Dhaka is a city that doesn't really have a centre point. Only the business and diplomatic enclave of Banani/Gulshan differs from the rest of the city with its greenery, walled blocks and a few tall buildings. Otherwise, Dhaka is a perfect example of urban sprawl, i.e. a horizontal endless expansion of buildings and businesses, without any particular plan or underlying organization.
One such area is Rupgonj. Here, amidst the narrow streets, alleys and courtyards lies the corrugated iron building that houses one of the 150 preschools financed by Gina Tricot and run by UNICEF, together with local organizations.
On this particular day, reading and writing activities are on the agenda as part of an effort to prepare the children for entering school. Each student is told that they should pretend to be a fruit and the boys and girls then take turns telling about their particular fruit and how it is spelled. Then, they sing a little song about mangoes, pineapples, bananas, etc.
It's a very different environment than what we're used to. The climate just before the monsoon rains is incredibly hot and humid. Because the building is made of metal, it feels somewhat like being in an oven. We're sweating profusely, but the children and teachers appear to be quite comfortable and used to it. As is the custom in Bangladesh, children are also incredibly tidy – we don't see any trouser-knees that are dirty or torn, for example. It's quite a contrast to Swedish preschools!
In the slum areas of Dhaka, children are the ones who are most at risk. Typically, children do not even receive an identity card and they never attend preschool or primary school. This occurs despite an overall high awareness in Bangladesh of the importance of education. The main purpose of the preschools supported by Gina Tricot is to allow girls access to the education system. This occurs when they get the required identity card and their first few years in the school system.
It is a very moving experience to see a child learn how to read and write, and we are impressed with their ability to greet us with English phrases like "what is your name," "thank you" and "please". All this in a country where the illiteracy rate is around 50 %.
Thanks to this project, it is hoped that approximately 22,500 children will attend preschool and so far, the project is on track and expected to meet that target. Besides gaining access to the education system, these children are also protected against child labour, which is unfortunately still very common in the slum areas of Dhaka.