My Enduring Friendship with Rahman, my Bangladeshi ‘Brother’

My Enduring Friendship with Rahman, my Bangladeshi ‘Brother’

  
Ivan Ng Ivan Ng

Ivan is a volunteer at Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an NGO providing immediate crisis intervention to migrant workers in Singapore.

Last July 2019, I wrote about my friendship with Rahman, a Bangladeshi worker who suffered a life-threatening burn injury from a work accident in Singapore. Miraculously, he survived it and returned to his hometown with his work injury compensation. We are like brothers to each other despite the big age gap (I am older than his father). I had promised to visit him one day to see how we could help out with the kindergarten he was building.

Finally, in late February this year, just before the coronavirus became a full-blown pandemic, I landed in Dhaka Airport for the first time.

Initially, Rahman only wanted to use his compensation to raise more livestock and acquire more land for his family’s farming business. However, seeing the village children idling around his neighborhood and with the painful memory of being unable to receive education himself, he felt pity for them and wished to provide them with an education. Unexpectedly, two people on two separate occasions suggested to him to start a kindergarten for the village children. Rahman felt compelled to do the work even though he had no idea how to begin. He shared with me that he could not think too much by human reasoning, otherwise he would never start.

Just like building a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces started to come together. First, he secured the rental of a piece of land for 25 years and built a school compound with seven classrooms and an office, all with his compensation money. Next, he visited his neighbours and persuaded them to send their children to his school with a minimal monthly fee. It was not an easy task as most parents (who worked as farmers) didn’t understand the value of education. Rahman even offered free schooling to those who could not afford the school fees. Amazingly, a retired school principal shared Rahman’s vision and was willing to help him manage the school. A few retired teachers and volunteers joined as teaching staff and Alshoha (God is love) Kindergarten was officially opened in January 2020, with the blessings of the village chief and elders.

Rahman had requested us to train his teachers to teach the children English in a more lively and interactive way but my colleague and I are not qualified teachers, let alone trainers! We rushed to search for materials and desperately asked teacher friends for tips. Fortunately, a few teachers came to our rescue and we managed to have three crash course sessions before we left Singapore for Bangladesh. Some friends also supported us through monetary and material donations.

(Photo credit: Ivan Ng)

When we arrived at the kindergarten, we were greeted warmly by almost 200 students ages 5 to 10 together with the staff. The classrooms were built of zinc and were very basic without lighting or fans. Despite these, the students enjoyed the classes and shouted out the words that they had learnt at the top of their voices. I was moved by their eagerness to learn. We had two training sessions with the teachers who were fascinated by how we incorporated games and songs into the lessons. After the training, they immediately asked us when we would return again.

As a friend, I am very happy to see his vision being realized beyond his imagination as the number of students grew from 70 to 190 in only two months! In his area, information and news about his kindergarten is mainly spread by word of mouth. Many of the students walk more than half an hour to school and the teachers are passionate about their work and even willing to accept lower salaries. At the same time, I can see the challenges that he is facing. The lack of lighting and ventilation due to budget constraints, the shortage of qualified professionals and space to cope with the ever-increasing number of students are the immediate issues. Rahman also finds it hard to refuse any student who wants to join the class. I recall particularly a 10-year-old boy, Rajib, who was out of school for many years. Rahman brought him back to his kindergarten to start again from K2, waived his school fees and bought him the school uniform, giving him an opportunity to study once more.

In the long term, he would need to find more financial resources, both locally and overseas to sustain the kindergarten operations as he is covering the deficit from his pocket currently. The teaching staff would also need to upgrade their teaching skills, particularly in English.

(Photo credit: Ivan Ng)

When I asked him what he thought of the future, he simply replied with a childlike grin, “I wish one day my kindergarten can be a model for the schools in Bangladesh and more people will send their children to school.” There is no sign of worry or regret in his face but only sheer confidence. This young “brother” of mine keeps giving me life lessons and I will go back to Bangladesh again.

 


As of this writing, Rahman’s school is still closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic with no date of re-opening yet. He will open his school again once it is safe to do so. If you are keen to support Rahman, you can reach him at rahmanataur0125@gmail.com.

comments

Ivan Ng Ivan Ng
Ivan is a volunteer at Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an NGO providing immediate crisis intervention to migrant workers in Singapore.