Founded in New York in 1998, the Volunteers Association for Bangladesh is a small NGO on a big mission: to change public education for the poor in Bangladesh. The organization, whose members are mostly expatriate Bangladeshis living in the U.S. and Canada, has devoted itself to providing the funds, technical resources, and training necessary to improve Bangladeshi public schools, particularly those in rural areas where most of the country’s poor people live.
Their task could be seen as a daunting one. Statistics from 2009 put the literacy rate among Bangladeshi males at 54%, and among females at only 32%. According to more recent studies, the literacy rate for people in Bangladesh over age 15 is just under 60%. Dropout rates for high school students are estimated at 42%. Figures like these speak to the great educational need that the Volunteers Association for Bangladesh seeks to address.
The VAB has taken a comprehensive approach to meeting these educational needs and tackling the problem of inadequate schooling. Programs in 60 schools across the country are designed to help students from preschool through university. They provide free preschool with a nutritious meal, tutoring for 6th-grade students to help them pass entrance exams for high schools, and scholarships to help high school students pay for tuition and other necessary materials.
The group has also donated supplies like computers and science equipment in order to help 15 public schools better serve their students. In 2005, VAB started a college scholarship program, which has since helped 201 students pay for tuition and textbooks. In addition, they train local university students to work as tutors in the public schools.
All of these efforts are making headway in helping to open up doors to real opportunity for the poor in Bangladesh. The VAB is working to keep expanding its programs, and most recently they have partnered with Microsoft Southeast Asia to start a computer literacy and training program. To learn more about VAB and all of its efforts, visit www.vabonline.org.
– Délice Williams