Some photos and details after the jump.
People know just what their circumstances are. Boy, are they clever! Boy, do they know what they need! Boy, are they pragmatic! And, boy, are they poor! So they need some help… but they’re ready to work.
– Jeffrey Sachs, 2006 Notre Dame Forum on Global Health
Those words echoed in my head as I was talking to these thirty or so part-time rural school children. We had setup an informal town hall style meeting. Everyone was in a circle and everyone had ideas of what I could do to help them. I had never met kids so eager to learn and to study before. The first thing someone shouted out was “books!” this was followed by “pens!” and then “pencils!”. Before I started the meeting, I was worried they would be too shy to speak up. But, as it turns out, the biggest problem was making sure everyone didn’t speak up all at once!
After I got a general idea of what was needed I asked the community leader (the school was technically run as part of an NGO and so the community leader had the role as director) to make a list and draw up a budget.
The money I had available had come from some savings I had set aside from my previous job to buy an Xbox 360. While they had asked for less than $300 worth of items – I had already made commitments elsewhere to help others. So, unfortunately, some items on the list had to be cut. The biggest items to be cut? Clothes (over $100) and new school books. It killed me to have to do that. You’d think after doing this for ten months, I’d get used to the hard lessons I’ve had to learn here.
The first stop we made was to a local school supply store. Off-camera, the store keeper had told me that – since I had come with local community members (and had a sense of the language and culture) – they were charging me the actual prices for these items. He explained that, when big foreign charities like World Vision come into town, the local store keepers normally jack up the prices. It’s good to know that even though I’m nowhere near the scale of those guys – I’m operating at a greater cost efficiency than they are 🙂
In the end I was able to buy 90 pens, 90 pencils, 90 notebooks (that’s three of each per student) and 5 boxes of chalk at this store all for 3,000 taka (or about $44 US Dollars).
Here is the store keeper making the bill:
One of the things I found out I couldn’t buy were blackboards. Apparently there were no pre-made blackboards in this rural village. So, instead, I provided the money necessary (1,000 taka or about $15 US Dollars) to have one locally hand-made. When I told them I didn’t have enough money to buy everything on the list – I asked them to prioritize. Almost right away the school teacher spoke up about the need to have a blackboard – because that way she could write things down for all her students to see. I was kind of shocked because I was left wondering how exactly she was teaching so many students without a blackboard.
After we were done at the school supply shop, we went to the pharmacy. It was here that I took a closer look at some of the prescriptions that the students had asked me to buy. One of them was a liquid antacid. Another was for antibiotics (both topical and oral) to treat an eczema-related infection. But the vast majority of the prescriptions the children had asked me to buy were for vitamin deficiency. One was for zinc deficiency, another was for vitamin A deficiency – and so on. It was then that I got the final shock of the day: these prescriptions were essentially a stop-gap solution to compensate for the fact they were suffering from malnutrition. I’m still speechless at that revelation.
In the end, I spent a total of about $71 US Dollars here. This was actually the last place I visited before coming back to Dhaka City. I will have to show where I spent the rest of my Xbox 360 money in the future.