NGO-run school in Bhola vanishes overnight

Photo shows the tin-shed house of Moddho Char Aicha CO-ID Non-government Primary School were remobed in the dead of the night.

A school in Bhola has vanished overnight and saplings have been planted in its place.

The corrugated tin-roofed schoolhouse of Moddho Char Aicha CO-ID Non-Government Primary School has vanished overnight. When over 100 students came to the school on Sunday morning to attend their half-yearly examinations, they found their school house, furniture, books and papers all gone. Instead, several betel nut trees had been planted in that place.

The incident sparked protests among teachers, students and guardians. They immediately held a human chain in front of the land where the school was located and demanded quick restoration of the schoolhouse and punishment of the perpetrators. They alleged the former president of the school management committee Bashir Ullah Mia and his son Emdadul Haque broke into the school house and relocated in the dark of the night as Bashir Ullah Mia was planning to remove the old schoolhouse and build a new one to make money.

Several students said their examinations began on 21 August and they took five tests until Thursday, 24 August. On 27 August, Sunday, when they came to school to take their sixth test they found no sign of the school.  Teachers told them to study at home for now, students said and demanded restoration of their schoolhouse as soon as possible.

Local and school sources said, Australian national and founder of the charity Cooperation In Development (CO-ID), Fred Hyde established a school in Moddho Aicha village of ward 8 of Charmanika union parishad under South Achia police station in Char Fesson upazila in 1992. The charity CO-ID also built schools in remote areas across Bhola and all of them are functioning smoothly except the school in in Moddho Aicha.

Following the incident, CO-ID auditor (school inspector) MN Alamgir filed a case with the South Achia police station against four people and three unidentified people. Basir Ullah Mia was made the prime accused in the case.

This correspondent contacted the former president of the school management committee Basir Ullah Mia over mobile phone. He said he had no idea who removed the school structures. A case has been filed against them and they will seek bail in court. Such cases are often filed, he said and then hung up the phone.

According to the case statement and the accounts of CO-ID officials, the school had been functioning smoothly till 2003 since its inception, but the school came to a halt because of the non-cooperation of the land owner. Later, locals felt the need for a school and they appealed to CO-ID to open another school and also agreed to donate land for a new school.

At that time, Md Bashir Ullah Mia and his mother Fatema Khatun, from Moddho Char Aicha, donated 24 decimals of land each totalling 48 decimals and the operation of the school opened again in 2006. Since then, the school authorities have been paying the tax of 48 decimals of land, but they only received the ownership of 24 decimal of land donated by Fatema Khatun while the school management committee president and land donor Bashir Ullah Mia never handed over the remaining 24 decimals of land.

When the government introduced the nationalisation scheme of non-government schools in 2013, then school managing committee president Bashir Ullah Mia founded “Purba Char Aicha Idea Non-government Primary School”, which exists on paper only. He made his son the headmaster of this school and started enrolling students in January this year. After that, he ordered the CO-ID authorities to leave the corrugated tin-roof house of the old school. In a sequel to previous events, the accused destroyed the school house, vandalised school furniture and relocated the rubble to another place, according to the case statement.

Teachers, students and guardians form a human chain on Sunday after the shool house of Moddho Char Aicha CO-ID Non-government Primary School were remobed in the dead of the night.

School children in Australia save their pocket money and donate it to run CO-ID schools in Bangladesh and teams from various Australian schools visit in Bangladesh every year during their summer and winter vacations, Asif Bin Ali, a private university teacher in Dhaka and a CO-ID volunteer, told Prothom Alo.

Uncertainly loom large over the fate of the students, as well as the school.

CO-ID chairman Olav Muurlink expressed dissatisfaction over the incident. He said if such unfortunate events continue they would be forced to re-evaluate their future endeavours in Bangladesh.  The greed of one certain family is getting priority over the welfare of an entire school community, he regretted.

Asif Bin Ali said they meanwhile continued to operate in a temporary school next to the site. But miscreants have destroyed the 19 years of hard work overnight.

South Acicha police station officer-in-charge (OC) Md Shakhawat Hossain said miscreants removed the tin-shed house of the Moddho Char Aicha CO-ID Non-government Primary School and planted beetle nut tree saplings. Yet, the sign of the house exists. An investigation is underway and no arrest has been made yet, he added.

Moddho Char Aicha resident and teacher Md Shamsuddin said CO-ID founded the school when there were no schools and roads in this area. The quality of this CO-ID school is very good and all students pass primary termination examinations every year with 90-100 per cent marks

Char Fasson upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) Nowrin Haque said people responsible will be brought to book after the investigation

Fred Hyde and his love for Bangladesh

Born in Queensland, Australia, Fred Hyde served  in the military. He fought in Palestine during World War II. At one stage of the war, Fred Hyde was severely injured, but he was rescued by a group of soliders from the British Indian Army, and those soldiers were Bengali. Fred Hyed promised them if he survived the war he would do something for their land, CO-ID volunteer Asif Bin Ali told Prothom Alo in a phone conversation on Monday evening.

After military service and a successful career in retailing, Fred Hyed was drawn to the Indian sub continent region. This is where he became involved in children’s charity work and started looking after an orphanage-farm run by an Australian aid agency. After years of laying the ground work, he established the CO-ID charity for children in 1991 on Bhola island in Bangladesh, according to the biography stated on the website of Fred Hyde Schools.

He spent his retirement years, teaching a team of volunteers how to stretch foreign aid dollars as far as they will go. All the way to Bangladesh in fact. In recognition of his tireless work over the years in Bangladesh, Fred Hyde was awarded Member of The Order of Australia and Queensland Senior of the Year. Fred Hyde passed away in 2016 and his team of volunteers are carrying on his work. To date, more than 100,000 children have had their education in 57 Fred Hyde primary schools and pre-schools.

Mosabber Hossain in Dhaka contributed reporting.

This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna