One in three children in the world is not being educated and Gem Munro was determined to change that for thousands of youngsters in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
He and his wife Tanyss, along with their four children, moved from Vancouver, which he claimed is the best city in the world to live in, to the worst.
Munro said Bangladesh is 1/6 the size of BC with a population of 180 million.
The co-founder of Amarok Society was in Powell River last week to explain its methods to impart knowledge through mothers to children.
“Bangladesh escapes the world’s attention; it’s not well-known and not well-reported,” Munro told a room of Rotarians and Interact members at Town Centre Hotel. “Its slum residents are the poorest of the poor, the worst of the worst, and the country has one of the worst school systems in the world.”
Each year, Rotary and Interact clubs choose an international project and raise funds to support it. All three clubs in Powell River are looking at Amarok Society for the 2019/2020 year.
The Munros decided to forgo typical methods of providing education in poorer areas of the world: building schools, hiring teachers and filling the classrooms with children.
“We wanted something that is more cost-effective, more sustainable than that which has done little to diminish the number of children who can’t get an education,” said Munro. “Millions of children in city slums are too poor to go to school.”
The couple approached several well-known agencies to partner with but were repeatedly told why their method could not work.
“They said the slums were impenetrable; we would not get out alive because of the slumlords and, besides, even if we could reach these poor Muslim women, they could never learn,” he added.
Munro said the vocabulary of the women in the slums is approximately 500 words, while a typical English speaker uses 15,000 words, not counting any professional terms.
Curriculum for the Amarok schools includes health, hygiene, nutrition, social studies, mathematics, English, conflict resolution and birth control.
“By educating the women, who are often married at 10 or 11, they become the most motivating people in the slums.” said Munro. “In spite of often being beaten by their husbands, mothers attend our school anyway. What we find is many of those husbands start learning from their wives and realizing the benefits for their families.”
What the Amarok schools really do, Munro added, is teach the women to think. One of the first benefits reported is that their lives are starting to make sense to them.
“Learning becomes the core of newfound happiness in their lives, replacing pessimism and despair with optimism and hope,” he said.
The women commit to teach everything they learn to at least five children in their homes, which become schools.
Amarok Society’s original goal was a grade eight education level but that has been exceeded as students are entering the regular school system, colleges and universities.
“It’s extremely effective,” said Munro. “If it weren’t we would stop.”
He expects the society’s efforts to hit 100,000 students soon. Bangladesh is struggling to remain a moderate Muslim nation, said Munro, adding that is worth preserving “as love costs an awful lot less than fear and hate.”
More information about the society can be found at amaroksociety.org/wordpress.