It is early morning in Sunamganj in north-eastern Bangladesh. It is raining, like it does almost every day now. It is only light today, but it will get heavier later on.
At first glance, it seems like time has come to an absolute standstill. The low, grey skies that promise even more rain melt into inland seas as far and as wide as you can see. The only other sound besides the quiet pitter-patter of raindrops is water gently lapping against the few beaten trails that have managed to remain above the tide. Many families have left since the water came in this year, particularly the farmers who lost all their crops in the early floods. It is a village of mostly farmers and fishermen, but there is nothing to farm and nothing to fish. All of their jobs are underwater.
From a distance, a different sound drifts in. A motorised passenger boat with a thatched roof rumbles in. It is a sight one does not expect in this sombre setting. A group of loud, laughing teenagers dressed in white and green uniforms, swinging their bags over their shoulders, ready to get off for school.
Papiya is one of the 20 students who take this boat every day to school and back home. She climbs out with her classmates, and says the boys have been really naughty today.
“I’m sad you’re visiting my village now – it is usually beautiful. There are normally so many green trees, but now there is just water. Still, I hope you like it.”
A student of class 7, she goes to a secondary school five kilometres away from her home. It would normally take an hour to walk there.
“I enjoy taking the boat to school. I get to spend more time with my friends. We have a pretty good time together,” she says.
Papiya’s school overlooks a large green field. It is one in the wide network of schools that BRAC works with to improve school management systems, through training teachers and mentoring students. Here, nothing has stopped. It is just as loud and colourful as it was before the floods. The tin roof of one of the buildings was blown away in the storm the week before, but classes go on as usual, with temporary cover.
There are many in the area who are not at school, though. Attendance in Papiya’s school and other primary and secondary schools in the area have fallen drastically after the floods. Many of her friends have left the village with their families, and Papiya is not sure when they will be back. She is relieved that her family did not have to leave. The small piece of land that her parents cultivate was submerged only partially, so most of the crops could be saved.
Papiya waits eagerly for school to close for the Eid holidays, although she knows Eid this year is going to be very different. She would usually visit her family in the nearby villages, but her uncles have left for Dhaka to look for jobs. “I don’t know when the water will go. People are saying that it will stay the entire year.”
“Many of my friends had to drop out, but I’m still here. I love coming to school. I got 80% in my math exam last month. My mother was so happy,” she says.
Time may have stopped for many people in these communities, but we are making sure that it continues within as many schools as possible. The funds we are raising will make sure that our boats will get 3,000 students to school every day. Help us to turn the tide for students like Papiya by making a small donation this Eid, to the children in Bangladesh who need it the most.