LCET's report on Lotus Children’s Home

                                                       (2015 and 2016)

The first LCET’s education project started in early 2014 in the tribal regions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh.  The project is named as Lotus Shishu Shadan (Lotus Children’s Home in English). This is a long-term project intended to change the poor tribal people’s life in CHT with free, holistic and appropriate education. The Lotus Children’s Home is run by a properly established committee and was registered with the social welfare department in 2015. Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is an integral part of Bangladesh but the people in these lands are not descended from traditional South Asian ethnic groups. They are rather related to Southeast Asian or Himalayan ethnic groups. There are 13 ethnic minorities in CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts) all distinctively diverse in terms of cultures, social norms, language and histories.  Their living standards are much lower than that of the rest of the Bangladeshi population. The vast majority of these tribal peoples do not know how to read and write Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh. They need our help to improve their education.  Our current project area is Kukimara Wagga Union in Kaptai Upazila, Rangamati Hill District. The project will be extended in the future to different areas of CHT and across the borderlands.

Reason for the Current Project Area:
Kukimara is a large village of more than 200 families and over 1200 people live there. The houses are packed next to each other under the foot of Wagga Hill. Two streams coming from the two adjacent hills meet at the foot of the village. A public road passes by the other side of the village.  The people of Kukimara are ethnically Marma, one of the thirteen tribal ethnic minorities in Chittagong Hill Tracts. There are two small villages further up the hill more than one mile away from Kukimara; one with 35 families and the other with 25 families.  They are ethnically from a different tribe called Tonjongya. There is no school in these three villages. There is only one graduate student who passed his BA in 2016 (last year). These parents are not educated, as their fore-parents were not aware of the importance of academic knowledge when they were young. These parents are now fully conscious of the modern world and the importance of academic knowledge and therefore invited us to build a school in their village. They are extremely poor; many of them are day- labourers and have no land to farm or property of their own except a small house.  The majority of them have no money to send their children to a boarding school. An enthusiastic villager, who wanted to see his area grow in prosperity, donated all his lands (about 6 acres) for education and welfare purposes. He has no family of his own and therefore made this sacrifice for the sake of his villagers and nearby villages.

How we launched our first Project:
  As the photos in this report show, we started our mission on this donated land in early 2014.  The majority of villagers from these three villages participated in building the Lotus Children’s Home, a residential school. We have set up two facilities; one is the accommodation (Lotus Children’s Home) for destitute children from outside Kukimara and the other is a school for both local village children and destitute children who stay at the Lotus Children Home. The houses are, however, not durable as they are built by the combination of bamboos and tin. Villagers can only contribute what they have in their villages such as bamboo, tin or wood. They cannot afford cement, concrete, bricks or modern building materials. They have voluntarily used their labour and expertise in building the houses. Many are involved in cutting into the hill while others level the land and more are involved in building the houses. These houses are for the benefit of the villagers and destitute children who sought our help.  We have set up governing rules for the residents, (see separate policy).  In the first year we managed to offer 15 residential places with students coming from both inside and outside Kukimara areas. This number increased to 20 students in 2015 and 30 students in 2016.

The facilities were limited, barely managing to cope with everyday needs and adverse weather conditions. Children registered with bare hands, and many came with just the clothes they were wearing as their parents had no money to buy more. Other children had only one parent or no parents at all. Our priority was given to orphans and single parents children as long as they were not looked after by their wealthy relatives or by other organisations.   LCET provided them with food, accommodation, educational equipment, clothes, blankets, plates, glasses, spoons, soap, medicine and sanitation for theirs well-being.  On the top of this, LCET trained them in hygiene and healthy living and gave them an appropriate amount of leisure time for traditional games, exercise, arts and interaction and aimed to foster a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

Income and Expenditure:
Due to lack of accommodation, we did not accept girls for the first three years. We have now accepted a further15 girl’s and 12 boy’s residents in 2017 plus one new cook and one new teacher. Previously, there were two teachers and one cook but now we have three teachers and two cooks. This increases our budget. Our budget in 2016 was about 30000 – 35000 (thirty to thirty five thousand) taka per month, which is equivalent between 375 and 430 to US dollars depending on the items of food or other necessities. (Please read the expenditure report here).

We have already briefly estimated bills for each month in 2017. It will become 60000 to 65000 (sixty to sixty five thousand taka) in a month for 51 students, 3 teachers and 2 cooks. This estimate is calculated for the minimum expenditure i.e. two simple meals a day.  This figure does not include clothes, such as shirts and school uniform, shower soaps, or unexpected expenditure, such as medical health. We will report the accurate expenditure for 2017 in early 2018.

Funded Projects:
Due to our genuine concern for the children’s education, we are privileged to have received support from different well-wishers, perhaps quicker than we have expected. We have managed to build two buildings in the same years with the help of two funders. The first of these was started in January 2016 and was donated by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board. Although the building is small, about 22 feet long and 20 feet wide, we are very grateful to the Minister of Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board, U Shwe Shing Marma.  It was very meaningful support when our children are not properly protected from the winter and monsoons. All our 30 children were accommodated in this newly built building by the end of March 2016. However, the number of children who could receive help from our project is not limited to 30. We continue to search for funders to increase our capacity.

The Firefly Mission donated our next project that started in the same year. We are thankful to Venerable Khemasara Bhante, the founder of Bangalhalia Buddhist Orphanage, who introduced us to the Firefly Mission. Firefly Mission is well known in Singapore and is genuinely helping in different parts of South and Southeast Asia without any targets and without any political or ideological influence. They first visited us on 27 December in 2015 during the Christmas and New Year holiday. They saw us in first-handed experience.  After being briefed on our current project, plans and regular activities, their response was positive to our approach to teaching. They asked us to write a proposal, which they accepted in June and agreed to fund us immediately. Venerable Dr. Nagasena Bhikkhu dealt with the whole project with the help of Venerable Khemasara Bhante and Brother Mong. The building work started in 28 July and was fully completed by the end of December 2016, as you see first two photos above. This building has two storey foundations with three rooms. Each room is 20 feet long and 18 feet wide.  We can add another storey in the future, probably in 2020.  They have also provided furniture for 30 children. All the boys have now moved to this building and the previous building is dedicated for girls. So we now have two buildings, one for girls and the other for boys, funded by Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board and by Firefly Mission respectively. We are very much thankful to both CHT Development board and Firefly Mission for their contribution.  

Plan for School Building:
The old house, where the Lotus Children used to live in, is now converted to a temporary study room. It can be used for a couple of months, at least leading up to the monsoon season. We have already planned to build another bamboo and tin house in April just before the monsoon. We estimated the cost of this house to be £1500 for materials with volunteer builders. This amount could change slightly depending on the changes in the market rate. A few volunteers who are expert in building bamboo houses have already offered their time free of charge. LCET welcome any donor to fund this temporary building. From our experience, houses like this (with tin and bamboo) lasts only three to five years, mainly because of adverse weather i.e. heavy rain during monsoon.

Our next plan is to build a permanent school building for LOTUS CHILDREN’S HOME to be used for both a primary and junior school in the same building. The area of this building has already been selected two years ago by the side of the road but more work is still needed; firstly to make a wall to protect against the effect of adverse weather during the monsoon without which the ground-soil could be washed away by monsoon rains, and secondly to level a bigger area as this land is uneven and hilly. We hired a mechanical digger at a cost of about $2000 US dollars to make it appropriate for a school area. Venerable Nagasena Bhante donated his own money for this work. Please see the photos below. A permanent school plot is now ready but we do not know when the fully completed school will emerge.  Depending on the conditions and donors, we are hoping to complete it within 2018-2020.

The school will be a two-storey building with ten rooms. The first storey will serve for the primary school; with a room each for classes one to five while the second storey will be for the junior school and classes six to eight. Two extra rooms will be used for offices. Each room will be 16 feet long and 14 feet wide. The total dimensions will be 80 feet long by 70 feet wide. This school will be Lotus Children’s Model School from which both residential boarding students and children from the village will benefit.  As we mentioned above, when we built the boys hostel in 2016, (only three room with each 20 feet long and 24 feet wide with veranda) it cost more than 27 lakhs for a one storey building plus 6 toilets which cost about 6 lakhs in Bangladeshi currency.  Based on this experience we estimate the expenditure for these two storeys’ complete with ten rooms would go up to 40-45 lakhs Bangladeshi currency. However, the actual estimate will be carried out by our engineer.  As we have noted above, long term and secure accommodation is ready for children who are now protected from adverse weather during the cold winter and the monsoon rainy season.  It was completely different when we first started four years ago.  Then it was only two bamboos houses, one for accommodation and one for the kitchen.  There was only one toilet for 15 children but now we have a one-storey building and three toilets for the girls and a one-storey building with six toilets for the boys.

Academic Achievement:
LCET’s development is not limited to the construction of the complex; most importantly the development should be measured by academic achievement and the children’s ability to understand their environment and their relationship with the wider world. On the top of the academic subjects that are usual in general school, LCH children are taught how to improve their critical skills, self- understanding on the interdependency and interconnectedness of the world and how they depend on others and how they in turn contribute to the larger development of world. In other words, how what they have achieved can be used for the sake of others: how they need to depend on others and how others will depend on them one day. Please see the success rate in the exams. While understanding the meaning of interconnection and development, we emphasise how they should behave and contribute for the society in terms of effective participation in the development process. We teach children to improve their kindness, respect, integration and compassion. Children should be ready to contribute to their world not only in terms of kindness to other human beings but importantly in terms of kindness in sustaining the environment and wild life.  

In our involvement in Kukimara, we have managed to encourage the villagers to send their children to our school. The number of children, who received our tuition, has been increased to more than 60%.  Previously many children were neglected by their parents but now because of our efforts parents are more enthusiastic and are willing to send their children to school.  As you see from the photos below, we have held regular meetings with the villagers. We have provided them with a basic understanding of education, not only in terms of academic education but also in terms of general understanding of the interconnected life with the natural environment, the forest and animals and how they should look after their environment for the sake of future generations.