This little indoor playground looks like utter colourful chaos. Blank pages smeared with rainbows and imperceptible shapes. The air resounds of age-old songs and simple poetry. There is a grown-up here, but she too is immersed in the madness. But there is a method to this madness.
While the situation is the worst it has ever been, we are better equipped than we have ever been. This success can be credited to collaborative efforts by the government and civil society, which ensure shelter homes, pre-disaster preparedness, and early warning systems.
Jhuma’s home, a small mud house, stands alone on a little raised piece of land in the middle of a vast inland sea. She lives in the haor, a seemingly endless stretch of wetlands in Sunamganj in northern Bangladesh. Everything around her is covered by water. She cannot see land, as far as she looks, for more than half of the year. More children drop out from schools in these areas than anywhere else in the country. 20 million people live in the haor region that spreads across seven districts. Less than 1% finish high school.
It is a weekday afternoon in Moulvibazar, Rangpur, and the melody of children chanting times tables is wafting through the trees. School is over, but students are gathered under shady trees in the village courtyards for another round of lessons.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister this week launched the latest addition to the country’s digital curriculum to reach 20 million primary school students, continuing to revolutionise one of the most under-resourced education systems in South Asia.
For young girls hailing from disadvantaged communities, activities such as competitive sports not only encourage them to discuss sensitive health issues but also empower them to take up leadership roles in their societies. For women, participating in team sports also enables a sense of unity that helps them be seen as champions within their communities.
Due to its geographical location, Bangladesh faces various types of slow and rapid onset of natural disasters. In the coming years, the country will have to bear the increasing brunt of climate change. While relief work is swiftly undertaken by many organisations, there is work to be done on the long-term social and psychological rehabilitation of the people, particularly children living in the affected regions.
We face tremendous problems keeping girls in school as they transition through adolescence. In Sierra Leone, 30 per cent of reported rapes take place in the school environment, and a recent ruling banned 'visibly pregnant' girls from school. When the school itself becomes a hostile setting, it should come as no surprise that dropout rates shoot up.
In the coming years, countries and communities will bear the brunt of climate change. Future projections of the rise in temperature and sea level along with increase in natural disasters are feared. However, we tend to forget that it is the future generation who will have to live through these consequences. It is widely asserted that the poor, in particular children, will be most affected – greater physical exposure to natural hazards and increased risks of health being two of the main reasons.
In Bangladesh, there has been significant improvement in primary and secondary education. But the fact remains that as many as four million children remain out of school each year, mainly due to challenges of accessibility and affordability or being compelled to choose between earning and education.
Taking on the challenge of reaching out to children of families who face social exclusion, BRAC’s education programme has reached out to the children of sex workers. My visit to a school in Douladia showed me what it means to work with a group that is socially neglected.