Trustee Sam Toolan's Report on
a Field Visit to Bangladesh
16/03/2015 – Dhaka
I arrive at Dhaka airport and am met by Lincoln, an employee of People Oriented Programme Implementation (POPI), which is our delivery partner in Bangladesh. We travel to Kishoregunj by train, a car being unavailable from POPI due to the risk of bombings on the road. That night we stay at POPI’s training centre, an excellent facility set over several floors.
17/03/2015 – Floating Schools Programme
The next morning we arrive at POPI’s training centre in Nikli and meet the lovely team that delivers the Floating Schools Programme which is funded by the BIG Lottery Fund.
From Nikli we take a beautiful journey by launch to a series of small villages which are inaccessible by land for most of the year. This is the area where the floating schools operate. I am pleasantly surprised by the scope of provision of the schools. Not only does each boat provide two schools but various health services are also available as is advice to adults on employment and enterprise.
I find myself being entered for the annual drawing competition and, embarrassingly, being awarded fourth prize! Prizes are awarded as part of the day’s festivities that are taking place under a large awning on the village square. It is great to see the children so active, bright and engaged and I am overwhelmed by some of the artistic and dramatic talent on display.
[I am so pleased to report that Learning for Life’s Floating School Programme won Runner Up in the Innovation category for the BOND Awards 2015.]
18/03/2015 – Child Labour Elimination Programme
After breakfast we travel by road to a local school which has been set up as part of the Child Labour Elimination Programme which is funded by Comic Relief. I find the teachers to be very approachable and the children seemed happy and engaged. The schools established by the project fall outside of mainstream education and are designed to support young people who have missed key stages of their primary and secondary education, primarily because they have been encouraged into work by their parents.
Then we visit a shoe factory inside a home where noxious glue fumes are palpable and young children are clearly being inculcated to the ways of this work. This reinforces for me the importance of the project on an emotional level.
We visit a cluster of shoe factories and material shops where all the workers are adults. I had mixed emotions, from noting the sense of activity and focus that enterprise was creating but also considering the longer term prospects for these young adults and wanting to find ways to help them progress in one way or another.
I gather there are around 6,000 formal shoe factories like this in Bhairab and our project has been able to introduce a code of conduct to around 10% of these. The code of conduct stipulates, among other things, that the factory will not employ people under the age of 15 and that employees must use gloves when working with chemicals.
I also gather that this project has supported over 500 children into full time education and out of the hazardous shoe factoriy environment. It is a fantastic start but there is a lot more work that needs to be done to help more children leave such hazardous work environments and be given a real future.
19/03/2015 – Business Development in Dhaka
Having returned to Dhaka, I hold meetings with various people. I start by thanking the Learning for Life Programme Director who planned my field trip so carefully. I meet senior executives from POPI and thank them for their support over the last few days. I hold meetings with key people from other organisations with whom we hope to develop partnerships. I will be sad to leave Bangladesh whose people are so welcoming and generous given how little they have to start with.