When seven-year-old Samiyun first started to attend the Chakar Mobile School, he struggled to adapt. Growing up in Dhaka’s slums, he had never had the opportunity to enroll in formal school. Instead, while his parents were out at work, he spent his days running the streets of his neighborhood with older children. His mother, a garment worker, and his father, a day laborer, work long hours with few days off. As they struggle to put food on the table, they don't have much time to devote to Samiyun and his younger sister.
Operated by It’s Humanity Foundation with support from Community Partners International (CPI), the Chakar Mobile School is a bus that travels to slum communities in Dhaka to offer basic education, a healthy meal, health awareness and extracurricular activities to children between the ages of five and seven who are not attending regular school. The school supports children to complete pre-primary education and prepare to integrate into formal education.
When the school bus turned up in his neighborhood, Samiyun’s parents enrolled him so that he would have the chance to receive an education and escape poverty. The first few weeks were difficult. Samiyun refused to engage with teachers and fellow students and would not participate in activities.
The Chakar School’s teachers are familiar with the challenges that children like Samiyun face as they adjust to the classroom environment. Samiyun’s teacher, Mrs. Soshi, conducted one-to-one sessions with him to gradually coax him out of his shell and help him settle in. She gave him responsibility for small tasks to help him integrate into the classroom, such as handing out pencils and notebooks to his fellow classmates.
As Samiyun became more confident, he began to show leadership qualities. He thrived in group activities where he could take the lead. He jumped at the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities like writing on the board and helping other children to learn. Mrs. Soshi cultivated these qualities but also helped him understand that he needed to share attention with other children and recognize and respect their needs as well as his own.
The children of Dhaka’s slums face many challenges. Growing up in poverty, they may experience hunger and malnutrition. Their home lives may be unstable, with insecure, cramped and noisy housing conditions. Many parents in these communities have little experience of formal education themselves. They may not have the money needed to send their children to school, or may not consider it to be a priority for their children when they are struggling to survive day-to-day.
The outcome is that 4.7 million children in Bangladesh work rather than attending school. Child literacy for girls is 19.6%, and, for boys, marginally higher at 22.9%. Without access to education to help them fulfil their potential, these children face a lifetime of low-paid, unskilled work.
Samiyun has now attended the Chakar Mobile School for seven months, and continues to flourish. If the school can be a springboard into formal education, his prospects will be brighter. He will have a chance to break the cycle of poverty.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought disruption to children’s education globally, and the Chakar Mobile School is no exception. The school had to suspend normal learning due to physical distancing guidelines. The staff are helping students to continue their studies at home as much as possible, doing what they can to keep the children engaged until regular classes can resume. They speak to the children by phone and regularly provide worksheets for them to complete.
For his part, Samiyun has gone to stay with his grandmother during the COVID-19 lockdown. He is waiting impatiently to return to the classroom where he started to thrive.