DHAKA, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Getting education is the only way for children living in low-caste communities and depressed areas in Bangladesh to realize their dreams of having a better life in the future.
With this mind, the Subornogram Foundation, a local development organization, in cooperation with the government, has provided free basic education to children of marginalized families, particularly those living by rivers known as river gypsies as well as fishermen, cobblers, and others who have been victims of social discrimination.
The Foundation opened several schools in depressed communities in Dhaka in 2003 offering children with basic math and literacy skills, as well as basic English classes.
In an interview with Xinhua, Shahed Kayes, founder and executive of Subornogram Foundation, said that the mission of the Foundation is to change the lives of those living in low caste communities through literacy.
Kayes said they first launched their literacy program in a village called Subornogram under the country's central Narayanganj district, some 17 km away from capital Dhaka.
That was after he obtained his engineering degree from the country's top Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Kayes said.
According to Kayes, the Foundation currently runs seven tuition- free schools for disadvantaged groups and two tuition fee-charging schools for students of affluent sections of the society. The free schools are run by the income from the tuition fee-charging ones.
There are four schools teaching children of gypsies and cobblers separately in Subornogram village, where the foundation also operates two fee-charging schools, Kayes said.
The foundation has two more schools in a river island called Mayadwip (literally means land of affection) for children of fishermen. It also runs another school for children of Murang tribe in Bandarban district, some 316 km southeast of capital Dhaka.
"We at Subornogram Foundation are pursing a dream, a dream of a beautiful country, a prosperous country where everybody will be happy. And we work hard to make our dream come true," Kayes said.
In 2006, Kayes said they found out that children of gypsies, fishermen and cobblers often grew up illiterate, partly because their parents could not afford to send them to schools.
Due to poverty and social discrimination, the children from the low caste communities have lost interest in going to school, Kayes said.
"Usually when the children from low-caste neighborhood go to primary school, they are often ostracized by children from higher class of society. That's the reason why they lose interest in going to school," Kayes said.
Kayes also blamed the parents for their lack of enthusiasm and superstitious beliefs in not forcing their children to get the proper education.
"Their parents were not conscious about education. They don't realize the importance of education. So the children grew up as illiterates," Kayes said, adding that most parents are just lazy to bring their children to school.
"So, we told them that they don't have to go to school, rather the school will go to their places. It was our new concept for education," he said.
So the Foundation built a floating school for the gypsy community, a separate school in the cobblers' slum, and another school in the fishermen's village.
The Subornogram Foundation has been providing not only free education but also study materials to its students.
Minu, an eight-year-old child from gypsy family, goes to a floating boat school with a dream like many other children of her community.
"I come to the floating school every day. I like to study. I want to be a doctor," Minu said while sitting in her boat school that floats on a tributary of Bangladesh's mighty Meghna River.
"After working for a certain time, when I hear that a girl from cobblers' society or a boy from Mayadwip, the island of fishermen, dreams to be a doctor or journalist or professor, I feel really good since in our own little way, we can contribute to changing their lives," Kayes said.
There are 12 teachers in the schools. The teachers, mainly recruited from the communities, are paid a nominal honorarium by Asia Foundation, which is also providing breakfast as well as books for the students.