Three Successful Weeks at Ariel

Three Successful Weeks at Ariel

Ariel School’s first day of classes were held May 9th.

The all-girls school, in the slums of Dhaka’s Rayer Bazar, was established by Rezwan Hussain, an assistant professor at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.

Rezwan was inspired to start Ariel a little more than a year ago after walking through the area and seeing the appalling situations of some of the young girls living there, many of whom had babies in tow. In particular, a young mother named Brishti was comforting her daughter, Rasia, who was suffering an untreated broken arm. Rezwan got them medical help immediately. He realized that education could be a potential key for helping young girls break out of the prison of poverty, teen pregnancy, and hopelessness.

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Ariel parent, Shanta steps in to substitute teach.

Ariel’s initial weeks of operation raised three main questions for Rezwan:

  1. Would the parents show up with their daughters?
  2. Would the volunteer teachers show up?
  3. How would the girls respond in the classroom?

We asked Rezwan about Ariel’s first three weeks and what insights he gleaned from the experience.

Turnout of Parents and Student Enrollment

“Yes, thankfully, parents did arrive to the school. But less than half of the girls recruited turned up.”

Rezwan says that he was disappointed though he expected some attrition. Residents in the slums of Rayer Bazar are routinely evicted by developers and, in fact, this is what had happened; one of the slums where students were recruited was demolished. Also, Rezwan learned that some parents won’t make the effort to walk the short distance to the school with their daughters. And, for many, Ariel’s 9 a.m. bell is just too early.

These realities considered, Rezwan was set to intensify his recruitment efforts but changed his mind.

Counting with animals. Girls are now animated; attention has improved dramatically.

Counting with animals. The children are now animated; attention has improved dramatically.

“Small numbers of students make it easier to see what works and what doesn’t. For the time being I’ve capped enrolment at 15.”

He adds that a smaller student body gives him time to talk with parents about how important it is to bring their daughters to school on time.

“By our eleventh day, every girl was at school at 9 a.m. Message received loud and clear!”

There has also been the issue of making the environment as stress-free as possible. This means no pressure, no demands, and nothing that scares the girls or makes them anxious. The reason? Stressed minds don’t learn. Rezwan had to teach the mothers of the girls to let go, literally and metaphorically, of their daughters, to not hover or micromanage them, to not glare, scold, or threaten them with violence.

“It’s improving. Trust is building in the mothers. And the girls are paying less attention to their moms anyhow because they’re at school and beginning to focus on learning.”

Turnout of Volunteer Teachers

The turnout of volunteer teachers has been mixed. Rezwan was concerned about staff scheduling over the university term break as the volunteer teachers are students of ULAB (University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh).

“Unfortunately, term break coincided with our first three weeks of operation. So a somewhat unbalanced picture of the student-as-volunteer-teacher model emerged. For the most part the teachers showed. But on day five we were down one teacher. Same on day seven. On day eight neither teacher showed up.”

Rezwan noticed that one of the moms, Shanta, came to Ariel on time, every day, and stayed for the session. Shanta had been working in a garment factory but quit to become a full-time mom.

“I noticed that Shanta could read. So I asked if she wanted to sit at the table and substitute teach. She agreed. And again on day seven. And once more on day eight. Shanta was a natural.”

Before Ariel was up and running, Rezwan envisioned involving the mothers as much as possible, to create buy-in and build capacity in the community. He is considering sending Shanta to train with some preschool teachers at a nearby private school, with the idea that she could become a full-time teacher at Ariel.

The Girls’ Responses

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“This is Anju at Ariel Orientation, May 3rd. I wondered what I might have gotten myself into.” – Rezwan

What about the students, the young girls, the reason Ariel started in the first place?

“Their responses have exceeded my expectations,” Rezwan beams.

He says that during the first week the girls were taciturn, looking for reassurance from their moms, and somewhat sullen. By day six their attitudes had shifted.

“As I was walking back to my car to get something before class started, I bumped into three of our girls racing down the alley to get to school. They were glowing with anticipation and excitement.”

Three weeks in, the girls were no longer following directives about handwashing, eating breakfast, and taking a seat at an assigned table. Rather, they were taking the initiative, self-starting without prompting.

“At the tables they laugh and talk. They are no longer tightly wound shells.”

Rezwan adds that it’s possible the girls will respond even more enthusiastically when the music and phys ed programs are introduced. Curriculum at Ariel is being developed in stages so that the girls and teachers aren’t overwhelmed.

This is the same girl, Anju, May 25 (Day 11). She is grabbing two stools so she can run to her table and start school. She is moving so fast the picture is blurry.

This is the same girl, Anju, May 25 (Day 11). She is grabbing two stools so she can run to her table and start school. She is moving so fast the picture is blurry.

“Handwashing is by now routine, done three times a day, at 9 a.m., after eating, and at day’s end. Repetition builds the habit.”

Rezwan says the girls seem to love this routine and now go to the wash basin with few cues.

“It is interesting because residents of the slums are notorious for not washing diligently with soap and water. But now I can see that it might simply be due to not having running water and wash basins in their homes.”

The next milestone?

“To get the girls to queue at the wash basin, in a straight line, without cutting in. They’re getting better.”

Rezwan says that if he succeeds he might be the first person in history to get ten Bangladeshis to wait in turn in an orderly line.

“I might have to hold a press conference on that monumental day and invite the world media. Sure, they’re only 4-year-old girls. But you have to start somewhere.”

Thrive Heads to The Philippines

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Each visit, Fryberger, Hefflefinger, and Bryson bring five jugs of clean water to the top of the hill to teach the importance of hand washing. This is the only clean water these children receive all week.  Each jug is $.32.

Within the bustling city of Tondo, lies a quiet hill-top community on top of an old dump site for the city of Manila. The locals call this place Trash Mountain. It is in the heart of Happyland, metro Manila’s biggest slum, and although it is no longer an active dump site, there is still garbage, broken glass, discarded food, and other remnants of everyday waste lingering beneath the feet of the 100 families who call this place home.  

While the joy that radiates from the approximately 200 children living here is palpable, this community is severely poor, high in crime, and lacks basic necessities like clean water, electricity, and proper sanitation.

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Hefflefinger and Kim Davies, hand out peanuts, a carrot, and a banana to each child.

The average household income is under $1 per day. This is just barely enough for parents to provide a simple family meal of mainly rice once or twice a day.

Most families, often with help from children, make their living scavenging for recyclables and food on the city streets and dump sites.  The recyclables are resold for pennies, and the food is dusted off and recooked into a dish called Pagpag. Pagpag is either sold to neighbors or served to their families for nourishment.  

Watch a Short Video (CNN) About Pagpag

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Three children living in the Happyland Slums enjoy the gift of an apple and banana.

In an effort to feed the many malnourished children living on Trash Mountain, Marylu Fryberger, Priscilla Hefflefinger (Thrive Co-founder), and Cindy Bryson have been paying for, procuring and delivering fresh veggies, fruit, protein and water once a week to the children that pack a local community center when they hear food is on the way.

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Carrots provide children with vitamin A, which is lacking in the diets of children living in slum communities around the world.

Starting in August, this feeding project will have the exciting opportunity to grow with the help of Thrive’s global donors. It costs about $96 for each food and water delivery.  A monthly gift of $10 will allow us to work toward our goal of feeding each child a healthy meal five days a week.

This will be Thrive’s first project outside of Bangladesh.  Be sure to follow Marylu, Cindy, and Priscilla’s Thrive adventures in the Philippines on our Facebook page.

Count Me In!  Here’s my $10 monthly donation to children of Thrive.

A Message From Rez: Week 1 at Ariel, All Girls Preschool in Slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Hi Everyone,

Storytime. Afsana, one of my students, is reading. She has been absolutely indispensable. Coordinated teacher training at Scholastica school, and is organizing the schedule of teachers for each week.

The indispensable Afsana, also one of my grad students, leads storytime.  She coordinated teacher training at Scholastica school and is organizing the schedule of teachers for each week.

Ariel opened Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, at 9AM.  We had 8 girls each day.

Apparently one of the slums where we recruited girls a couple of months ago has been torn down. The residents have scattered. I suspected something like this might happen.

Second, I learned that if the school is too far of a walk, parents often do not make the effort. The school is only about a 5-10 minute walk from the original recruitment pool, but it looks like that is too much for some. I did not expect this.  I’ll do some recruiting nearer the school.

School itself is going really well – better than my expectations. I thought the real challenge would be attention levels: would the girls sit for an hour without fidgeting or acting up? The answer is yes.

Drawing circles. Teacher here ( in orange shirt) is Moushumi. I am looking at her as potential assistant principal, down the line. She just graduated, Eng Lit major. Very good with the kids.

Teacher Moushumi is drawing circles with the children.  She just graduated with an English Literature degree and is very good with the kids.

The first day, they spent a lot of time rubbernecking and looking to their mothers for cues and reassurance – especially during story time. But by Day 3, there was significantly less of that. They are adapting.

They are taking to drawing like ducks to water. We have done circles, triangles, squares and rectangles (although they are finding it hard to grasp the difference between the last two). Their motor skills are all over the place, but that may be just due to the age variation.

They also seem to love washing their hands. By Day 3 (yesterday), they needed hardly any prompting to go to the washbasin.

Kushbo and Mahami have moved onto triangles. These two are quick learners.

Kushbo and Mahami have moved onto triangles. These two are quick learners.

This surprised me, because residents of the slums are famous for not diligently hand washing with soap and water. It looks like the reason is simply that they do not have running water and washbasins in their homes.

Another surprise is that the parents wanted to take the storybooks home. So on Tuesday I handed out all 5 to 5 parents, for overnight loan. They returned all 5 yesterday. So I will look to do this every day. Some parents cannot read, but they said they knew someone who could.

Handwashing. We do this three times. At start, after eating, at the end.

We wash hands at the start of our day, after we eat, and just before school ends.

I can hardly recall seeing any books in any of the myriad slum households I have visited. So I love the idea of books lying around their homes. Perhaps this can be expanded into something like a community library project?

Next week, we will introduce music into the curriculum. We will start to learn two classic Bangla children’s songs – one by Rabindranath Tagore and one by Satyajit Ray.

As I mentioned in my last email, I wanted to see what happened in the first week, then see how many turn up on the first day of the second week (this coming Sunday), before giving you a headcount for food deliveries. I think it may turn out to be between 10 and 12 next week. Will let you know.

Rez

A Monthly Donation of $64 Feeds Eight Children for an Entire Year