Home to 3.5 million of Bangladesh’s poorest, the "char" is a remote region of river islands subject to constant threat of flood. In collaboration with our NGO partner, SHARP, Room to Read has launched operations in this region and now reaches 234 girls through our Girls’ Education program. This firsthand account is written by Mala Saha, a contractor from SHARP, who works closely with several of the girls and has developed strong relationships with them and their ever-challenged community.
The first time I cried for the girls living in the char was just after the flooding. I have been working with Room to Read's Girls' Education program for more than a year, and the 39 girls with whom I work have become part of my life and dreams. Two weeks prior, when I met them for our regular weekly education session, some of the girls were extremely upset. The mighty river Jamuna was taking a cruel shape and quickly eroding the riverbanks.The girls were worried about their homes. They had heard from their parents about their families’ past displacements and miseries caused by the loss of home and land to the river, but most of the girls have not had firsthand experience in their 10 – 12 years of life.
The older residents of the area recognized the signs all too well, for almost every decade, they are forced to relocate their families after the ravenous river engulfs and demolishes their homes of tin and bamboo. This time, ten girls from our Girls’ Education program were victims of the river, forced to find more stable ground and build their homes anew.
On my way to the sandbar island upon which the girls and their families had taken shelter, I saw families aboard boats laden with building supplies, once their homes, desperate to find a new safe location. As I reached the island, one of the girls saw me and ran into the village to gather the other girls. When I entered their new neighborhood, families were busy building their homes. Only one building was complete -– the tin shed in which we held our weekly education sessions!
The parents had determined that their daughters’ education was more of a priority than their own homes. They had lost their homes, but not their dream of getting educated. I couldn’t utter a single word, as once again I was crying -– but this time for joy!