From the very beginning of our lives it is drilled into our brains that children are the future, and education is what lights up the path towards it. Despite so, plenty of children in Bangladesh alone have that light diminished at a very young age. Lack of education leaves them isolated, and left behind in a society that is constantly moving forward. However many of today's youth have founded and are constantly finding means of tackling that. One such case is that of Leaping Boundaries.
“In 2012 I was studying at York University and came to Bangladesh for the summer. I remember reading an article on Star Campus that took a positive perspective on the madrasa education system along with identifying the challenges and the needs. Whereas most of the time when we read about this sector, there's usually a negative connotation to the piece. I contacted the writer. He got me in touch with his professor who was a consultant at the Asian Development Project –Professor Harun Ur Rashid Khan. He had previously worked on a Capacity Development project for madrasa teachers and helped me get access to one,” recalls Syeda Shagufe Hossain, Project Director and Founder of Leaping Boundaries.
The first madrasa that Leaping Boundaries was allowed to get involved in was Hossenia Madrasa. They struck up a deal with the institute to teach the students English, and finish their syllabus. Shagufe recruited ten volunteers, all of whom not only worked towards finishing the syllabus for the students but also incorporating creative thinking, and stressing the basics.
“At that point I thought their lack of skills regarding communicating in English was their main issue. But that's not the case most of the time, took me a while to figure out for most madrasa students, the issue was that they were usually isolated from mainstream society,” Shagufe goes on to say.
And Shagufe got her opportunity to figure that out when the initiative took an unexpected halt in 2013. “When I initially approached the madrasas, I was a student. I did not have an NGO. My selling proposition was 'I am from the youth and I have no biases' but when Shahbagh happened, things became complicated. The madrasa did not trust us anymore. They basically shut us out, wouldn't pick up our calls or agree to meet us.”
The break gave Leaping Boundaries to remodel its program. Keeping English as the basis, Leaping Boundaries began to hone the students' soft skills and connect them to various platforms such as the Spelling Bee, BYLC training programs etc. The trainers also work as counselors for the adolescents (60 percent of who are female), as the target group for the initiative are students from grade six to seven.
“Our program, the lectures, the worksheets are materials that are suitable for British curriculum but they are also aligned with the curriculum and syllabus of the Madrasa that we intervene in,” quotes Sadia Afrin, Manager, Training, Learning and Development at Leaping Boundaries.
After having remodelled the program, Leaping Boundaries was able to intervene in two more madrasas in 2013 through a madrasa graduate, Muhammad Ferdous, who had sought them out. From there, Leaping Boundaries plans to target four more madrasas next year, introduce an ICT workshop – the resources which most madrasas lack. In the long term, the organisation plans to integrate more madrasa students into mainstream society.
While Leaping Boundaries focuses on intervening in schools, another organization – Prothom Surjo – focuses on getting street children into school.
“One day I was walking by Aziz Street when I saw a few kids playing football. I went up to them and asked them whether they'd like to talk to me, promptly they gathered around me and started answering my questions. I asked whether any of them went to school, they said they didn't. I followed up asking what they usually did, and they said they picked up trash on the roadside. The reason they gave for being unable to go to school was their circumstances at home. But before I could ask anything else, they asked me a question: why I was asking these questions, and whether I was going to teach them,” shares Nasir Uddin Rubel, Founder, Prothom Surjo. “I was a little taken aback by the question, but I asked whether they'd learn if I came to teach them. They said they would, their familial circumstances keep them from going to school, but they would study here. After that I went to one of my professors and told him everything, he gave me some funds to buy books for the children. Then I began to go back to the place and teach the kids in a 'classroom' of six. And that's how it all started.”
From April 8, 2010 of when it first started, Prothom Surjo has grown to become a volunteer organisation that deals with enrolling street children to schools. Their main operation is to train the kids in preschool courses, and once they're ready, they're enrolled into schools in different areas like Nilkhet, Dhanmondi, and Bangla Motor. Along with enrolling the children into school, Prothom Surjo also provides them with school resources ranging from their school dresses to stationery.
“We make sure their schooling doesn't stop, we counsel their parents; teach them to be more hygienic, and provide an environment to do their homework. This year we've enrolled around 40 students. There are few more students to enroll,” continues Rubel.
However working with slum children comes with many challenges; Rubel shares that one of major ones is that once the kids reach a certain age they're constantly surrounded by bad influences. Young girls are often even abducted from their streets.
“I knew I had to do something for these girls, these were the girls getting brilliant grades; graduating from one class to another. I couldn't let them fall into wrong hands and lose their potential. But I also didn't have enough funds to open a shelter for them. It was becoming difficult. Then an acquaintance introduced me to a man who did business in Japan. He asked me about Prothom Surjo, and I told him about the plans for the shelter. He agreed to fund it, and now we have place in Uttara 10 for young girls. There are about 20 of them living in the quarters right now,” he explains.
However Prothom Surjo isn't stopping here. With time Prothom Surjo plans to enrol even more street children into schools. Along with that Prothom Surjo also plans to eventually integrate retired individuals and kids into a safe area, where they could help each other by teaching, and accompanying each other.
It is these initiatives like Leaping Boundaries and Prothom Surjo that are constantly working towards crossing barriers and paving a for the children who lack the resources for a brighter future.
The writer is Contributor, Shout, The Daily Star.