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Alumni use grants to promote literacy in all its forms

Posted: 5 September 2023

Bangladesh, Alumni, Bangladesh, Education, Grants,

To mark International Literacy Day 2023, we highlight stories of leadership from two Australia Awards alumni personifying this year’s theme: ‘Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies’. Through their efforts and achievements, they are helping Bangladesh build a more literate and sustainable society.

Ahammad-Al-Muhaymin (Master of Landscape Architecture, RMIT, 2020) is a landscape architect, activist and academic who is promoting outdoor learning through a Community Classroom for indigenous children in Thanchi, Bandarban. With the assistance of an Australia Awards alumni support grant, he has designed and rebuilt a school in Thanchi using an adaptable and demountable wooden structure, designed to encourage both children and adults to reconnect with nature.

Alumnus Ahammad-Al-Muhaymin

This school caters for 57 Marma families (about 400 people in total) living in a remote village called Ziniong Para. Originally, the school was built from corrugated iron sheets rather than ecofriendly materials suitable for the climate of the village. The former design also did not offer a connection with the adjacent landscape and environment, or provide the flexibility that the new structure allows.

“My Australian degree and experience have strengthened my capability to design a conceptual plan for healthy outdoor learning spaces for indigenous children. I believe that my newly designed school will deliver engaging outdoor learning experiences to children, and the children and teachers will also get the emotional and mental wellbeing benefits that come from being outside and close to nature,” Muhaymin says.

The construction work took approximately four weeks to complete. The monsoon weather contributed to construction taking a little longer than expected, and flooding also forced the inauguration ceremony to be postponed from the originally planned date in late August. However, students, parents, community elders and non-government organisation staff are looking forward to celebrating the launch of the completed new school.

The community classroom made out of locally sourced sustainable material, designed by Muhaymin in the school he rebuilt.

Muhaymin mentions that his grant-funded activity would not have been possible without meaningful collaboration with the Humanitarian Foundation, a non-government organisation based in Bandarban. The Humanitarian Foundation assisted him throughout the grant period, from the design phase, through procuring materials and recruiting labour, to planning the inauguration ceremony.

However, the most important element required to make a project sustainable is a sense of belonging and ownership by its users. In this case, the community is committed to taking care of the school because they will also use the facility as a community centre to host events outside of school hours. Additionally, Muhaymin considered the community’s ability to maintain the structure when selecting the construction materials. “We used natural materials which are all locally sourced,” he said, adding that this would ensure easy maintenance.

At present, 26 children are studying in the school, from nursery to grade four. Muhaymin hopes that the new outdoor classroom will attract more children from the community to attend school, helping to bring communities together as the school grows.

Indigenous children from Thanchi using the community classroom to conduct their studies.

Sajal Kanti Ghosh (Master of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, 2019) is a healthcare administrator and the founder of Health-Care Solutions. He has been instrumental in promoting health literacy in Bangladesh to enable individuals to understand risks, take preventative measures, identify symptoms and seek appropriate therapy, particularly in the case of diabetes.

Sajal believes that access to accurate and easy-to-understand basic health information is a fundamental right. He applied for the Australia Awards alumni support grant to work on a project to close the gap in diabetic care. This requires addressing the health needs of vulnerable groups by providing accurate, understandable and culturally sensitive information, to help overcome the socioeconomic barriers that impede the provision of health services. Sajal emphasises that language is the first major barrier to health literacy and accessing reliable information. With this grant, he has been able to create content in Bangla to promote health on social media, offer health counselling and organise health awareness campaigns.

Alumnus Sajal Kanti Ghosh

To implement this grant activity, he organised a health campaign on 15 April 2023 for the elderly, young adolescents, and diabetic and pre-diabetic patients at Agoiljhara Upazila in Barishal. He implemented this health campaign in collaboration with a local youth club that offered free diabetes screening and patient counselling provided by health professionals. Diabetes screening tests were conducted for around 250 patients.

Sajal also partnered with two local healthcare service providers (Baishakhi Medical Hall and Janani Medical Hall in Chandpur) to organise a three-month long program on diabetic screening and health counselling, which began on 1 May 2023.

Sajal conducting a health campaign in Chandpur to spread awareness about diabetes.

“We are working on designing a diabetes surveillance dashboard that will provide the latest data on diabetes risks and other health indicators. After the completion of the dashboard, we expect to reach out to more people to better understand and interpret health information,” Sajal says.

“I believe that my small effort in providing adequate health literacy among diabetic patients will gradually improve the skills required to manage and communicate critical health information and concerns.”

Although both these Australia Awards alumni are working towards improving literacy in very different ways, we commend their contributions, and those of other alumni, to creating the foundations for a sustainable society in Bangladesh.