A handover ceremony at Sher-e-Bangla Primary School in Motijeel Dhaka, Bangladesh on April marked a first-time donation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to 34 schools across the city.
A few hundred people gathered under a colourful canopy on a hot but breezy afternoon to listen to the speakers and participate in the event. School management committee members and teachers sat in the front rows, and the children, looking smart in their uniforms, sat in the back.
Sher-e-Bangla government school is highly unusual. A large grassy field for the children to play in stands in front of the school building - a rarity in overcrowded Dhaka. Not only will the 1220 school children receive several boxes of sports equipment, but they actually have the grounds on which to play with them. WFP was responsible for selecting the 34 other schools tp receive the equipment, and it wasn’t easy. Most urban schools have no space for children to play, let alone use sports equipment.
All of the 35 schools receive assistance from the Department of Primary Education and also participate in WFPs school meals progamme, which gives each child a packet of nutrient fortified biscuits every day they attend school.
"The sports equipment is a complementary activity to school feeding, since the children’s energy levels are increased by the biscuits, enhancing each child’s ability to grow, participate and learn, including participating in sports," said Michael Dunford, WFP Deputy Country Director, in his address to the crowd. "You never know, in this crowd of children might be sitting a future Olympian!"
Bablu Kumar Shaha, Joint Secretary of the Government, encouraged children and teachers to make sure the equipment, which includes everything from jump ropes and Frisbees to badminton sets and footballs, is put to good use. He referred to a gift of sports equipment from the government that the children had kept neatly in its packaging, too afraid that if they were to use it, the equipment may get ruined.
"Sports equipment is meant to be used! For all we know the next cricket star is sitting here amongst us." He closed with a big thank you to the IOC, which was seconded by Mr. Indu Bhusan Deb, District Education Officer, who gave the closing address.
A bright 5th grader, Aklima, said she hoped they would make sure that the girls got a chance to play with all the new equipment, too. She hoped the boxes included table tennis materials and was happy when she was told they did. Local government officers will be responsible for checking in on the schools to make sure that the donations are used appropriately.
Taken together, the schools have about 35,000 students, all of whom should have the chance to play sports with this donation—boys and girls alike.
They are among 2.3 million students who get fortified biscuits every day. WFP distributes biscuits to 1.1 million children and the government to another 1.2 million. The biscuits serve as a further incentive to go to school every day, lead to health improvements and ensure that children have the energy to learn and grow to their full potential.
Bablu Kumar Shah referred in his speech to the school feeding programme as being "the last weapon we have to fight low school attendance and drop-out rates" and urged the Government to continue scaling up their programme and supporting the WFP programme that has been going strong for more than ten years.
As the headmistress later confirmed over a snack once the handover had concluded, attendance rates were only 55 percent when school meals programme started. Now it stands at 85 percent, and thanks to this latest contribution of sports equipment, it may very well increase from there. In the week following the handover, the distribution of all 84 sets of sports kits to the 34 remaining schools was completed.