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!).