Meena Day 2010
By Jessie Mawson
23 September, 2010, Dhaka, Bangladesh: On Friday 24 September, Bangladesh will celebrate Meena Day, an annual event that sees children across the country joining in celebrations to honor their favorite hero, and rushing home to tune into the many Meena television and radio programmes that will be broadcast on the day.
Created by UNICEF Bangladesh 18 years ago, Meena is a lively 9-year-old animated girl character who champions the rights of children (especially girls) in books, films, posters and web blogs. Widely loved, Meena is responsible for teaching the children of South Asia, about gender discrimination and promoting social issues such as education, health, hygiene and safety.
New Meena Material
To mark Meena Day in 2010, work has begun on a suite of brand new Meena books and films. The new books and films will cover an array of topical subjects, including corporal punishment, hand washing, breastfeeding, complimentary feeding, newborn care and flu prevention.
Developing new Meena material is a complex process, explains UNICEF officer Mira Mitra who has a long history of working with the Meena Communication initiative. “We had two 5-day Meena story development workshops and three 1-day Meena comic book development workshops. Many lent their expert skills to the task, including animators, scriptwriters, artists, teachers, teachers' trainers, Government primary education officials and representatives from the National Textbook Curriculum Board.”
It is anticipated that by February 2011, six new books and six new Meena films will be complete and ready for distribution.
Meena’s biggest fans
One group of children eagerly awaiting the launch of the new books and films are the students of Shitalokkha 3, a UNICEF-supported learning centre in Beribhad, on the outskirts of Dhaka. Like almost 13 per cent of children in Bangladesh, all 25 students at this learning centre work for a living. Attending classes at the learning centre in the afternoon gives them a chance to keep up their education whilst continuing working to provide for themselves and their families.
“Meena teaches us about many things”, explains Ujjal Feroz, 13, who sells nuts for a living. “She teaches us about the importance of using proper latrines and washing our hands with soap afterwards. She also tells us that boys and girls are equal”.
Shathi Akhtar, 13, who works at her father’s rice stall agrees. “Meena and Raju [Meena’s younger brother] both go to school, so that means that education is for all – both boys and girls”.
Education is a theme highly valued amongst these working children, and when asked which of the current 33 Meena titles are their favourites, they say that they most enjoy reading the books about how Meena and her friends go to school and study.
Liton, 13, who spends his days serving customers in a small shop, sums up why Meena means so much to the children of Bangladesh. “Meena represents all of us”, he says. She is a symbol for all children, and a symbol for child rights”.
A tool for change
“I feel strongly that Meena makes a difference in behaviour and social change”, says Mira. “The Meena character is recognised by 97% of urban children and 81% of children in rural areas in Bangladesh, and a large percentage are able to cite some of her key messages”.
Meena's popularity base, now extended to a second generation, also includes adults, and a recent survey revealed that 66 per cent of children in Bangladesh believed their parents were influenced by the Meena character to keep them in school.
In 2010, Meena Day carries an anti-child labour the theme, which complements the national campaign against child labour recently launched by UNICEF in conjunction with the Government and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The campaign’s slogan: “the best place for a child to work is at school” puts great emphasis on the need to ensure that all working children are able to realise their right to an education.