By November, the grounds of Bangabandhu Peshajibi High School had been under water for three months, and most of the classrooms were un-usable. But the flooding didn’t stop dozens of students, parents and teachers from flocking to the launch of the Best School for Girls campaign at this secondary school in southern Bangladesh’s Sathkhira District. The Best School for Girls campaign challenges schools in three districts of Bangladesh to create girl-friendly educational environments.
Their success will be measured against ten criteria, including safe classrooms, the availability of extracurricular opportunities for girls, and secure roads and transportation options. The criteria were developed in consultation with NGO partners who work in the field of girls’ education. The goal of the campaign: to prevent girls from dropping out of school to marry early. At 10:30am, 40 students and 15 parents & teachers had assembled for a discussion of the link between girls’ education and child marriage. By the time the screening of the featured film, The Revolutionary Optimists, began at 11:00am, the classroom was overflowing, with more than 200 students and parents. With the room filled to capacity, curious eyes peered in through the classroom windows.
Inspired by the young leaders at the heart of the film, who are making great strides in improving health and well-being in the Calcutta slum where they live, the Bangladeshi students vowed to work toward making their school girl-friendly, and to stay in school and resist early marriage “I will work hard like the boy in the film to support my school to win the “Best School for Girls Award,” said Al-Amin, a grade nine student. “I will not marry before I reach 18 and will prevent my friends from marrying, too,” said Swapna Mandal, a fellow student. “I will work hard to succeed in my life.” Parents showed support for their children by echoing their commitments. Shibani Sarkar, the mother of one of the students, stood up and declared, “All my hard work is for my children. I want to see my daughter a leader of the country.” Abhilash Mondol, the only father at the event, chimed in, “I will not marry off my daughter at an early age – I will allow her to continue her education. I will also make my community aware of the dangers of marrying off their children.” The school’s teachers, too, showed their solidarity with students and parents. As the school re-builds in the wake of the flood, the science teacher and assistant headmaster committed to construct separate bathroom facilities for girls – an important step, as mixed-gender bathrooms are a big deterrent for parents in sending their girls to school.
WGLG-Bangladesh partner Agrogoti Sangstha, which helped coordinate the event, was excited by the audience’s enthusiasm at the campaign launch. “Usually in such discussion sessions, we lose the audience’s attention after some time,” said Eliasur Rahman, Agrogoti Sangstha’s Assistant Project Coordinator. “But today we experienced the reverse situation. We were pushed out from the room as the crowd exceeded our expectations. The film communicated more than we could have communicated through a discussion, and we can see that it inspired people to start taking action to make their schools and their communities the best they can be.”