At the start of November, we sent Esther our Communications Officer, out to visit two projects that we support in Bangladesh. The aim of the trip was not box ticking or head counting, but to spend some time with the people we work with, listening to their views, gaining understanding about their daily lives, hearing their stories and learning from them, so we can continue to ensure that our projects are owned by the children and their communities in a meaningful way.
In Cox’s Bazar, despite the rise of local tourism, poverty is widespread. The plight of poor families in Bangladesh is desperate and many children are sent out to work, and cannot afford any form of education. Here, together with our partners MUKTI and the Rohingya Children's Education Programme (RCEP), we support nine Community Schools specifically set up to help children who work the beach area here. 900 young workers attend the schools for two to three hours a day. They receive a nutritious meal, attend lessons, freshen up with a wash and have the chance to play and rest with their friends.
This is a life line for children like Maisa who we spoke with during the visit. She works as a tour guide every morning on the beach. She’s 12 years old, her father has passed away and her mother is sick with a heart problem. Because of this, in a practical sense she is the head of the household. She works in the morning, she tends their small vegetable patch and cooks for her siblings in the evening, but in the afternoon she can come and learn, play and rest. Her dream is to keep learning, and one day be a doctor.
All our work is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which during 2014 has marked 25 years since its adoption). Within the past few years we have been further developing our focus on the principle that the children we work with are stakeholders in their own future, not passive recipients of aid, services and provisions. A significant part of realising this, is to ensure meaningful participation in our projects, at every level, for the children we are working with.
In Cox’s Bazar this is taking shape in a number of ways. The children have started to produce their own newsletter to express their views, artwork and stories. For the first issue they had at least 100 entries to sift through, and it was the child council who decided which pieces would be featured. The child council has recently been formed as part of the participatory work of the project. A representative from each class comes together to voice the views of the children they live and learn with.
During the trip, we worked with this group to analyse the results of some previous research. Showing them some data about teachers perspectives, we asked them for their reaction to this, and their opinions on how to go forward. This was done in a child friendly manner with scribbling on huge sheets of paper and using colourful stickers for the ‘voting’. It emerged that where the teachers priority was to make the classrooms more ‘beautiful’, the children themselves thought the important thing was to have more benches. This is currently being addressed by the team, especially for the older children who do more involved schoolwork.
In the meantime read about our Community Schools and consider donating to the work.