|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2011/Saiful Huq Omi|
|Olivia Harrison (second from left) visits a UNICEF-supported early learning centre at Mirpur with delegation including US Fund for UNICEF President and CEO Caryl M. Stern, US Fund Director of Board Relations and Leadership Fundraising Brian Meyers, Apple Corps executive Jonathan Clyde, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Carel de Rooy and UNICEF Bangladesh Communications Manager Arifa Sharmin.|
By Arifa S. Sharmin
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 15 March 2011 – Olivia Harrison, founder of the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF and wife of the late musician George Harrison, visited Bangladesh recently with a delegation that included US Fund for UNICEF President and CEO Caryl M. Stern and Apple Corps executive Jonathan Clyde.
It was Ms. Harrison’s first visit to the country since her family began its 40-year relationship with UNICEF through the groundbreaking ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ in 1971. Over the years, she has embraced the legacy of her late husband’s humanitarian contributions and dedicated herself to helping foster a new Bangladesh where every child counts.
The trip was an opportunity for Ms. Harrison and the UNICEF team to see some of the programmes supported by the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
‘A harsh reality’
At a centre for at-risk youth in the locality of Mirpur, close to 50 children between the ages of 5 and 15 gather every day. Almost 30 of them – some as young as four – live in the centre, where they receive food, education, health services and life-skills training. Before coming to the centre, all of these children lived on the street.
When Ms. Harrison and the UNICEF team visited the centre, the children performed a play about child labour, a critical issue in Bangladesh. When the delegation asked about child rights, the children replied enthusiastically that they have a right to shelter, food, education, health and play.
“These children are living a harsh reality,” said Ms. Harrison. “But what is amazing to me is that all of them know their rights.”
That same day, the UNICEF group visited an open-air school and met children who are living in makeshift shelters on a river embankment. These children are involved in work such as rag picking, collecting firewood or taking care of siblings at home when their parents go to work – which keeps them from attending traditional school.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2011/Saiful Huq Omi|
|US Fund for UNICEF team members with Olivia Harrison (second from left) visit a girls' drop-in-centrre run by the UNICEF-supported Bangladesh Protection of Children at Risk project in Mirpur locality, Dhaka.|
But with support from UNICEF, the open-air school is providing them with basic education and helping prepare them for future enrolment in government primary schools.
“I have learned the alphabet, numbers and rhymes,” said Hridoy, 8. “I enjoy coming here.”
Basic skills, better livelihoods
UNICEF also supports Basic Education for Urban Hard to Reach Working Children, a project that provides education to 24 children living in the Balur Basti slum. The children attend two-and-half-hour sessions five days a week at a learning centre. The curriculum addresses their specific needs, with classes focused on basic education and life skills.
Despite the challenges they face, the children at the school have dreams. Some want to be doctors, some engineers; others want to be teachers.
Sharmin Akhter, 11, lives with her mother, three siblings and two nephews in a tiny room on a bamboo platform that houses 100 more families. She works as a helper in a shop where she earns just Taka 800 (approximately $12) each month.
Sharmin and her older sister Nasima took time to chat with Ms. Harrison. Nasima said the monthly income for the whole family is only Taka 3,000 (about $ 42), and they struggle as a result. She added, however, that the school has been helping her sister and other children in the area learn vital basic skills, which can go a long way toward improving their livelihoods.
Club raises AIDS awareness
Just east of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, is the small town of Chouw. Here, the Kishori Girls Club greeted Ms. Harrison and the UNICEF team with traditional songs and dances.
|© UNICEF Bangladesh/2011/B.A. Sujan|
|Olivia Harrison hugs one of the participants in a UNICEF-supported mothers' club during a visit to Narsingdi, Bangladesh.|
The children were discussing HIV and AIDS, and were well aware of how to protect themselves against HIV; club members promote such awareness through drama. Even though the HIV prevalence rate is less than 1 per cent in Bangladesh, many young people have misconceptions about the disease.
“This is a unique opportunity,” said Ms. Harrison. “Both boys and girls are mingling together, sharing ideas as friends and discussing this important issue, which will help them to develop their confidence level and, hopefully, spare them from an avoidable spread of HIV.”
Continuing the legacy
Centres for at-risk children, schools for working children and life-skills clubs for adolescents are a just some of the initiatives that help address the educational needs of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable children.
In partnership with the Government of Bangladesh and non-governmental organizations – and with the generous support of the George Harrison Fund – UNICEF is working to prepare the country’s young generation for the challenges ahead.
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