For some children, taking to the water is the only way they can get an education. For others, life on board is a healing experience, and for other people, boats carry important messages across the world. There are lots of lessons that people can learn while messing about on the water.
Bangladesh: Floating schools
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries and many people there live on less than two dollars a day. Because of monsoon flooding, drop-out rates from primary schools are nearly half although enrolment rates are over 90%. To tackle the problem, one NGO is taking classrooms to their pupils in the shape of traditional boats.
Mili Khatun, a teacher at the Nasiarkandi Trimohona Boat School, in Natore, said: “Most of the inhabitants of our village are illiterate and poor. They cannot afford to buy the books and stationary needed for their children’s education. We give these free to the students in our boat school. Also, we give a good quality education here.”
Eight-year-old Ila Khatun goes to the Nasiarkandi Trimohona Boat School because there is no other school nearby. The boat school even collects her in the morning. Her favourite activities are poetry, singing and using the computer. She said: “We have computers in our school. They teach us how to use them and show us cartoons. We can do drawing in our class. In the rainy season, trees and courtyards of houses go under water. The boat school does not sink. This is why the boat school is good. I want to be a teacher after completing my studies.”
Ila’s father is a seasonal carpenter and farmer, and thinks the boat school is a great opportunity for Ila because it is free and it is safe. When her brother is old enough, he will go to school too.
The NGO also runs floating libraries offering around 1,500 books, as well as access to telephones and the internet.
For more information see http://www.shidhulai.org/
Blowing in the wind
This sailing boat has a crew of six onboard: four teens and two adults. For 26 days, they will learn how to work as a team. For the boys this is their first boat ride and an opportunity to change their environment and break with normal routines by living closely with two social workers.
Noel Jonchkeere, the Captain, said: “We take boys and girls from 14½ to 17½ years old. We select a little group of youngsters. They come from all kind of situations, from delinquency, problems with drugs, psychological problems, problems at home.”
Before joining the crew, the teenagers must complete a trial period to see if they fit into the group. Only 40% of candidates are selected. They know that it is a journey of 1,500 kms taking four weeks, so it is important to get along. But of course, setting sail does not necessarily mean leaving problems behind.
Noel Jonchkeere said: “Every time there is a problem it has to be discussed on the spot because this is a project that takes four weeks, and you have to live together and you have to continue living together. So the slightest little problem has to be solved on the spot, the same day, to be sure you can continue the next day.”
The ship’s log details the progress made by the young people and helps social workers decide whether they can go home at the end of the trip or if they need some futher help.
The Peace Boat is on the way to Kochi, in southern India. Among its passengers are survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Created in 1983, the Peace Boat is run by an NGO headquartered in Japan which aims to spread a message of peace around the world.
Yasuko Ue, the project director, said: “30 years ago Japanese university students started this NGO because of the school books’ controversy.
This controversy concerns what happened during the war. Other Asian countries were invaded by Japan but in Japanese text books the invasions were presented as a response to aggression. So because the Japanese government’s version didn’t match other people’s view of history, we decided to visit Asian countries by boat to see what people in other countries throught.”
The Peace Boat is in fact a passenger ship that is chartered to travel the world on peace missions. So far, there have been around 75 international journeys to 45 countries. On a voyage to India, survivors talked about the importance of education.
Sadao Haraguchi, an atomic bomb survivor, said: “I am convinced that there is nothing more powerful than education. My goal as a teacher is to ensure that children know about the importance of education and what is true and what is not true.”
Ms Yasuho Ue said: “Survivors don’t just tell their stories to civilians but also to government officials, President Castro of Cuba for example, and prime ministers from different countries.”
Everyone feels that the visit to India has gone very well. So now it is time to plan another trip.
For more information see http://www.peaceboat.org/english/?menu=46