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Bangladesh: Shawpno Rath – A School For Slum Children

In the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, when a group of children leave their homes every morning to go to school, another group of children come out onto the streets, to work for a livelihood. The streets to them represent an opportunity to earn a living. Some of these children collect garbage, others sell various items – tea and cigarettes included among them.

The logo of Swapnorath, created by Dwipangsu Paul, of Kolkata

For these children, school is something unattainable – something that they can only dream about, because where they come from, there is a huge gap between their dreams and the harsh reality of their day to day lives. However, a group of youth have taken it upon themselves to fulfill the dreams of at least some of these children. They have started a school for the disadvantaged children from the slums. The school is aptly named “Shawpno Rath” (Chariot of Dreams).

Lead Dreamer of Shawpno Rath - Shamima Nargis Shimu, with her students. Image taken from the group
Lead Dreamer of Shawpno Rath – Shamima Nargis Shimu, with her students. Image taken from the group

This is how their journey began:

অফিসে আসার পথে একটি মেয়ে প্রতিদিন কিছু শিশুকে দেখতে পেত, যারা রাস্তায় আবর্জনার বাক্সে কি যেন অনুসন্ধান করছে। মেয়েটার মনে হত তারা যেন সেখানে স্বপ্নের সন্ধান করছে।

তাদের জন্য কি করা যায় তাই নিয়ে সে তার সহকর্মী এবং বন্ধুদের সাথে আলাপ করল। প্রথমে ঠিক করা হল, সপ্তাহে তারা একদিন এইসব শিশুদের একবেলা খাওয়াবে এবং তাদের কোথাও বেড়াতে নিয়ে যাবে।

While on her way to office, a young women regularly noticed some children searching for something in the garbage heap. The young woman felt that perhaps they were searching for a dream.

Wanting to do something for these children, she discussed with her friends and colleagues as to what they could do. At first, it was decided that once a week, they would provide these children with a meal and then take them for a fun outing somewhere nearby.

The beginning of Shawpno Rath's journey being discussed in Chandrima park. Image taken from their Facebook Page. Used with permission.
The beginning of Shawpno Rath's journey being discussed in Chandrima park. Image taken from their Facebook Page. Used with permission.

Not in any office but the discussions about this venture started in a park – the Chandrima Udyan (park):

আর এর জন্য বেছে নেওয়া হল চন্দ্রিমা উদ্যানকে। কারণ এই পার্ক অনেক শিশুর কর্মস্থল। এরা সবাই, পার্কে বেড়াতে আসা নাগরিক কিংবা প্রেমিক প্রেমিকার কাছে ফুল, চকলেট, বাদাম, চা, সিগারেট ইত্যাদি বিক্রি করে। এই উদ্যোগে ভালোই সাড়া পাওয়া গেল। দিনে দিনে শিশুর সংখ্যা বাড়তে শুরু করল। সপ্তাহের একটি শনিবারে এদেরকে গল্প শোনানোর জন্য নিয়ে আসা হত বই, তারা কেবল নেড়ে চেড়ে দেখত। বইয়ের জগতে ঢুকতে গেলে যে শিক্ষা লাগে, আর শিক্ষার জন্য লাগে কিন্তু তাদের জন্য স্কুল যে ভিন্ন এক পথের যাত্রা। তাই তারা কেবল অক্ষর আর ছবিতে হাত রাখত। পড়ার প্রতি শিশুদের উৎসাহ দেখে এই সব তরুণেরা একটি স্কুল করার উদ্যোগ নিল, ঠিক করা হল এই স্কুলের নাম হবে স্বপ্নরথ।

And for this discussion we selected the Chandrima Udyan, since this was the workplace for many of these children. All of them were engaged in selling flowers, chocolates, peanuts, tea, cigarettes etc., to young couples and other members of the public who visited the park. We got a good response to our initiative. Day by day the number of children kept increasing. Every Saturday, books were brought to read stories to them. The children were excited and used to flip through the books, unable to read. To be able to read they would need education and for education they would need schooling but for these children, school was a journey down a path different from their own. So, they had to content themselves with merely flipping through the pages, touching the pictures and words. Seeing the enthusiasm among these kids for the written word, the youth group decided to start a school for these children. A name was decided for the school – Shawpno Rath (Chariot of Dreams)

A school under a tree

In order to start a formal school, one needs many things – a school building, classrooms, books, notebooks, teachers, blackboards, dusters and students. However, for this school, all these conditions could not be fulfilled. Nevertheless, every Saturday, classes were held under a tree in the park. Children left their work and came to attend the classes, though it meant loss of earnings for them. They enjoyed these classes thoroughly. Gradually, the number of students began to increase. And soon, there emerged the need to find a classroom.

Students with their teachers and books in their new classroom. Image taken from the group's Facebook Page. Used with permission.
Students with their teachers and books in their new classroom. Image taken from the group's Facebook Page. Used with permission.

The school gets a new address

The school was moved out of Chandrima Udyan (park) and housed in 10 Mirpur Road, where a room was taken on rent for running the school. Here, the school was open five days a week and students started attending classes regularly. The school started with 30 students and 2 teachers. As more children from disadvantaged families, from nearby slums joined the classes, the number of students continued to increase.

Students of Shawpno Rath celebrating New Years Day. Image taken from the groups Facebook Page. Used with permission.
Students of Shawpno Rath celebrating New Years Day. Image taken from the groups Facebook Page. Used with permission.

Shawpno Rath – an adult education center too

Seeing their children attending school, some of the parents too began to wish that they could avail the opportunity for getting some formal education. So now Shawpno Rath has extended its work to include adult education as well. At present, the school has 20 adult students – those who did not get the opportunity in their childhood to go to school.

This image represents the vision of Shawpno Rath as an enabler, a helping hand. The photograph is by Raymond Habibur. Taken from the groups Facebook Page. Used with permission.
This image represents the vision of Shawpno Rath as an enabler, a helping hand. The photograph is by Raymond Habibur. Taken from the groups Facebook Page. Used with permission.

The Shawpno Rath vision

On their Facebook Page, Shawpno Rath has said about it's vision and objective:

স্বপ্ন রথ হচ্ছে একটি অলাভজনক প্রতিষ্ঠান, যা ২০১০ সালে প্রতিষ্ঠিত হয়েছে। এর উদ্দেশ্য হচ্ছে সমাজের সুবিধা বঞ্চিত শিশুর শিক্ষা এবং স্বাস্থ্যগত উন্নয়ন।

আমাদের মত বেশীরভাগের নাগরিকের জীবনে মৌলিক চাহিদাগুলোকে নিশ্চিত করা হয়েছে, আর সেগুলো হচ্ছে, খাদ্য, পানি, বাসস্থান, স্বাস্থ্য, শিক্ষা এবং পরিবার। কিন্তু আমাদের দেশে এমন লক্ষ লক্ষ শিশু আছে যারা এই সব মৌলিক চাহিদা বঞ্চিত, যাদের ভবিষ্যতের কোন আশা নেই। আমাদের লক্ষ্য দেশ জুড়ে দরিদ্র শিশুদের জন্য জীবনের এই সমস্ত প্রয়োজনীয় উপাদান সরবরাহ করা এবং সংযুক্ত এক উন্নয়নের প্রতি মনোযোগ প্রদান করে দারিদ্র্যের মূলে যে সমস্ত বিষয় সেগুলোর পরিমাণ কমিয়ে আনা।

“Shawpno Rath” is a non-profit organization was founded in 2010 with a view to improve the educational and health conditions of the underprivileged children in our country.

Most of us take for granted the basic necessities of life: food, water, shelter, health, education and family. But there are millions of children in our country who do not have these essential necessities, who do not have any hope for the future. our goal is to help provide these necessities for impoverished children throughout the country and focus on integral development that seeks to reduce the root causes of poverty.

Shawpno Rath students taking part in a Sit and Draw Contest. Image taken from the group's Facebook Page. Used with permission.
Shawpno Rath students taking part in a Sit and Draw Contest. Image taken from the group's Facebook Page. Used with permission.

The vision of Shawpno Rath is a poverty – free Bangladesh. They have started their journey with this vision, knowing fully well that they have a long way to go.

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