Manikganj – education

As soon as we left Kusitia, we headed back onto the main road and down more dirt tracks, then along a narrow pathway by a river, where at one point the path was barely a foot wide  – to the BRAC School in the village of Dashgra.  Off with our shoes and into a small raised bamboo structure, with mat walls and roof, and wooden floors covered in mats for our comfort.  It was quite dark inside so it took some time for our eyes to get used to the gloom.  About 40 smiling faces greeted me, 10-year-old kids very excited to have a visitor.

The class was divided into 10 little groups, each group had a leader.  Each leader introduced herself and members of her groups.  Mostly girls in the class, I counted 8 boys but all come from ultra-poor homes and have been sponsored to attend school.  The difference with BRAC schools is that they study just 4 hours a day to allow the kids complete their chores and assist with continuing to bring income into the household. School however is year long because instead of vacation time, school closes temporarily at harvest time, and reconvenes once harvest is over.  For the kids with the appropriate grades and interest, scholarships for further education are available to them all if they choose.

A question I threw out to the class as to what they want to be when they grow up ranged from teacher to nurse to doctor to prime minister 🙂 to cricketer.  The class agreed this young man was good enough to one day make the Bangladeshi team – impressive! We had a great chat about countries and got out the world map to find Cork in Ireland, Bowen Island in Canada and Bhainsepati in Nepal.  They were pretty intrigued that I was born in Ireland but am now a Canadian citizen having just spent five months working in Nepal.  And they really wanted to know how cold Canada gets, minus 40 degrees in the likes of Winnipeg just blew them away.

River fish as you know is eaten daily in Bangladesh so when they heard Cork was on the coast, they wanted to know what fish we ate.  I recounted childhood stories of fishing for mackerel and pollock off the Old Head of Kinsale, scooping sprats into colanders from the row boat and frying them up for breakfast and taking the discarded crab (and if we were lucky) lobsters from fisherman Ted’s nets on Garrettstown beach.

They didn’t know beef is not eaten in Nepal due to religious reasons and pork is a common meat in Ireland, unlike predominently Muslim Bangladesh. I  was then treated to a selection of songs and dances by the kids, just lovely, I felt so honoured.  They also had a few questions for me – you guessed it – was I married.  These kids were not as shocked as the ladies earlier in the day and in fact one young girl stood up and said she also wanted to be “self-dependent” when she grew up.  Unsure how that will go down with her family!  I did say a girl can still be independent, have her own job etc yet still be married.  I did not want their whole culture and beliefs blown apart and me be the root cause!! Their school day was soon drawing to a close, so we said our farewells and left them to a math test (poor things!).

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to Manikganj – education

  1. Grace Coffey says:

    Great guidance Kate – amazing discussion and maturity for 10 year olds!

  2. bkmiec says:

    I love this post, Kate. Your description of the pathway to the school, the school itself, and the 40 smiling faces before you! Sounds like this was a sweet moment during your time in Bangladesh. And yes, I love how you answered the question by the “self-dependent” little girl!! What a gem, by the way : ) (Both you, and the little girl!!)

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