How a Dubai resident’s change of travel plans led to a new school for Bangladeshi children
ABU DHABI // A Bangladeshi sporting legend is supporting a project set up by an Etihad cabin crew member to help children in Dhaka escape life in the slums.
Former test cricket captain Mushfiqur Rahim visited the Choice to Change (C2C) school this week along with a team of Etihad volunteers to lend their support to the school’s efforts.
Slovakian Eva Kernova founded the C2C to support 25 children in a ramshackle school after visiting slums during a flight layover. Since then, the school has attracted more than 1,000 visitors, including almost 600 cabin crew from Emirates and Etihad, to help the charity school grow.
It is now one of the few English teaching schools in the region, and is giving youngsters a rare chance to escape a life of child labour and dream of breaking out of communities where the average wage is US$400 a year. “Our introduction to Mushfiqur Rahim came through a family friend and quite randomly,” said Ms Kernova, who jointly founded the project with a friend, Sunil Baroi, six years ago.
“We were as surprised as the children were that our family friend made the introduction and that Mushfiq was kind enough to agree to it.
“Mushfiq doesn’t have a formal role, but his presence at the C2C annual picnic last week certainly did a lot to inspire the children and staff and created lifetime memories.”
The school will have its first graduating class at the end of this academic year, when the oldest children, now in their early teens, will sit the Grade 5 government exam, which could allow them to pursue secondary education or vocational training if they pass. So far, the school has outperformed the national average in two key areas – fewer drop-outs and in English language. Overall, fewer than five per cent drop out, compared to a national average of about 25 per cent between grades five and six and 10 to 15 per cent from Grades 1 to 5.
Etihad joined the project by offering staff free flights every two months to visit the school, as well as donating from its guest air miles scheme to pay for a bus to transport children from the slum into the school. Mohammed Loch, Ms Kernova’s charity partner, said the increasing numbers of airline staff wanting to visit the school on stop-offs is helping raise the project’s profile, and encouraging more donors to get involved.
“C2C is the only slum school in Dhaka that is teaching everyone English, and that is making a huge difference,” he said.
“With the benefit of 1,000 visitors since it started, the children can now speak fluent English and are super confident.”
The C2C school is officially registered as a Bangladesh non-government organisation and is in the process of registering as a UK charity to access potential donors in Europe and elsewhere. Several institutions have lent their assistance to C2C, including auditor KPMG. The next phase of growth will involve firmly establishing funds for the school’s sustainability, from corporate and individual sources all over the world.
That, in turn, will encourage children to have the best chance of a successful transition into the workplace.
“These kids have been taught all their lives they are going to be workers. To see their options open up with an education is massive for them,” Mr Loch said.