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Child Friendly Spaces: Promise of a better tomorrow

© UNICEF/BANA2011-00654/Mawa
Children attend class at a child friendly space supported by UNICEF in Lalbagh, Dhaka.

By Raffat Binte Rashid

Dhaka, 01 October, 2012: It was raining hard and a strong wind was blowing outside. Brishti  and Munir, inside the Child Friendly Space (CFS), were singing their hearts out and enjoying the cool breeze for a change.

The child friendly space was situated on the banks of the dying and polluted river Buriganga, in Lalbagh, in the old part of Dhaka. “It is not so windy everyday, I love the wind on my face if I sit here facing the river but I cannot stand the stench during the hot, humid days,” says Munir, a boy of eight. He instantly starts singing and his playful, jovial mood catches on among his mates at the CFS.

Brishti and Munir along with 60 other children are regulars at the CFS where they have access to formal and non-formal education, after-school coaching, life skills training, profile management, first-aid support, sports and cultural activities.

A second chance in life

Munir is an orphan living with his grandmother who works in a factory. To make ends meet, Munir lends a helping hand and works as a shopkeeping assistant for Taka1000 (US$ 12) only.

“Today I did not go to work, I was tired, I wanted to play and paint so I came to the CFS. But if my grandmother  knows she’ll be annoyed with me; with our combined earnings we pay our house rent, which is Taka 2500 (US$ 30). Our house rent is due,” Munir casually remarks and continues singing while Brishti dances to his songs.

Brishti, a chirpy girl of nine, is certainly the leader in her group. She bosses around the young ones and makes them sit in a circle.

“I used to collect scraps from this river bank, and one day, the teacher here asked me if I wanted to come in and sit with them. Even though I wanted to join, my parents would not let me. However, the people here spoke to my parents and ever since I have become a regular here,” she says, adding that she wants to be a peer educator like Razia  at the CFS one day.

Razia, a shy girl of 15, is a student of Class VIII in Underprivileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP) and also a peer educator in a Child Friendly Space (CFS) in Islambag, Lalbagh.

“I am looking forward to joining a technical trade course in my school after I complete Class VIII,” Razia says with a smile on her face.

© UNICEF/2012/Raffat
Children sing during a session at a child friendly space in Lalbagh, Dhaka. Learning here is fun for these children who have difficult lives otherwise.

“I am among the first children to come to this CFS in 2008 when it opened its doors to street children like me. I was then a school dropout and earning a living by collecting scraps to help support my family,” Razia explains.
 
Facing hardship from a tender age, this child was given the opportunity to attain an education and now in 2012, she is drawing a monthly salary of Taka2500 (US$ 30) as a peer educator in CFS.

Razia’s is definitely a success story and her presence at the CFS inspires other children at risk.

CFS support system: Empower, engage, and educate

“The social workers help to ensure that children continue to come to these places for education by regularly meeting with parents and teaching them parenting skills. They also take measures to empower the parents by engaging them in income generating activities that can improve their livelihoods and parental abilities,” say Bimol Sarkar, a social worker in charge of the CFS, adding that he also holds programmes for birth registration.

“To support cases like Munir’s and to help them continue their school, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWCA) took up a funding project called Cash Transfer. It gives Taka 27000 (US$ 330) in three instalments to ultra poor families like Munir’s. With the earnings the guardians are asked to save for the child and help continue his school work. Many children got such support and are now able to continue their education in formal schools,” Sarker explains.

The cash support, however, is given to the families on conditions that
every child aged five years and above will be admitted to a school, no child will be entered into an early marriage, the caregiving family must act in the best interest of the child, and finally, no child will be engaged in hazardous labour Whether these conditions are met the the recipient families are closely monitored by the social workers under a structured case management system.

Learning through fun

A UNICEF-supported project implemented by partner NGO Aporajeyo Bangla , Child Friendly Spaces are basically outreach service programmes for children at risk and the place also works as the primary contact point for social workers with street children and new migrants to the city, who are often displaced due to natural disasters or separation from families. A CFS focuses on meeting the development needs of children at risk and ensures age-specific activities.

“Each social worker has two schools under their supervision and each school has a teacher and a peer educator. CFS timings are from 9am to 5pm and here the children play, sing, draw as well as learn Bangla, mathematics, social studies, healthcare and other subjects. Many of the girls and boys drop in at the CFS after school and take help from the teachers to complete their home tasks for the next day,” says Rani, a teacher of the CFS in between giving them lessons on daily hygiene.

CFSs are strategically situated in close proximity to government mainstream schools and, in many places, on the premises of government schools.

*Some names have been changed to protect children’s identities.

 

 

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