11: 30- The bus finally arrived at the S.R bus terminal in Bogra. Waiting for the 8 of us were three vans, all of them arranged by CommunityAction. As I settled myself fairly comfortably on one of them, looking at the long stretch of road ahead I realized that the journey to our Final Destination is not going to be as pleasant as we had anticipated.
Gripping the fragile corners of the wooden van as tightly as we could, we henceforth set out on our 10 kilometre long bumpy ride (literally) through the muddy, serene road to the small, remote village we were headed to, drenched in the lush green of the rice fields all around us. Every now and then a “bhotbhoti” would pass by, making our girl- filled heavy van tilt to one side into the rice fields below, and we would let out a shrill of joyful apprehension in unison.
From October 6th to 8th, 8 Actioneers from CommunityAction stayed at a free school for kids, started by a kind-hearted doctor of the area (Dr. Ibrahim) in a remote village named Khaduli in Bogra as a follow up of Action: Sheba (with Singapore Management University). With lush green rice fields that stretch as far as your eyes can take you, and beyond, Khaduli is a beautiful village beside a calm, serene river with a few houses and lots of bright, energetic children.
And I couldn’t be more impressed to see the “paka ghor” that the Actioneers and the students of SMU had built (alongside the actual labourers of course) back during Action: Sheba. That was to be our home for the brief period we resided there.
After the sumptuous “maache- bhaate” lunch, we sat down to plan the work to be done on the next couple of days: the kids were to be inspired.
In the school we met the children: divided into small clusters according to their respective classes. The ice- breaking, as always, is the most fun part of all the meetings. As I told each of the kids to stand up on their little feet and say their names and classes, they could not bring themselves to utter anything properly through the shyness pouring over their tiny voices. And very talented they were at those, I can’t deny.
You can’t help but feel infinity tiny and insignificant before the budding enthusiasm of these kids and their dreams. Each of them was a star in their own little world, in their own way, and cherished their lives gleefully in their own manner.
As I recited “Baa baa black sheep” with my poor attempts at adding a “somewhat” music and pathetically retarded dance steps to it, I was amazed at how each of these tiny little bundles of joy lit up suddenly and started reciting it and acting it out like they knew it forever. My shrill-some loud voice suddenly faded behind the shy, still-trying-to-break-through-the-glass voices of the tiny tots. And I felt alive. Maybe this is what you call childhood.
The Maghrib Azaan brought with it a black sheet over the entire village. And silence. Situated well at a not-so-proximate distance from the towns and unions where the solar- power providing companies were strategically placed, and well outside the perimeter of the government’s national grid power supply, the village of Khaduli was like a place we only talk about it in our ancient folklores and stories of our forefathers nowadays, A place where “night” means “wrapping up all your work and going to sleep”.
The much hyped “Movie Night” commenced with the screening of (one of my favourites) Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which had been chosen by the Actioneers after MUCH debate and speculation. Just imagine what serious matters we have to deal with (when we work occasionally)!! But the “intense” brainstorming did manage to pay off in the end: the kids loved the movie like crazy. And so did all the villagers who had gathered from far and beyond. After all, how often do they get to watch weird cartoon characters go up on a big screen before them and dance and prank about randomly? As I turned on the flash of my camera to take pictures of the kids deeply engrossed in the moving human- made figures on the screen, some of them, startled by the blinding sudden light, congregated around me anxiously.
“O Allah!!E dehi aaite’r belay jhillik mare :D”
The movie night made me realise to what a magnanimous extent the animations and cartoon characters can influence kids. And with no concrete cartoon character created in our country, other than Meena, what a delicious treat the kids of our country have been missing while growing up!! You can literally convey any message to kids by powerful animations and characters that they can relate.
After the movie, in a little chit chat with Ibrahim bhai, I came to know a bit more about this little school. Quite interestingly, it was actually not a full- fledged school, but rather a sort of free “coaching centre” or “tuition provider” for the extremely poor kids who cannot afford to go to teachers outside their schools. As I asked him whether all the kids in the village go to the schools by BRAC and other NGOs, he said that most of the kids are not able to do so since the schools run by various NGOs have room for very small number of children, leaving the others no choice but to look for other options, often ending up with none that is feasible for them to pursue. Hence, a free formal education is what is most urgently needed in his “centre”, with full time paid teachers for grade. At the moment, he has to do with two- three teachers supervising students of all the grades. For initiating a full- fledged school with formal education and paid teachers, the biggest impediment is a steady stream of money to run the operations, which, he promptly pointed out, was not possible taking funds from donors at an irregular frequency.
The biggest problem he pointed out was, however, not a lack of money at the moment, but a lack of awareness among the parents about educating their children and empowering themselves for a “better” future. It is hence imperative to make them realize that they can earn their living in some other way other than just farming or “krishikaaj” (where they are extremely low paid and are hence under-employed), and pave a path for them to do so.
“I want to make teachers like you take classes for my students from Dhaka one day, using Skype and other means of online video conferencing. I want you people to inspire my kids!!”
Who can say a no before the strength of such a un-shatter-able conviction?
Curious about the young generation of kids passing matriculation exams and getting into the workforce/ joining a college, I asked him why they are not taking a step forward to take up other professions besides farming in the villages, them being the very handful of educated bunch among the mass of uneducated, deprived villagers. “They find it easier to just set forth for building a future in the big cities rather than staying here since they don’t have any practical skill to implement here to begin with and there is no such job opportunity here to fully utilize their potentials and earn them the money they strive to make.”
As the night matured, we started making preparations for sleeping in the huge joint beds laid down by Zakaria bhai for the five girls. And the boys were to sleep on the floor of the huge, open “going-to-be” library room. We found a couple of benches sitting on the abandoned field, and a sky full of twinkling stars and wise constellations and a couple of excruciatingly bright planets (Mars and Venus). Did we need anything more? As the older members of the tribe (eheem) embarked on their thoughtful discussion of men-and-women-and-what-makes-everything-so-complicated-between-them, I settled myself in one secluded corner comfortably. “Today I have to spot a falling star. I h a v e t o.”
AND I DID!! :D ..And infinitely exhilarated I was too to “make a wish” like the small cutesy baby girls who see believe in fairy godmothers descending from the sky on a falling star!! :P
The next day, we woke up before morning showed its face: with the orange mist- clad sun far faraway in the horizon. And the dewdrops condensed like ice crystals on the grass blades. And the spider nets intertwined on the rice field like a shield of intricate web for as far the eyes can reach. And the layer of mist sitting quietly below the soft sunrays like the gray hair of a very grumpy old lady. And the white birds perched on the top of the tall, thin, distant tress, floating beneath a white veil of cold fog. And the quiet. And the green. And the smell.
The day was a slow- paced one, with our team disseminated to teach students of different grades. After supervising students of classes seven, eight, nine and ten Tahmid and I started asking them various concepts of science that they are expected to learn and internalise.
And I can say I have taught a curious, over enthusiastic bunch of tiny tots how to sing (!!) and DANCE (!!!!) “Baa baa black sheep” and “Twinkle twinkle little star”. And much later in the day, how to determine the “purbo-poshchim-uttor-dokkhin” with a compass (a name they had never heard before), and the English meanings of them, which they made a point of making me repeat over and over again till they had it safely embedded in their minds and written on their small palms so that they never forget.
As the Jummah Waqt neared, and the wiser members of the tribe started reflecting on “how easy Allah has made it for us to follow Islam”, Suhailey apu (another very- I –mean-VERY) wise member of the tribe exclaimed, “Allah is SO CUTE!!” :D
Many funny things happened in our tour! And of course there was Annie apu declaring “Ei dekho..ami kintu ekta meye..ami kintu AACHAR khai!!” as the sumptuous kodbel and kamranga treats were prepared after the dinner.
With darkness embracing the small village once again, we went to our huge “khotkhoti” bed, with our bags already packed, and our hearts heavy from the thought of leaving the next day, from a place where the people never stop to say “I have a dream…and I know I will make it happen”..No matter how elusive their dreams might be.