Bringing School Close to Home for Bangladesh’s Children

Bangladesh school

Tribal children in western Bangladesh can attend school in their villages thanks to CRS partner Caritas Bangladesh. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

I’ve rattled over a lot of dirt roads in trucks to get to CRS projects. We work in very remote areas—we’re everywhere Visa doesn’t want to be. But Bangladesh topped the list when it came to modes of transport. It took no fewer than five different kinds—planes, rickshaws, motorcycles, cars, and ferry boats—to get me and my colleague where we were going.

Bangladesh is one-third water and contains Asia’s biggest delta, so reaching coastal areas involves crossing dozens of rivers. On our way to visit cyclone survivors, we took a tiny seaplane towards the coast, landing smoothly on a river. On its banks, villagers lined up to see the newcomers.

Bangladesh travel

In Bangladesh’s delta, CRS staff use seaplanes to reach remote areas that are struck by cyclones. Photo by CRS staff

We then got in a car, but not for long. Every hour or so we’d drive aboard a ferry and stand on deck as we drifted over a river.

Back in the car, we bumped over rapidly deteriorating roads. When those gave out, we switched to motos—small, lightweight motorcycles that can navigate narrow paths over Bangladesh’s many embankments.

As we heard cyclone survivors talk about the 5-foot-high water they struggled through in past years, I marveled at how CRS’ partner Caritas managed to get help to them so quickly. It had taken us the better part of a day simply to get to their villages—and there were no cyclone winds and waves to contend with.

On other days, we took rickshaws through the capital city of Dhaka and more bumpy car rides to the northwest of Bangladesh. In villages near the town of Rajshahi, we used the last mode of transport available—our feet—to walk through rice stubble to a village that wouldn’t have a school if not for Caritas. The children there are mainly from adivasi (tribal) communities that are discriminated against, and their remote location makes it that much harder for the government to provide a school for them. The ones who do go to the nearest middle school have their own access difficulties. During the rainy season, the roads there are nearly impassable; to walk through the knee-deep mud, “we take off our flip-flops and hold them in our hands,” says one girl.

Thanks to Caritas Bangladesh, the village has its own small primary school and preschool. The children learn to read, write, and do math only a few steps from their homes. “If the school hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have studied, because the other school was too far away,” says one student.

Caritas has set up 193 similar schools in Bangladesh’s most far-flung areas. Now over 4000 children are getting an education—no seaplanes required.

- Laura Sheahen is CRS’ Regional Information Officer for Asia.

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