Choice to Change Foundation in Abu Dhabi
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.
Etihad’s I Volunteers: Changing Lives One Volunteer At a Time
This April brought with it a delightful collaboration between C2C and Etihad’s New CSR Initiative ‘I Volunteer’- a program launched by Etihad which encourages staff to get engaged in giving back to the community. In addition to providing 10 tickets on a bi-monthly basis and five enthusiastic volunteers, the support extended by Etihad helped carry a whopping 200 kilos of extra baggage on board to transport donations to Dhaka. Translating that, the extra baggage allowance helped carry, among other things, 150 kilos of milk powder, which takes care of milk supply worth two whole months for the kids’ breakfast. The support from Etihad came through emotional and physical support as well; five members of staff from Etihad’s ‘I Volunteer’ joined the dedicated C2C team, which includes directors Mo Loch, Eva Kernova and Sunil Baroi, taking part in class activities alongside the children with full fervor. Volunteer 1 was touched when she had an insider’s look at the circumstances these children live in, “You hear about slums with poor living conditions, but you never really understand the implications until you see the place – Visiting the school and having conversations with the children gives you a whole new perspective.” The volunteers accompanied the staff and students of C2C to their field trip to National Park at Gazipur, chiming in the fun with games like black shoes and limbo. Volunteer 2 says of the experience “It was like being a child again, spending time with the kids. Considering the hardships of their families, it’s heartwarming to see the kids’ innocent excitement, running around. It makes you grateful.” Besides the fun and games, they really got to know the children. The volunteers had one-on-one conversations with the kids when they visited the Maria Theresa Foundation, talking to them about their aspirations for the future. Volunteer 3 smiled wide as she took pictures of kids, “We need to keep pushing these kids to dream bigger, and then keep pushing ourselves to work and help them realize those dreams. It’s amazing to see that all the kids I spoke to want to help their community when they grow up.”
A huge thank you to Pavel for sponsoring our kids’ bags
It feels good, being part of something that you know will have a good ripple effect. It may be as small as providing a kid with a bag to carry books in, but look at the bigger picture and you’ll see you’re a small contributor to making them who they will be in the future.