Impressions of the schools - Paddy O'Leary

Arriving by ferry from Dhaka at the port on Bhola Island and on seeing the rusty hulk of a floating dock with a dilapidated corrugated iron building, I knew I was another world away from my safe and privileged home in Australia.

I was on Bhola to familiarise myself with the operation of the CO-ID charity of which I am a committee member. This would mostly be meeting our office staff and visiting as many of our 41 schools as time would allow.

So over about 12 days with Yassen, a staff member, as driver and a hired motor bike I was able to visit about 20 of CO-ID schools, inspect the buildings, meet staff and some of our 12000 students.

Although our school buildings are pretty humble by Australian standards I found them full to overflowing with children who were keen to take advantage of the opportunity to learn. Some of our schools have up to 500 students enrolled with great attendance records, which are closely monitored by our inspection staff.

I found most of our schools in a healthy state of repair, in a climate that is harsh on all building materials, particularly wood and corrugated cladding. What was exciting to see was some of the schools that have been upgraded with concrete floors and bricked up to the window sill height. This was greatly appreciated by staff, students and the local village school committee. This not only improved the school environment, but also greatly increased student and staff safety as the mud floors become very slippery when wet.

We will be endeavoring to have all schools have this upgrade over the next few years, if our fund raising efforts are successful. I was also impressed with our 7 new preschools which are completed and operating to capacity. I was a guest at one with over 50 small children sitting attentively on the floor on jute mats.

Visiting Bhola helped me understand how we achieve so much on what is a tight budget. 41 schools, 7 preschools with 175 local staff providing free primary school education to 12000 students for around $250,000 per year. This is a great tribute to the charity model Fred Hyde has established and to the people who generously give their time or donations to ensure it continues.

In closing I must comment on the generous way I was welcomed by members of the local community, particularly when I said I was with the Hyde schools organisation. This is a tribute to the good will and respect Fred has built up in the Bangla community in over 30 years of dedicated service to the children of Bhola Island.

Paddy O’Leary


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