ACEF's 20 Years of Support for Education in Bangladesh

by Nakagawa Hideaki, director
Asia Christian Education Fund, Tokyo
ACEF (Asia Christian Education Fund) celebrated its 20th anniversary in October 2010. Since its establishment in 1990, the objectives of the Christian NGO have always been twofold: working in partnership with BDP (Basic Development Partners), a Bangladeshi Christian NGO, to establish and operate non-formal primary schools for the underprivileged children of Bangladesh; and training and nurturing Japanese youths who opt to take up their share of the challenges faced by our neighbours in other parts of Asia.*
Basic Development Partners was founded by Mina Malakar, a Bangladeshi medical doctor and a devoted Christian. She was engaged in public health activities aimed at disseminating basic knowledge on health and hygiene to rural women, especially young mothers, but soon noticed that none of the women were taking notes while earnestly listening to her seminars. She then realised that these women were illiterate and that her efforts to help enlighten and empower them could not be very effective. As they could not read the handouts or take notes, there was a limit to the amount and the accuracy of what they could learn on the spot and take home with them. With this realisation, Dr Malakar determined that literacy and education were the keys to the development of these women as well as of their communities. Consequently, she resigned from the hospital and started her own NGO, initially named Sunflower Education Programme (SEP), which later became Basic Development Partners. Several months later, ACEF was established by Japanese Christians who wished to participate in the new endeavour established by Dr Malakar.
In 1990 SEP established a non-formal preschool in the slum area of Juline in the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital. The initial classroom was set up in an open space in front of a private house, with 163 children and 10 female teachers, some of whom were high school students. On one hand, this arrangement supported the young teachers by making it possible for them to continue their secondary education. They would otherwise have been forced to leave school and get married at an age as young as 14 or 15. On the other hand, their employment also supported the empowerment of women in their communities. Even today, almost all BDP school teachers are women. BDP has maintained a “female teacher only” policy and believes that this policy is the key to an effective education for children as well as to the empowerment of women in rural society.
Since then, 20 years has passed, and the number of non-formal primary schools operated by BDP and supported by ACEF has now reached 75. In these schools, 300 teachers teach 12,000 children. The ACEF membership has also grown from 74 in 1990 to more than 1,200 in 2010.
One of the major achievements of BDP and ACEF is the improved enrolment rate in the areas where BDP schools exist. Although the numbers and ratio of children attending the schools have now increased dramatically compared to 20 years ago, even today only half of the students can complete the five-year primary education program. Improving the completion rate at BDP schools is emerging as a new challenge for BDP and ACEF.
Neither measurable indicators nor specific targets were set when BDP and ACEF started to work together in 1990. If these organisations had announced at that time that they were planning to establish 75 primary schools within the duration of 20 years, people would have thought the organisers were crazy and the plan unrealistic. Potential supporters would have been reluctant to participate in such an impossible mission. Instead, the two organisations continued to persist in their low-key efforts, without a grand plan, and to do what they could do each year, however small and limited it might have seemed. They continued to follow Christ, giving thanks for whatever they had, and did whatever they could do with it. Eventually, their persistent efforts have graciously been multiplied and maximised to bear the miraculous fruits of education in time. It seems as miraculous as when 5,000 people shared five loaves and two fish and were satisfied. (Tr. FK&HLN)
*Many Christian schools in Japan, both Roman *Catholic and Protestant, are supporting ACEF with their prayers and contributions.
 今年創立20周年を迎えるACEF(アジアキリスト教教育基金)は、設立当初から二つの目的を掲げています。ひとつは「バング ラデシュに寺子屋を贈ろう」で、アジアで最も貧しい国において、現地のキリスト教系NGOであるBasic Development Partners(BDP) と共働し、初等教育の普及に貢献しようということです。もうひとつは、この運動を通じて、アジアに使命と責任を持つキリスト者青年を育成 しようということです。
 バングラデシュのNGOであるBDPの創始者マラカール先生は、熱心なキリスト者で、イギリスで勉強した女医さ んでしたが、農村地域での公衆衛生に関わる活動を行なう中で、講習会に集まってくる女性たち、若いお母さんたちが、熱心に話を聞くばかり で、誰もメモを取っていないことに気づきました。読み書きができないからです。資料を読むことも出来ず、自分の記憶だけに頼った実践では、衛生や健康の普及活動にも限界があると考えたマラカール先生は、医師を辞めて教育の普及に専念することを決意しました。彼女の呼びか けに応え、BDPと共働するためにつくられたのがACEFです。
 マラカール先生たちは、1990年に、首都郊外のスラム地区に女子中学生を先生とする寺子屋幼稚園を10校開設し、幼児教育を始めました。校舎もなく、民家 の軒先を借りて授業が行われましたが、163名の子どもたちが集まりました。これはまた、成績が優秀でも進学できず、14~15歳で結婚させられてしまう女子に奨学金を与え、学業 を続けることを可能にし、女性の自立と地位向上を支援するための試みでもありました。現在でも、BDPの方針に従って、教師たちのほとん どは女性です。このことは、子どもたちの教育と農村における女性の地位向上の両面において効果をあげています。
 20年を経て、BDPが運営する寺子屋小学校は75に増え、300名近くの先生方と共に1万2千人近くの子どもたちが学んでいます。また、ACEFの個人会員は設立 時の74名から1200名余りに増えました。
 これまでの活動の成果としては、BDPの活動地域における子どもの就学率が大きく改善されたことが挙げられま す。ただ、小学校に通う子どもの割合はかなり増えてきたのですが、5年間の初等教育課程を終え卒業するまで勉強を続けることができる子ど もは、全体の半数ほどしかいません。多くの子どもが義務教育を修了することができるための支援を行うことが新たな課題として浮上してきています。
 1990年にACEFとBDPがこの活動を始めたときに、「20年間で75の小学校を作り、1万2千人の子どもに教育の機会を 与えよう」などという目標をたてようとしたならば、関係者はみな、そんなことは無理だ不可能だと尻込みをしたことでしょう。しかし、感謝 しつつ、その時にできることを地道にやり続けてきたことが、このような実を結びました。イエスを中心にして、感謝して五つのパンと二匹の さかなをわけあって食べた群衆がみな満腹したように、イエスを中心に活動を続けてきたら、いつの間にか奇跡が起きていた。そんな気がして います。
中川英明
 〈ACEF事務局長〉
編 集者注:*多くのミッションスクールが、この活動に祈りと献金を捧げて応援しています。

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