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Bangladesh: School Feeding Encourages Nomadic Children To Attend Class

River Nomads

Bangladesh has a great cultural and ethnic diversity with over 40 indigenous groups living within its borders.
The Bede are a nomadic group whose members traditionally live, travel and earn their living on the myriad of rivers that travers the country. Around 500,000 Bede people live across Bangladesh today.

Charming Snakes From An Early Age

Alina Akter, only two and a half years old, has no fear of the snake during a snake charming session with her father.
The Bede travel by boat for most of the year, living from traditional trades such as snake charming, magic shows or production and sale of lucky charms and herbal medicines.
From childhood, Bede children learn the traditional business from their parents. 

An Empty Village

In a suburb of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, 200 Bede families have established a small community called Choto Omarpur. Most of the houses are empty and locked for many months at a time while the owners are out on the rivers, taking along their babies and toddlers. Only a few buildings are occupied, where older children stay with relatives or friends who are unable or unwilling to travel. 

A Nutritious Snack Makes School More Attractive

Six year old Sumi lives in Choto Omarpur and attends a primary school managed by BRAC, Bangladesh’s largest development organization.  
Formal education has not played a big role in the Bede’s traditional lifestyle, and school attendance is low. A study conducted by the Grambangla Unnayan Committee in 2006 showed that 95 percent of Bede children do not attend school. 
When WFP started providing vitamin- and mineral-fortified biscuits in Choto Omarpur, many children like Sumi started coming to school to get the nutritious snack in the morning.

Focused On Their Lessons

School feeding not only encourages children to come to school, it also gives them energy to concentrate on their studies when they are in class.
The high-energy biscuits are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals and help children meet 67 percent of their daily micronutrient needs.

A Happy Teacher

Rubina Akter, Sumi’s class teacher, helps Sumi with her letters. 
Rubina explains that she is now very happy with her students as they are more motivated and focused on learning: “Now they do what I ask for and teaching has become much more interesting for me.”

Song And Dance Are Part Of School

Sumi sings a chorus along with her classmates.  
Next to regular lessons, her school also offers extra-curricular activities like singing, dancing and educational play. 

Family Matters

Sumi’s aunt Shahina Begum takes care of Sumi most of the year while her parents are travelling to earn money. Here she is seen next to WFP Representative to Bangladesh Christa Räder, who visited Sumi’s house during a trip to Choto Omarpur.

Changing Perspectives

Sumi, standing in the back, watches Alina and her father. 
“I don’t want to learn how to charm snakes,” she tells us. “I want to stay in school and be a doctor when I grow up.” 

Bangladesh has a great cultural and ethnic diversity with over 40 indigenous groups living within its borders. The Bede are a nomadic group whose members traditionally live, travel and earn their living on the myriad of rivers that travers the country. Around 500,000 Bede people live across Bangladesh today.

As a result of their traditional lifestyle, 95 percent of Bede children do not attend school. When WFP started providing vitamin- and mineral-fortified biscuits in Choto Omarpur, a small Bede community on the outskirts of Dhaka, many children began to attend school to get the nutritious snack in the morning.