W8 member from Bangladesh and Convener of the Bangladeshi coalition Amar Odhikar (My Rights Campaign). Amar Odhikar is a broad based campaign which works for ensuring essential services for all in Bangladesh.
Sometimes I stand on my veranda adjacent to my office and try to take some relief from my hectic schedule. It is not an overwhelmingly picturesque view- rather a kind of slum. On a roof top I can see a bunch of little kids flying their adorable kites- using their inadequate leisure time from the hard labour of the automobile workshops. My eyes follow the kites; they are wandering with the background of a deep sky blue canvas under the scorching sun. I wonder how many of these lovely kids will be able to go to school. If a lucky fellow somehow gets the privilege to enroll in a school, often they drop out within days. It’s unrealistic to expect that they will continue their studies and participate in classes with an empty belly. The result is commonly known, they have to earn for themselves and also for their family, so quitting school and taking up odd and risky jobs is the reality.
Still, the voice of Sohel echoes in my ears. Yep, I can still remember his face clearly. He is a kid, merely 10 or 12 years old. He was one of the hundreds of kids who participated in the grass root launching of Amar Odhikar (My Rights Campaign) at Rajshahi in Bangladesh.
‘Yes, I wanna go to school. In fact, I went there for 6 months. But, can you please say how I can continue my study when my father became ill? Me and my brother were the only earning members of my family. Can you assure me that a meal will be guaranteed in the school?’ That was a tough question for me to answer.
But, there should be an answer. And for finding the solution, for establishing quality education across my country, Amar Odhikar has been working continuously, since October 2008.
Amar Odhikar initiated a broad based campaign that aims to fight for essential services in Bangladesh with education as starting point. The campaign will gradually undertake and prioritize other essential services such as health, water and sanitation as basic rights of citizens. The campaign has already consulted with and included the broad spectrum of civil society organizations; networks, alliances, professional groups, women groups, youth groups, trade unions and human rights organizations.
Amar Odhikar has specific four demands:
- To facilitate adoption of a policy by 2011 to ensure at least one government primary school in every village of Bangladesh
- To ensure that the government implements teacher student ratio of 1:40 by 2011
- To ensure that government commits to start mid-day school meal scheme in six poverty and hunger stricken districts by 2011.
- To facilitate constitutional amendment by 2011 to include primary education as a fundamental right
Thankfully the struggle to fulfill these demands is not so difficult under the newly elected democratic government of Bangladesh. We are not the lonesome pedestrian; the government has already vowed to establish new primary schools in 2000 villages which currently have none, and they have promised to recruit an additional 25,000 primary school teachers. These are the little achievements of the campaign which encourage us to keep going.
But, we are not content yet; there is still a long road of struggle, hindrances and difficulties, which we have to cross. And we know, we may lose some battles along the way but eventually we will win the war against illiteracy, poverty and disease with our unity. I hope we can create a unique and unified rhythm for the poor and underprivileged around the world – who, as you know, are the most affected by the current economic situation.
Amar Odhikar dreams that education will be for all in Bangladesh. The light of education will reach every village, every isolated region of this country regardless of gender, religion, language and all taboos. As the convener of the campaign, I consider myself lucky that along with me, a participatory steering committee is working to make it vibrant. I hope the campaign will add more feathers in its achievement to bring a long and lasting happiness to those auto-mobile workshops, kite flying boys and to answer to the question of kids like Sohel.
More information about Oxfam's Campaign Health and Education for All.