From the Jungles of Bangladesh to the Halls of Harvard

Apr 18, 2011· 2 MIN READ
Every morning, students line up in front of The Padamu Residential Education Centreschool in Bangladesh to recite the national anthem. (Photo: Maung Ting Nyeu)

A nomadic mountain boy grows up in a remote village of Bangladesh, near the border of Burma. Each day, he navigates a jungle path for two miles to attend a small primary school, passing monkeys and snakes along the way. He studies hard, earns good grades, and, years later, is accepted into the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.

That boy, Maung Ting Nyeu, recognizes that he was one of the lucky ones. "Education saved me," says Maung to TakePart. To ensure that children living in underserved areas of the world are given the opportunity to receive an education, Maung devotes much of his free time to volunteering for Right to Learn International (RLI).

In Bangladesh, indigenous populations make up less than 1% of the entire population and schools are scattered miles away from these remote, mountainous villages.

The Padamu Residential Education Centre provides food, clothes and education to 72 children from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. (Photo: Maung Ting Nyeu)

"Hundreds of children are displaced because of political conflicts in the country...some of those kids get involved in the internal political conflict and they’re not alive anymore, or some are alive and they live as day laborers," says Maung. "Not only can they not send their children to school, they cannot even feed their own family."

Political conflicts are not the only problems nomadic tribes have to face. These Internationally Displaced People (IDP) experience different cultures, religions, languages, and food from the majority population of Bangladesh.

"For kids growing up in indigenous tribes, it's quite an uphill battle to become assimilated to the Bangladesh community," he says. Maung himself grew up speaking his tribal language, picked up a neighboring tribal language, and was schooled in Bengali (the official language of Bangladesh), making English his fourth language.

Today, nearly 2 billion people in developing countries are inadequately educated, receiving little or no education at all. The literacy rate in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a swath of land in southeastern Bangladesh, is below 28%. As director of the Golden Hour Project (under RLI), Maung has contributed to the development of the Padamu Residential Education Centre, which serves 72 students from grades 1-5. "Obviously we wanted to get more students but based on our limited funding, we started with 72. We targeted the children who are either orphans or lost one of their parents. Our goal is to help those children see the window of the outside world and access information in a way where they can connect with each other, allowing them to dream and be inspired."

Children gather to receive donated food and school supplies. (Photo: Maung Ting Nyeu)

The all-inclusive school supports the students's food, schooling, books, clothes, and even the sandals on their feet.

Currently, Golden Hour Project is trying to secure computers through the non-profit, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).

Maung has volunteered with OLPC writing software and designing a tribal keyboard catered for the children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. "The short term goal is to benefit the children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts by multilingual keyboard and curriculum that meet the needs of local educators and local people. The long term goal, and the beauty of this project, is that whatever we develop, we can make it available for the whole world...If someone comes from Africa or a remote village in China, and they want to do the same, they do not have to start from ground zero. They can take the framework that we built and adjust them to their local needs," says Maung.

Maung reminds Take Part that the success of the school is due to the combined efforts of numerous passionate individuals. "There are passionate people who are in different industries such as law, or business," he says. "They are also helping us. It is the result of the combined effort of many individuals."