We shall overcome

This morning flower petals floated through the air as we were overwhelmed by the colorful and joyful welcome the children, teachers and staff at the Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation (BPF) gave us. The children, who wore beautiful traditional clothing, were singing to us as we arrived.

Beautiful girl in traditional clothing at BPF (photo: Heleen Vink)

After a great morning at BPF, we travelled to Cox’s Bazar by small airplane. Cox’s Bazar is one of the national prides with, according to the Bangladeshis, “the longest beach in the world” (a 120km-long sandy beach). As soon as we made our way out of the plane, we could tell we had made it to the shore with the smells of fresh fish and beach around us and a big blue sky and lots of sun.

After a local lunch where we all tried our Bangladeshi eating skills (without cutlery but with our right-hand fingers), we made our way to one of the two learning centers in this area run by Mukti, one of Save the Children’s local partners. With the assistance of Save the Children, Mukti has been implementing education programs for working children in the Cox’s Bazar area since July 2009.

Almost 1,000 children work in the beach area selling drinking water, jewelry made from shells and other items to support their families financially. To make sure these children can also go to school and have better opportunities in life, Mukti has provided 200 children with a non-formal education, including subjects like Bengali, English, mathematics and social studies. When we visited a classroom, the children read us a short rhyme in English but confessed their favorite subject was Bengali. They taught us how to say “How are you?” – read phonetically as “Kq-mohn aach’en”.

Singing children in MUKTI classroom (photo: Sabine Wagner)
Singing children in MUKTI classroom (photo: Sabine Wagner)

With the local and international tourism industry rising in Cox’s Bazar and a resulting demand for hotel employees, Mukti wanted to make sure that children had an education as well as the skills they need to find better opportunities and safe employment. Mukti has started vocational training in housekeeping management for the older teenagers (15 – 18 years). The training is given by a volunteer professional from the hotel & hospitality industry and, after four months of theoretical studies, the students have internships at local hotels. In November 2012 the first 20 students graduated after a six-month course. Fifteen graduates have already been placed in jobs at local hotels. A great initiative to combine local challenges and opportunities!

The song that seems to pop up everywhere we visit is a song adapted by several civil rights movements around the world called “We Shall Overcome”. The children know it by heart in Bengali. A selection of the lyrics in English:

Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
That we shall overcome someday

We’ll walk hand in hand
We shall all be free
We are not afraid

We are not alone

The whole wide world around
We shall overcome some day

During the evening, we got a taste of the traditional song and dance from the Rakhaine community at the Rakhaine Development Foundation (RDF) cultural evening. Today we found out that tomorrow there will be planned transport strikes across the nation. Should one be driving during these strikes this could jeopardize your safety. Therefore, we had to alter our plans and instead of visiting a RDF project in the countryside, we will visit a project in town. We will have to see how the situation develops during the day and we will keep you posted…


    Heleen Vink