upon a time, it was also known as the Shantiniketan of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. However, at present, this popular institution is facing dilemma due to financial issues.
Tara Chakma, a student of the Moanoghar Residential School, says, "When I was 5 years old, I got admitted to this school. Now I am a student of class six of this school." The school is located at Betchari's remote area of Suvolong union under Barkal upazila of Rangamati.
Tara continues, "Earlier, I had to commute from my village to my previous school by crossing four kilometers on a boat. It was a difficult journey. Also, my father is no more. So, my mother could not maintain my studies. That is when she enrolled me in to Moanoghar."
The Moanoghar authorities say that about 1,300 students are currently studying at the Moanoghar Residential School. Around 700 students belong to the ethnicity of Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Chak, Bawm, Lusai, Pankua and other different areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. At present, Moanoghar runs on the funds it receives from its own income-generating programmes. To run the residential school and ensure its children's daily meals, they have set-up a bakery, a stationary store, a weaving and computer training centre. However, these are not enough for the institution to continue to run on its own.
In 1961, a religious Buddhist monk named Jnanasree Mahathero established a Buddhist orphanage centre at the Boalkhali area of Dighinala upazila of Khagrachari. Later, four other Buddhist monks named Bimal Tissho Mohathero, Shraddha Lankar Mohathero, Priyo Tisso Bhikku and Proggya Nonda Mohathero planned to shift the orphanage to Rangamati from Dighinala. In 1974, the orpahange began its journey with the name Moanoghar at Rangapani area under the Rangamati municipality.
The Meaning Behind Moanoghar:
The term "moanoghar" is used to describe the temporary shafts that people living in the hilly regions build upon their fields to store the harvest. Moanoghar is used to store the harvest for first six months and later, people go back to their villages with the crops for the later six months.
Ashok Kumar Chakma, the Executive Director of Moanoghar, says, "At present, we are facing financial problems to run Moanoghar. The orphanage and poor children of the remote areas of the CHT are studying in this institution. It is not possible for their parents to arrange for other means of education for their children. So, the children are being educated with the financial support from some organisations. Even then, it's not enough. We urge the government to help Moanoghar for its development and continuation."
Kirti Nishan Chakma, the General Secretary of Moanoghar's executive committee says, "Those who come to Moanoghar usually live in remote areas of the three hill districts, where there are no other schools. Most of these children have already lost their parents." Nishan adds, "To reconcile with technical knowledge, we need a technical school. We see a dream that the CHT children will come here and cultivate their minds through technical education and go back to their homes or workplace with the light of knowledge."
The Moanoghar officials have said that a support agency from France carried all the expenses of Moanoghar to build the necessary infrastructures. The French humanitarian organisation named Partage provided funds from 1982 to 1983.
When the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affair was formed after the Peace Accord of 1997, Partage stopped funding as the ministry took over some of the financial responsibilities of the school. However, during the caretaker government's regime, the fund was temporarily stopped and the school began to face crisis. At that time, Rotary Foundation of the Rotary Club, Karwan Bazaar, helped the institution for three long years by providing with scholarships. At that time, the institution received Tk 1 lac grant from the Social Welfare Ministry, but, it was not enough to cover even the daily meals of the 500 residential students or the salary of the 80 full time staff of the school.
Facing many ups and downs, Moanoghar has reached its 43th anniversary this year. Its mission to provide education is currently being hampered due to financial problems. Therefore, the only traditional educational institution of Chittagong Hill Tracts needs the patronage of both domestic and foreign donor agencies and social personalities, including the government's support.
All that Moanoghar needs at this time are proper funding and a strong professional management to run the facility. Continuing its task of kindling the light of knowledge amongst ethnic children, Moanoghar would be able to bring back its lost glory.