ABC School Making a Difference in Dhaka, Bangladesh
It started simply enough in Dhaka, Bangladesh. An American teacher, recently arrived from the United States, noticed a
small boy who lived in a nearby squatter settlement.
The teacher, Eglal Rousseau, whose husband, Richard, worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),
started giving the boy lunch every day. Soon he brought others -- a sibling and some friends. Within months, more than
100 children came for lunch every day. Others in the American community in Dhaka learned of Rousseau's efforts. Wanting
to help, some contributed resources, others helped prepare and distribute food.
As time went by, the group realized that a nutritious meal, while important, was not enough. These children, most of
whom had never been in a classroom, needed education to break the cycle of poverty and desperation.
Rousseau decided to expand her program and, with the help of local staff members and American volunteers, began to teach
basic classes in her driveway in English and Bangla. Eventually, they formed a school, hired regular teachers and moved
classes inside to a garage.
Since then, the school -- now known as the ABC School -- has expanded to five full-time teachers and a real campus that
offers a complete curriculum for children from kindergarten (age 5), through 4th grade (age 9). Plans are under way to
add a 5th-grade class soon.
The school remains very much a community effort. It is administered by a board composed of volunteers from the U.S.
Embassy as well as staff members and parents from the American School in Dhaka. Roughly half of the board members and
volunteers are American, and the other half are Bangladeshis -- either teachers or parents of children from the American
The students' families are among the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh, with most surviving on a combined income of only
$1 to $2 per day. Parents, most of whom are illiterate, work as unskilled laborers pulling rickshaws or at construction
sites. A few run tea stalls or sell produce in the market, while others are domestic workers for more affluent families.
These families came to Dhaka in recent years from the countryside in search of jobs. Rent consumes the bulk of their
incomes. Their nutrition is poor and illness an ever-present threat to the family's ability to earn money and whatever
meager savings it has.
In an effort to break the cycle of poverty and destitution for these children and their families, the ABC School cares
for the whole child. In addition to basic education, the school provides wholesome meals, health care for the children
and their families and sanitary washing facilities. It also provides life skills and vocational training. As an
incentive to encourage attendance, the school provides families rice "allowances."
Although people who volunteer and work the ABC School realize they cannot care for every needy child in Dhaka, they do
their best to open every door for their students.
With all the students who want to become doctors and nurses, the school's leaders have begun to realize they may very
well be providing support for a long time to come.
Additional information about the ABC School is available on the school's Web site.