Educating the slums

by Maria Cristina Foundation
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Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
Educating the slums
2020 The Year That Keeps on Taking!
To say it has been a struggle would be the understatement of the year. Besides the obvious issues, faced in many countries, families losing their income, schools being locked down etc (thanks to some amazing supporters we have been able to provide food packages and help the students with online schooling), still, the challenges just keep coming.
For the families we help, their development is severely suppressed by society, it always has been, especially for the women. Even when we develop new projects to help these suffering families, it seems that society tries its best to stop that too.
Even just to leave the country (Bangladesh) is extremely challenging for women, despite having all the right paperwork (of which there is a lot).
 
We recently tried to bring some female students (adults) to Dubai for internships, we made sure that all paperwork was in order but at the final gate, Bangladesh immigration would not let them leave - the reason given, "we don't believe you; how could YOU get such an opportunity?".
We understand that a level of protection is needed to help prevent human trafficking etc but if the paperwork is in order and there is no genuine reason for concern, then this should not happen, these humans have rights. To have an official stop them, because in his or her selfish or suppressive view the student doesn't deserve such an opportunity, is simply criminal in our view.
On that occasion somebody from MCF had to travel to Bangladesh and with the valuable help of the UAE embassy we made sure that these girls got on the plane to Dubai, where they gained a fantastic work experience. But without our help, they would have been stuck, suppressed, held down and simply treated as if they have done wrong or do not deserve anything good in life.
The challenges haven't ended, we have more projects, trying to bring single mums and their daughters to Dubai for work and amazing scholarship opportunities - the authorities in Bangladesh are making it impossible. Creating mistakes in thier documents making it impossible for them to travel and then refusing to correct it (or asking for ridiculous amounts of money to correct it).
Also, students wanting to take up university offers in Portugal have found it impossible, either for the same issues as above, or because education authorities' wont issue their certificate or because it has become virtually impossible to obtain their student visas for Portugal. Already before the procedure was so unfair for them, students have to travel to India to apply for the visa and wait up to 40 days for issuance, there is no solution in their home country. We had hoped and requested that with COVID19 making it virtually impossible to travel, there may be a better solution, even if its temporary, but no the Portugal Embassy or visa authorities insist they have to travel to India - obviously increasing the risk of them contracting COVID 19 (and of course potentially carrying it to Portugal), I really hope these people have a rethink and adapt like the rest of the world has.
We could go on, because the challenges have been countless, but the important thing to note is - WE WILL NOT GIVE UP!
Thank you so much for your valuable support to make things happen and to make changes in our World.
               

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Photo Credit Imran Ahmed
Photo Credit Imran Ahmed

The challenges in recent months have been there for everybody in the world, however for developing countries, especially the slums where we work in Bangladesh, the challenges have been immense.

 

The year started well, we moved the majority of our students to a new school in Dhaka, with a fantastic reputation and with an array of extra-curricular activities that have never been available to our students before. The students are much so much happier and have a more positive attitude to learn and succeed.

 

We also continued our internship program, where we bring female students who have graduated high school to find internship programs, many of them paid, in Dubai. It has been a great success helping to prepare the students for Universities and careers outside of Bangladesh.

 

When Covid-19 hit the rest of the world, the crisis hit our communities in Dhaka x100.

First, business just stopped, this meant that those family members who were working, lost their income immediately.

Then the schools closed and so our students were stuck in their cramped makeshift homes with their families, unable to move about outside.

We have been desperately trying to support the families with food, toiletries and rent, we have had some great support but it has been a struggle to feed hundreds of people and so the struggle is ongoing.

 

The school switched to an online study program, but of course, the majority of our students do not have access to the internet and only a lucky few with generous sponsors, have mobile smartphones. We went on a mission to provide low-cost smartphones for all students so that they could access their classes and thanks to some amazing sponsors the majority now have phones and access – this is an ongoing project. 

We were also able to send some used laptops donated by Du in Dubai, thanks to the amazing support from the UAE Embassy of Bangladesh.

 

Because of the lockdown, we have had 3 of our young ladies stuck in Dubai, with their internships finished they had no way to support themselves with food or toiletries, although thanks to some amazing supporters in Dubai they have managed so far, unfortunately, they have had to spend most of the money they had saved for University.

 

Although we have managed to find some solutions, the struggle is ongoing, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. 

 

One saving grace has been the ongoing coaching for many of our students from two really amazing ladies. Janine Bensouda who is based in the USA and Corrina Cross  in Dubai. These ladies are professional coaches taking time out of their busy schedules to help our students face their challenges and to take positive action to better their lives. This has really lifted the morale and we have seen significant changes and development in the student’s actions and attitude.

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2019 has been a special year for us, but also a stressful one with many challenges.

We continue our main focus of getting students through to graduate high School grade 12, but we also try our best to do more than that for them.

For these students, from very challenged, marginalized backgrounds form a slum area in Dhaka Bangladesh, it is a massive achievement for them to be able to graduate from a reputable high school. Our goal from the very beginning, was to enable these students to compete with students worldwide, they have the potential, we aim to give them the opportunity. However, a high school education generally isn’t enough in this competitive world.

For any students in Bangladesh, let alone our students, it’s extremely difficult to get a University place. With very few places offered for a huge student population, it generally comes down to connections or influence. With our students being the first from their families to go to school it’s even more challenging. 

So, we have been looking at alternatives and realizing that our experience with earlier projects, taking students out of Bangladesh to study proved to be life changing and an incredible learning experience, this has been one of our ambitious goals for the last 2 years.

In 2018 we managed to send 10 students to University in Portugal and in early 2019 another 7 students. Although this has resulted in a significant and positive transformation in a short amount of time, with students showing more confidence, better English and even some Portuguese language skills; it has come with financial challenges, we have struggled to gain enough sponsorship or funds to support the costs. Unfortunately, this means that the students now graduating high school will not get the same opportunity. 

However, with a shift in strategy, we are trying a new approach, seeking work internships abroad (eg Dubai, UAE) where the students can work, learn and hopefully make some money to go towards their University costs. We have managed to put 12 students, all girls, through such a program since July this year, with some amazing companies in Dubai.

This program still comes with it financial and other challenges and is a longer route to University, but it’s a bit more sustainable and great life experience for these students.

In July we even managed to bring 8 girls between the ages 7 and 13 to Dubai for 1 month, for an incredible cultural experience. Businesses and individuals in Dubai and even visitors from abroad spoilt them rotten with dinners, parties, company visits, and leisure activities. It was fantastic for everybody, especially everybody who hosted these lovely girls – we hope to repeat this activity in 2020 for a new group of girls.

It's hard to believe some of the difficulties that these families face in their home country, we have had several heartbreaking situations this year, where the financial and even emotional support from MCF and our supporters, has literally saved lives. 
Even when our students do get a break in life, such as coming to Dubai for work experience or similar, the authorities in Bangladesh try to stop them, giving no other explanation other than not trusting their intentions. This is especially true for the women and girls and it has taken extreme levels of perseverance and even some help from some of our supporters with influential connections to make it happen.

In 2020 we move onwards and upwards, we will continue to find ways to get our students to University or to find good employment opportunities and we hope to have more cultural travel experiences for our younger students.

Thank YOU so much for your support, in any which way or form. You have quite literally made some dreams come true in 2019. We hope you continue to follow our journey for 2020.

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Paperwork, lawyers, more paperwork, attestations, rejections, stress, arguments, accusations (of human trafficking), sweat, tears, perseverance, tolerance; those are just some of the things we had to go through to get the young girls to the UAE for their summer break. The red tape and difficult people and departments in Bangladesh, just to enable them to leave their country, is really unbelievable.
But we did it! and the girls had an amazing time. Thank you to the many people who made it amazing for them. I have honestly never, ever seen them so happy and excited as I did for the month that they were here in the UAE.
The only time they weren't happy is anytime somebody mentioned going home to Dhaka. Then they cried.
So, you can imagine my joy, when they were offered scholarships by Athena school. This was really astonishing news, I was over the moon and so was everybody who had met them. The girls were literally crying with shock and happiness, it was beyond belief for them.
But unfortunately it is not to be. I am heartbroken.
... and I know that the girls and their families are even more heartbroken than me. They feel that their dreams have literally been crushed and it makes me so sad.
We did manage to do this in 2010, with the help from some people in very high up places, we brought seven 12 year old students to the UAE with exceptional case student visas, to study until they were 18. It was something that had never been done before. 
The same people tried their very best to help us again for these girls; but, unfortunately times have changed, formalities, laws and procedures have changed and become much, much tighter and it's just not possible, even at the highest level, despite trying every way. 
People who know me know that I have a never-give-up attitude and I will never give up on these girls. But I trust my superiors and when they tell that its not possible, I know that this door is closed.
But just because one door is closed, it doesn't mean that there aren't other doors out there. They may not be able to study in the UAE this time around, but we will find them the opportunities, in other countries. We have to. There is always to way, especially when it comes to helping those in need.
I know that I am biased, but these girls are special. Anyone who has met them will agree. We have educated them since they were babies, they are outgoing, ambitious and full of potential - they deserve better opportunities, opportunities - and we will find them!
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Proud Moments, but Hazards Ahead.
Recent months have been full of very proud moments for MCF. We want you, as our supporters to join us in being proud, because it wouldn’t be possible without YOU.
Our younger students in Bangladesh are showing great promise, studying hard with the goal to one-day travel abroad to study. They are also volunteering to get involved in other charity and community initiatives.
We have a new batch of students starting senior high school at grade 11; they will join Milestone school so it’s a slight change. We also have one of our high school students, Mahin, working very hard to manage admin and operations on the ground, this is a big help as we have no paid employees and very limited outside volunteer help.
A new batch of students has made the transition to Portugal to study for their degree in Braganca in Feb 2019. We now have a total of 18 students in Braganca studying for their degrees – an incredible feat considering that 14 years ago we were told that we were crazy to dream so big for these children.
I’m especially proud that the latest batch managed the process on their own, especially arranging travel to India for the Portugal visa application process, which is very complicated – they only required financial support and a push from us to the immigration authorities to speed up the process. (Standard process they need to wait in India for 42 days!)
We’re even more proud of Sumi, she had so much bad luck and delays in arranging her documents that she had to travel to India on her own, but she managed it perfectly, a very mature young lady. Now she’s working hard to catch up on studies because she started 2 months late.
The original 10 Braganca students are doing well despite the challenges, we are starting to see a real transformation in many of them, maturing and becoming strong individuals.
Our main focus is still in Bangladesh where we still have 83 students between the age of 7 and 17, studying hard. Despite their enthusiasm, we do notice the struggles. If they don’t have enough nutrition they don’t have the energy to focus.
We are trying our best now to raise funds to ensure that the families have sufficient food in the mornings so that the students have the energy to get through the school day.
We are also trying to provide better school transport; we have always struggled with this because it’s surprisingly expensive considering that it’s a developing country. We constantly worry about the hazards of travelling to school, especially with the rainy season approaching, so we hope to obtain funds to support better school transport.

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Maria Cristina Foundation

Location: St Austell - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @MCFConnect
Project Leader:
Katrin Winter
St Austell, United Kingdom
$19,599 raised of $120,000 goal
 
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