NPO Earth Caravan’s
Report on the Bangladesh Educational Support Project
September 24-30, 2017
Dear Earth Caravan NPO members and foster parents,
We are deeply thankful for your precious cooperation and your sincere understanding of this project. From the bottom of our hearts, we would like to share our appreciation for your kindness.
In 2017, from September 24th to 30th, we visited several villages to see how the educational support project in Bangladesh was progressing. We are hopeful that this report will deepen your understanding of the recent state of the project and the conditions under which it is operating, and contribute to your continued support into the future. Although this report covers all the details of the project, please be aware of the limitations of covering such a vast project in a single report.
To begin our journey, we took two connecting flights, first from Japan to Bangkok, Thailand and then from Bangkok to Chittagong in Bangladesh.
We then drove by car for five hours to finally arrive at Cox’s Bazar. By then, the first day was already coming to an end.
We stayed at Rajo’s house. He is a local NPO Earth Caravan staff member who is working very hard as a project coordinator. He does a wonderful job as communication liaison with the people in the villages we are supporting and in keeping the Japanese staff informed of the current situation.
Rajo himself is part of the Rakhine tribe and was in Japan during his time studying abroad. His capacity to speak Japanese, English, and Bengali (the official language of Bangladesh), is invaluable to the project.
Early the next morning we woke up to the sound of the worship service from the mosque nearby and to the howling of stray dogs. About 90 percent of the population in Bangladesh is Muslim. Once we left Rajo’s house, we came upon the chaos of three-wheelers, commonly known as tuk-tuks, rushing about and honking their horns constantly, and of rickshaws, cows, goats, stray dogs, and pedestrians coming and going all around; to say the streets were very crowded would be an understatement. Here, 160 million people live in an area of 40 percent that of Japan.
1. The state of education in Bangladesh and the children of the Rakhine Tribe
In Bangladesh, students who complete grades 1 to 4 need to pass a series of examinations in order to continue on to grade 5. Since these exams cover a very broad spectrum of subjects, they can’t be passed without proper preparation. In order to prepare for these exams, many children go to private schools, but in the poorest families, the parents cannot afford to pay the tuition fees, which start at 500 yen (5 dollars), and this impedes their children’s future opportunities.
As a result of this situation, it’s very hard for orphans and children from the poorest households to move up to the next step in their studies, resulting in high drop-out rates from an early age. This often prevents their access to decent jobs, which makes it impossible to break out of the vicious circle of poverty.
And even if they manage to succeed in passing their exams and go to junior high school, the lack of decently developed industries, other than clothing, sewing, and agriculture, makes it difficult for them to get a job; overpopulation also contributes to this issue. Furthermore, because the Rakhine Tribe, whom we support, is a Buddhist minority ethnic group of less than 1 percent of the Bangladeshi population, they suffer from discrimination.
2. Educational support from NPO Earth Caravan
Taking into consideration such situations as this, NPO Earth Caravan established schools and preparatory schools with the primary objective of providing lessons and supplementary lessons. The goal of these schools is to improve the basic academic abilities necessary to achieve access to higher education. Based on how urgent the situation is and local conditions, some Rakhine Tribe villages were chosen to begin this project.
We are supporting three out of the 24 villages in the Rakhine Tribe: the village of Barbakiya, Cox’s Bazar village, and Cox’s Bazar Choflondhi village. In the future, we hope to be able to support many more villages and to bring within reach the benefits of better education to the poorest children who cannot, at the moment, even get access to the lowest compulsory education.
Four subjects are covered in lessons at the schools: Bengali, which is necessary for promotion and employment; English; mathematics; and the Rakhine language, which is the base of their culture. At the moment, the children in the three villages don’t have access to Rakhine language education because there are few teachers who can teach it. We’re putting a lot of effort into urgently finding Rakhine teachers. Even though they are persecuted, we want them to be proud of their culture and we want to give them the tools necessary to hand down their tradition to the next generation, therefore we are encouraging all schools to provide Rakhine language lessons.
3. How support money is spent
We use the money we receive from supporters in the following ways:
• To provide stationery on a monthly basis (notebooks and ballpoint pens for all students).
• To repair school buildings and purchase equipment (bookshelves, desks, and sports equipment, etc.).
• To pay teachers’ salaries.
• To pay for the cost of school uniforms, as needed.
We hope that NPO Earth Caravan’s budget in the near future can include the cost of a yearly school excursion. How wonderful and helpful it would be for the children and how pleased they would be. We are aware of how important it is to use the support money to enrich the educational environment, but we would also like to be able to create schools that the children would joyfully attend.
Normally, in order to prevent any feelings of jealousy or unfairness among students, NPO Earth Caravan doesn’t provide support for specific children, but in the case of orphans, we do give a small amount of money per month for them to buy a few snacks as we want them to receive and to enjoy a little fun. The amount is 150 yen for first and second graders, 300 yen for third and fourth graders, 600 yen from the fifth grade up to junior high school, and 750 yen for students at technical schools.
In addition, many children are not orphans but are too poor to keep going to school due to their household financial situation. We’d like to start focusing on how to support children in these kinds of situations.
4. A review of NPO Earth Caravan support
Members of NPO Earth Caravan from Japan and other countries visit the villages once a year to listen to local staff, monks, village chiefs, teachers, and students in order to get a better understanding of how the support works for them and discuss their needs with them. We then think about what we can do to improve our support in the future.
Village representatives sometimes ask us to support specific new foster children or children who can’t come to school because of poverty. As a general rule, we do not support orphans individually, but instead, help the villages where they live. We do tell the representatives that we will consider such children as far as possible, and ask them to help and support the children by reaching out to the people in their villages.
Orphans do not grow up in orphanages but live with their grandparents’ or other relatives, and the people in the villages take care of them. They live together and support each other, so the orphans are not completely alone.
4.1 The Village of Barbakiya, in the State of Pekua
It took us two hours by car from Cox’s Bazar to arrive at the village of Barbakiya, where about 20 children are studying. We received a passionate welcome from the students at the school. Each student, as well as the chief of the village, gave us a warm welcome and showed us gratitude for the support we offered by giving us bouquets of flowers.
The uniforms that were requested on our previous visit were being worn by the children. The children’s faces shone and they looked so proud in their new uniforms. After this wonderful welcome, we handed stationery to each of the children.
At our meeting, the chief of the village said that before receiving our support the children used to go to many different schools that were outside the village. Now that a school has been built in their village, he is very happy to see that all the children can study together. In addition, the school uniforms they received encourage them to study more and they look so attractive that children from other villages want to come to study at their school.
Two young teachers mentioned that it would be nice to have something like a doll to use to entertain the students and encourage them to study more, or to add more desks and chairs to the classroom.
We emphasized that we didn’t mind providing what they felt the children needed; however, we don’t want to give only money and material support. Instead, we wish to give them a means to develop their potential.
We believe that they have the ability to actively operate the school on their own. We asked them not to depend on us, but to instead make more effort to operate the school by thinking about how to improve themselves.
With regard to the education of the children, we requested that teachers educate the students by bringing forward their creativity rather than by raising children who will obey what teachers tell them.
One of the children told us that he enjoyed studying English and read, in front of us, an English composition. Many foreign supporters, such as NGO staff, visit Bangladesh, even though there are few foreign tourists. There is still only a small number of English speakers, but if more students learn to speak English, they will have an advantage in receiving support and finding employment.
With that in mind, we asked the teachers to teach English and encouraged the children to speak it.
And as there is no teacher in this village who can teach the Rakhine language, they cannot currently study their native language. We asked the village mayor to find a teacher as soon as possible.
4.2 Cox’s Bazar village
Twenty-seven children study in this village. This school is different from the two other schools, in some regards. Students in the 4th grade and below attend the school six days a week, from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm and the teachers give lessons the same way they are given in public schools. The senior students come in for 45 minutes every day to review lessons and assignments.
The representative of this school is a monk, and the students are able to learn the Rakhine language from him. Nowadays, members of the Rakhine tribe speak Bengali even among themselves, and few people can speak Rakhine. However, monks have to learn Rakhine for the study of Buddhist scriptures so they can teach it to the children.
At our meeting, it was reported that, thanks to your support, the number of students who can go to junior high schools, high schools, and technical schools is increasing. We were asked to provide a grant for a school excursion to a zoo and to put fences around the school in order to prevent strangers from entering at night. We tasked them to put together an estimate of the excursion cost and to substitute nets for fences.
Twenty-five children study In this village. The teacher at the age of 18, is still young. He is also an orphan who lost his parents when he was 11 years old. He speaks English. The school building was built by the United Nations Development Program (the UNDP) in 2005, but they cannot use it since the roof became damaged and hasn’t been repaired. So, for the moment, students gather under the temple roof in order to study.
Every time we visit this village was asked to repair the roof. We’ve hesitated to cover the $1,500 cost, but we’ll need to consider including it in the budget in the future, because the winter is very cold, which makes it difficult to study outside.
The teachers told us that thanks to your support, the number of students who drop out is decreasing and more students go on to upper schools. They are delighted and satisfied with the result and quite motivated by it.
Just a short conversation:
The NPO Earth Caravan member: (EC) The teacher: (T)
(EC): What would you like to do to improve the school?
(T): I would like you to hire another teacher.
(EC): Who would you recommend?
(T): I would like to recommend her. (pointing at a woman)
(EC): Who is she?
(T): She is my wife.
(EC): What!? Your wife!? (everyone bursts into laughter)
(EC): Did you get married?
(T): Yes. One month ago. (he smiles)
(EC): … What a lovely school for a just-married couple to teach it!!!
Since the husband is an orphan it is easier for him to sympathize with the children and their painful situation. However, we did not accept their request, not because we think it’s bad for a young couple to teach at the school, but we feel that since they are very young, we need more time to have a better grasp of the situation.
Our educational support is not large compared to what some of the major NGOs can provide when they raise money with huge advertising campaigns in trains, online, and direct marketing. All NPO Earth Caravan staff are volunteers and each of us does other work to cover our living expenses. Therefore, it may take time for us to put into motion actions that will get bigger results. And we are sorry about this.
In the past, some villages received educational support from major NGOs, and there used to be some excellent school buildings in some of those villages. However, their support often comes with a deadline and they end their support once that deadline is reached, often without considering the outcome or any future development. As a result, after they finish giving physical support or money, the school buildings begin to deteriorate and slowly the situation returns to its previous state because of a lack of funds.
In addition to that, those who receive this kind of help are accustomed to being given support unilaterally and tend to forget to make their lives better by themselves. We need time as well as perseverance and creative ideas from supporters in order for those concerned to become independent in the future by cultivating their identity and creativity.
We do not intend to take part in activities with the main focus on helping “poor people.” Poverty in developing countries is one of the results of the economic structure of our world, in which developed countries are exploiting and acquiring wealth. We hope that fair and equitable economic practices will be carried out and we strongly hope that it will become natural for everyone to promote activities that stop unfair relationships and instead promote more equitable relationships.
The reason we’re trying to increase the number of supporters for this project isn’t only for the local people, but also for everyone who is involved in this project. This support project has wonderful by-products. It is an open invitation to get to know and recognize how to live your life in order to achieve real happiness by considering others’ suffering and pain as your own. We strongly hope that the more people this invitation reaches, the more energy to create freedom and happiness can be shared with the whole world.
In the end, we would like to share the most important thing of all with you. We are quite sure that the money we were able to gather, thanks to your help, has contributed to our success in these villages. Your warm support has enabled many children to smile and greatly enjoy studying, which means they really enjoy living their lives. Also, their education level has risen a lot. We were very happy to see that the students, wearing their new uniforms, were so delighted and smiling, so proud of themselves.
No matter what may happen to us, we are quite certain that in the upcoming year we will again see their smiles, which healed and warmed our hearts.
We sincerely appreciate your continued support and the understanding and cooperation you’ve shown to us all.
NPO Earth Caravan
In the spring of 2013, over 1,000 people lost their lives in the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh due to structural failure and poor working conditions in a garment factory. Some of these poor souls included children who worked to support their families or were there to be alongside parents who had no alternative childcare. In the building were over 3,000 people making clothing for such notable brands and retailers as Walmart, Benetton, Primark, Lululemon, and, ironically, the Children’s Place.
These people dedicated their lives to creating clothing to fulfill the demand for Western fashion cycles while earning embarrassingly minuscule wages that barely kept them alive. They died because of Western neglect in an industry wrought with gluttony, vanity, and selfishness. And this is done in the name of “the latest fashion trends.”
As if that’s not enough, here are five further reasons for remembering that this tragedy still matters.
5 REASONS RANA PLAZA STILL MATTERS