Friday, May 1, 2009

What's Next?

Education is the future. This mantra seems to have been adopted in this country where currently around 40% of the population is literate (50% literacy amongst men and 30% literacy amongst women). Many people bend over backwards to send their kids to school. Everyone is aware that education will determine your position in the Bangladeshi job market. During our stay in Kuakata (affected by supercyclone Sidr in 2007) we visited a small school built by the NGO Friendship. A beneficiary community of farmers had pulled together and asked Friendship to build a small school from their leftover building materials. This they gladly did and the result was a rather successful little school where we attended a morning session of class zero.

Upon entering we heard the kids chanting the days of the week in English, followed by the months, and the alphabet. Even twinkle twinkle little star was recited. The kids took pride in knowing these things by heart. Every successful recital ended with a round of applause. When we asked them to make drawings, however, they all seemed at a loss. Copying letters was something they could do. Learn to walk before you fly...

When we asked the kids to draw their dream house, a few stepped forward to the task. The class was divided into three groups of ten, which each had at least two 'very bright students' in them. The bright students were the first to take the challenge. An interesting thing we noticed, was that after these kids had made a drawing, the other students tended to follow their examples rather than go wildly creative on this open exercise. As a result, many images became copied alternatives of the previous drawing.

It made us think of all the moments where we asked people to tell us about their dreams and hopes for a better life. Many shyly answered that they had no financial capabilities to dream of beautiful futures. Others deterministically avoided the question by saying "Inshallah". It appears that dreaming or hoping for a better future in public is taboo. We're sure every child dreams, and we've had them tell us their ideal future jobs. And we're sure every adult likes to dream as well. It may, however, be possible that dreaming and hoping in such a religious and poor country, is simply bound to lead to disappointment. Or there is some other cultural reason why making these dreams public would only bring bad luck.

Could this reason have something to do with the transience of time when you cannot be sure wether the house you built yesterday will survive the storms of tomorrow? When nature's overwhelming forces have taught you just how vulnerable material property is? Will the more permanent NGO housing projects bring a change to this attitude? The main problem many of the projects we have seen faced was how to build a shelter which is wind proof for the stormy monsoon months while still providing a pleasant environment during the steamy summer months. This particular school managed to do both. However, the next day we found a school which made even more use of the local resources; a portable TV with generator on rickshaw planted under a tree. Kids came from all corners strapped in little blue UNICEF bags to watch school TV. And if a big cyclone would hit, you would just paddle that bicycle into the sunset.

1 comment:

  1. beautiful, beautiful..
    been wanting to comment on your posts this whole time.

    but the connection has been so bad in accra. see you soon :)