Shikkhar Alo’s teacher asked his young students another question. Instantly, arms shot up. Hands waved in the air. He called one boy who then sprung to his feet and recited Bangladesh’s 6 seasons perfectly. “Well done,” the teacher nodded.
The area pastor leaned over to me and whispered, “His father is dead, and his mother is mentally impaired.” The teacher asked another question from their textbook. This time a girl sprung up and quoted a beautiful poem. The pastor leaned over, “Her father abandoned them years ago.” The children next sang us some lively action songs. Neighborhood boys squatted beside the tarp; though they didn’t attend the Shikkhar Alo class, they, too, had learned the songs and joined in. And then the teacher told a riveting story. Hands again waved wildly when he asked questions about the story.
In between songs, readings, and games, I learned more about the families of this area. The parents are all illiterate with little hope of offering more to their children. A local church pastor had hoped that his congregation could meet felt-needs of the area. This impoverished community is too poor to send their children to school. The children help wealthier neighbors to shepherd their goats and sheep, and they then gather fallen twigs to sell as firewood in the bazaar.
Yet now these poor, yet grinning students sit Indian-style on a large orange tarp. No school uniforms here. No fancy desks or chairs. No colorful bulletin boards or playground equipment. No school building. They meet on one poor woman’s mud veranda or outside as weather permits. And yet there is a clock on the mud wall. The pastor pointed to it and chuckled. “If students arrive late for class, they owe 10 taka the next day, or they can’t enter the room. They’re so eager to come to class that they’ll bring the money. All tardy-fees go toward room fix-ups. The parents are willing to give the money because they’re so satisfied with this little school. They know that the students will benefit either way: The children will benefit by arriving on time, or the classroom will benefit from the tardy-fees. They know that we love their children.”
At the end of class time, the students, older siblings, and parents waved goodbye. We walked down the mud trail as women urged us to return. Children with textbooks clutched in arms ran alongside us. The pastor and teacher smiled and greeted neighbors. “We love their children. We can love because God first loved us.”