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Stopping deafblind children in Bangladesh missing out on an education

30 September 2014
Posted by Bethan Williams

Smriti and her mother standing behind the sewing machine

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Sense International's partners in Bangladesh alongside a colleague from Sense India. We are now midway through a three year project funded by the Scottish Government which works with partners across the whole country to support children with deafblindness and their families.

As part of the visit I had the opportunity to visit some of the children who are involved with their families and learn a bit more about their lives and experiences. We made a trip to Gazipur an hour's drive north of the sprawling capital, Dhaka and were welcomed to the office of our partner organisation Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) in Gazipur with fresh mango, jackfruit and coconut milk all grown within the office compound.

At the start of the wet season Bangladesh is flooded with fruits, the fertile ground means I was told if I threw my jackfruit seed into the garden I could come back in a few years' time and see the jackfruit tree growing ready to harvest. I gave it a go, now I'll just need to remember which of the trees is mine.

Smriti using the sewing machine with her mum

The first family we visited with the two CDD educators, was that of Smriti. Smriti is twelve years old and is partially deafblind, she lives with her one brother and two sisters and Smriti is the eldest. Her name means 'remembrance' in Bangla and Hindi.

In Bangladesh, Ministry of Education schools are obliged to accept children with disabilities but in reality, this doesn't always take place. Although Smriti is twelve, she's still studying in grade one at school. Before the project started, Smriti's family enrolled her in school but the teachers and other children were mean to her.

Her teacher would ignore her in class or sit her at the back of the class where should found it difficult to follow the class and keep up with her classmates. The other children would laugh at her and no one wanted to walk with her on the way to school. Eventually Smriti left school because she found it too hard to stay there.

The CDD educator, Nasrul, has been visiting Smriti and has spent time working with the school teachers and other classmates to talk about how to make it easier for Smriti to understand and follow the classes. After a long time of missing out on school, Smriti has now started again at grade one and told us that everyone is much kinder to her now.

Smriti's family are quite poor, her father does daily wage labour with no guaranteed income and her mother has started making hand sewn repairs to neighbours clothes.

Smriti and her mum with staff from CDD and Sense InternationalThrough the Government of Scotland project, the focus is not only on the child with deafblindness but also improving the situation of their family. After a consultation with Smriti's family, Nasrul has purchased a sewing machine which Smriti's mother can use to build up her business of tailoring for her neighbours clothes. Already Smriti is helping to cut up the clothes for tailoring and her mother hopes she will become independent in the future, so that she can earn a living in the future.

Smriti is just one of the children who we visited in Bangladesh, and one child among 65 million children under 15 in Bangladesh but her case showed me the difference that a simple intervention can make, just to help teachers and children understand her needs in the classroom and how this can stop a child missing out on vital years of basic education.

Bethan Williams is a Senior Programme Manager at Sense International

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014