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They Shall Overcome; Some Day…

Naomi Ahmad's picture

They looked up shyly as I entered the class room. Curious eyes focused on me, as I bend to sit on the jute mat on the floor, careful not to step on all the books in front of us. They were learning about the difference between "ship" and "sheep" – the difference in pronunciation, spelling and meaning.

I stole a look around the classroom – it was a small dingy room with bamboo walls and a thatched roof – but in spite of the surroundings, the children had put in their best efforts to liven things up. Colorful paintings of flowers, fruits, trees and birds were hung up all around – vivid splashes of red, green, fuchsia and sky blue. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a painting of a woman in an orange sari, balancing a pitcher of water on her hips, a plump mango in her hand, a wide grin on her face framed by long flowing black hair.

These must be the images and colors of their dreams, I thought. They were the children of Ananda Schools - Learning Centers known as the Schools of Joy.

Ananda Schools formed under the World Bank assisted Reaching Out-of-School Children (ROSC) Project, gives disadvantaged children a second chance to continue their education. In 60 of the poorest upazilas of Bangladesh, some 500,000 children who had been forced to drop out of formal schooling have now enrolled at these alternative learning centers. These include children from ultra-poor families who can’t afford their education, children who had to drop out of school and start working to support their family and disadvantaged children living in remote poor areas of the country with limited access to education and opportunities. Through the ROSC Project, Ananda Schools provide education stipends to these children and to lessen the burdens on their families, distribute free books, stationeries and school uniforms.

Formed with a small group of around 20 - 30 children, each Ananda School aims to eventually help integrate these children as students into the formal school system. As the name suggests, at Ananda Schools or the Schools of Joy, children are taught Mathematics, English and Bangla in innovative ways. Extra-curriculum activities such as music, dancing, painting and sports are given priority here, and the focus is on having fun while learning. The overall atmosphere at the schools is lively and friendly, but most of all it offers a nurturing space that allows the children to escape from their harsh lives for a few hours and gives them the courage to dream of a better life.

As the day’s English lesson came to an end at the Ananda School we were visiting at Shaghata, Gaibandha, the wide-eyed girl sitting next to me, suddenly leaned in towards me. Blushing, she confided that she will be singing a traditional Bangla song for us, and watched in glee as I juggled bags, water bottles, camera and handy cam to record her performance.

She sang a lilting song of the green fields, of freedom, of living and loving life – and I was amazed at how easily she seemed to be able to transport herself into another whole dimension where life was simpler, easier and free from omnipresent shadow of poverty and deprivation. We walked out of the classroom and away from the Ananda School while the strains of the song “We Shall Overcome” echoed behind us. The entire class seemed to be singing in unison, 20 or so boys and girls of varying age and from different families, bonded by the determination to rise above the challenges in their lives. The children sang it confidently, once in English and then in Bangla –

We shall Overcome, Some day…Amra Korbo Joy, Ek Din…

And deep in my heart, I do believe them. Ananda Schools have brought hope and courage to many – myself included.


For more information about the US$51 million Reaching Out-of-School Children (ROSC) Project (co-financed by the Government of Bangladesh, the World Bank and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), please visit the IDA at work ROSC project profile.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
i like this post very much...

Submitted by Dale on
Well done, great to see you all sharing these stories and experiences which are really about the place where work and personal emotion meet.

Submitted by L. Nasrin on
I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts made in rendering sound education in rural areas of Bangladesh. My impression that the quality of education had deteriorated in remote rural areas of Bangladesh has been corrected by the vivid and interesting description in your blog. Government of Bangladesh and the World Bank deserves congratulations.

Hi Nasrin - like you, not only was I surprised by the quality of the lesson that I had a chance to sit through, but I was also amazed at the dedication of the teacher - Umme Humaira Zannat. Humaira is preparing for her own college examinations, while volunteering to teach at the Ananda School, and I felt that she genuinely cares for the children. I believe much of the success of ROSC is also due to individuals like her - who has dedicated their time and effort to help these children. They deserve our congratulations too...

Submitted by Chulie on
Well done indeed Naomi! Good to hear of an interesting program of much value. But where is the video clip of the song?

Many thanks Chulie! Hope to have the clips prepared soon...it was touching to see their excitment. I have clips of three songs and a dance too!

Submitted by Anonymous on
Its inspiring to learn of the strides in rural Bangladesh. Often all we hear within the expatriate Bangladeshi community is of the struggles, the poverty, the lack of resources and the corruption - rarely are the instances of inspirational leaps and bounds in grassroots development highlighted and communicated effectively. Hats off to your efforts - keep up the great work!

Submitted by Bamandas Basu on
I enjoyed reading about Ananda School. More enjoyable was to discover that the writer is very well known to me. I am proud of you, Naomi. I am glad to know that you are associated with such interesting activities in Bangladesh. They may overcome some day, but they surely need a lot of help from us in order to overcome.

Submitted by Habib Zafarullah on
Hi Naomi, it was a delight reading your write-up on the Ananda School. You have provided an optimistic snapshot of what can be achieved through genuine commitment of those who wish to see a happy, smart and prosperous Bangladesh. Please continue enlightening us of similar human development projects in Bangladesh.

Thank you all! I'm glad that I have been able to share with you a glimpse of an initiative which is commited to the vision of a happy and prosperous nation. The ROSC project has received an additional financing of US$35 million to help scale up this initiative in about 30 more upazilas, enrolling an additional 250,000 out-of-school children.

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