Every child gets some training in farming and food preparation as part of the daily life at Bhola Garden.
The younger children get basic classroom education. The aim is to equip them, where possible, to transfer to mainstream school within three years.
If after three years they are unable to transfer to mainstream school, they are given the opportunity to stay on and train in one of these trades:
- metalwork and/or carpentry
The aim is that they should achieve a certificated standard which will enable them either to transfer to a college for more advanced training or to start employment in their trade.
All the children, except those with severe learning disabilities, attend the local primary school every morning.
In January 2016 three of our profoundly deaf boys graduated to the local secondary school.
Classes are also held at home six days a week. The children are taught reading, writing and arithmetic. They learn Western script as well as Bangla script. They are also all taught sign language and the deaf are taught to lip read.
Therapy for disabilities
Whatever a child's disability, we seek to help them with exercises and therapies appropriate to their needs. For those with cerebral palsy the emphasis is on developing their sensory and cognitive skills and coordination. For blind children, improving their sense of balance is important. Deaf children are taught to make vocal sounds and to control those sounds – especially the volume!
It is part of the ethos of Bhola Garden, which is inculcated right from the child's first day, that everyone should be respected and everyone can and should care for and help everyone else. They are also shown that, while life is hard work, it should also be fun.
Of necessity people in a poor island community have to be as self-sufficient as possible and where agricultural tasks are involved, such as weeding, planting and harvesting, every available hand is required. Everyone should do his share of the chores. For example, after the weekly trip to the fish market, at least 25 kilos of fish have to be descaled, cleaned, cut into pieces and packed away in the freezer. Virtually nothing is wasted – the fish heads end up on someone's plate just like any other parts of the fish.
The children are taught to swim in the pond, to paddle a boat and play water polo. They are taken to the sea or riverside – nowhere in Bhola is much more than 5 miles from the Sea of Bengal to the East or the estuary of the River Meghna to the West, but often children in the villages have never seen either!
We have recently made an arrangement with HEED Bangladesh (Health, Education and Economic Development). This is an NGO which until recently had lost its funding but is now under new direction. Their Bhola campus is less than a kilometer from ours, there is a large workshop and a computer room. Some of our staff are learning computer skills, others are learning to drive and the older boys are attending classes in welding and metalwork.
At Bhola Garden we have:
- a pond with fish
- about 100 square metres of vegetable garden, and
- many mature fruit trees.
At Valumia we grow vegetables, fruit, timber and fish. There are over 9,000 square metres of productive fields and fishponds. There is a tube-well and a small house for the caretaker and his family. We have a tractor, trailer and rotovator. So we have the facilities to train in horticulture, arboriculture, aquaculture and to a limited extent animal husbandry.
Learning to farm and to make a profit
We grow two rice crops a year and one main crop of all the other vegetables. Beans are grown on nets over the fishponds, so not an inch of space is wasted. These provide year-round food – the actual beans are eaten in the summer and the shells are kept and then eaten in winter. Mango, papaya, guava, lemon, pomelo, lichee and other fruit and timber trees grow on the embankment round the fields.
We already produce a surplus of vegetables, which is sold in the market. But let us be clear: learning comes before profit. The trainees should be and are allowed to make mistakes along the way, so that they can learn from them, even though this costs us some profit.
At the busiest times such as harvest, everybody helps. And, remember this is Bhola. This is a paradise on earth, where the land is so fertile that plants and trees germinate and grow unbelievably fast – that is, until the next cyclone destroys everything and you have to start again from scratch clearing the land as in 2007 and again in 2010.
Metalwork and carpentry
It is astonishing what our technical teachers have been able to achieve in the existing facilities – a small open-sided shack with a few tools and a welding machine.
For example, one child under supervision from the teacher takes about a day to make one window grille. All the grilles for the children's hostel – over 80 of them – were made by our children.
They also made more complex items such as the sliding metal security gates.
We make wooden chairs, tables, desks, beds and cupboards both for our own use and for sale.
Above all, we specialise in producing tailor-made assistive devices designed by Ali for children with disabilities.
We teach how to make clothes and table linen by hand-sewing or with a sewing machine. We also teach how to decorate with embroidery. Even a blind girl can sew beautifully.
We want to raise the standard of the best trainees' work to a level where some of their work could be sold by the charity in the UK.
Every child has clothes made for them. At Eid everybody gets a new set of clothes and the girls are given some simple jewellery and make-up so they can parade their new outfits.