A heart for students
On the edge of a jungle along Bangladesh’s northern border with India, 9-year-old Sonchita Chambugong cruises her school’s playground, hand-in-hand with her best friend Diba Chisim, 8. They play a jumping and rhyming game, then pause to watch older students play tag.
The highest-scoring student in fifth grade at a school supported by MCC’s Global Family education sponsorship program, Sonchita already has received more education than her parents and most adults in her community.
Sonchita and other boarding students at this school on the grounds of St. Raphael’s Orphanage in Baromari, Bangladesh, are primarily from Bangladesh’s indigenous communities, most commonly the Garo people, who tend to be Christian, and the Koch people, who are mostly Hindu.
Marginalized in a country that is about 90 percent Muslim, most members of the Garo and Koch communities are illiterate and landless. They are day laborers, making bits of money working in other people’s rice fields or doing other work that is available.
Eighty girls and 20 boys board at the school, which is run by the Salesian Sisters of Mary Immaculate. The school also educates about 150 girls and boys from the community who come from a mixture of Muslim, Christian and Hindu families.
Some boarding students’ families live a two-hour walk into the jungle. Sonchita lives nearby, but after four or five extended stays at the orphanage’s clinic for illnesses that included malaria, hepatitis B and jaundice, the school invited her to become a boarding student. Her health has thrived since then.
To carry out their mission, the sisters rely on the support of MCC — from Global Family funds that help pay tuition and boarding fees for 40 students, including Sonchita and Diba, to MCC-supported peace and HIV and AIDS awareness trainings for youth and workshops for teachers. Through the school, an additional 10 students receive Global Family assistance to pursue technical training or higher-level classes to prepare them for university studies.
Each night Sonchita and the other girls climb into bed, cover up with a blanket during winter and tuck in mosquito nets — all items purchased with MCC money. At school children use notebooks, pencils and other school supplies, purchased locally by MCC.
As boarding students, children have more time to study, instead of doing chores. They have help with homework, dedicated attention from adults who live at the school and three meals a day. They can more easily take part in clubs and in special programs celebrating Garo, Koch and Bangla culture.
Sister Mary Dango cares for students in the dormitories, waking in the night to soothe those who have bad dreams. She rises early for her own prayers to prepare her heart to love before waking the children. “They crave to get this love. Even though I am not their real mother, they did not come from my womb, but my heart should be for them.”
Her compassion is not just for the boarding students, but for the whole community.
If a family is having a major conflict, Sister Mary is likely to be there mediating with them and advocating for their children. MCC materials, such as blankets, are given to those in need.
At a one-room, neighboring Catholic primary school, Sister Mary shares MCC notebooks and school kit bags. “They are poor people, so we share whatever we get from MCC,” said Sister Mary.
She also invited Koleta Chisim, then a teacher and now headmistress of that school, to join a mission teacher at a 2009 MCC teacher training. From the training, Chisim said, she learned to bring natural objects into the classroom to illustrate a lesson, to use drama to resolve conflicts and to use rhyme and song to teach concepts. The students are more interested and pay attention when she uses these techniques, Chisim said, and she is sharing them with her colleagues.
It was Sister Mary’s invitation that brought Apola Koch, 17, to the mission’s 32-member youth club.
A confident, outspoken young woman, Apola has helped the youth club organize five HIV and AIDS seminars for young people in the Baromari community. She talks about HIV and AIDS to her friends, her parents, her neighbors and, she said, to people who don’t want to hear.
“It’s not a curable disease,” Apola said, “so we should all be aware.”
Apola is also one of the students that Global Family supports through grades 11 and 12, which is preparation for university study in Bangladesh. Global Family funding pays for her books and notebooks and funds transportation and living expenses for her to attend this higher-level school, which is in a neighboring town.
Without the support of Global Family and the mission, she wouldn’t be able to continue her education, Apola said. Her parents and her older brother are just able to afford tuition.
Gaining education beyond grade 10, which is the end of high school for most students in Bangladesh, is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty among indigenous people, said Gill Bedford, of London, England, administrator of MCC’s Health, Education and Social Service program in Bangladesh.
Education of any level is valuable because it gives indigenous people the ability to make sure they are paid accurately and that any land purchases they make are properly documented. However, Bedford said, “to get the kind of education that leads to a better job requires quite an investment of money.”
Apola wants to become a teacher, but she also wants to get an education so she can speak up for the Koch people, who are sometimes ridiculed and are deprived of rights and privileges Bengalis expect. (Like others in her community, Apola uses the name of her indigenous group, Koch, as her last name.)
She envisions forming a student committee to teach people about Koch culture. That won’t necessarily lead to Koch representation in the government, she said, but ordinary people will begin to respect them.
Apola’s parents are hopeful for their daughter’s future.
“My life is gone with hardship work,” said her mother, Pravati Koch. “My daughter will not do that type of work. She will lead a happy life in the future.”
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Become a Global Family sponsor today and help support creative, community-based education in Bangladesh or another country. Learn more at globalfamily.mcc.org.
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