During February 2011, on the eve of the 40th Anniversary of The Concert for Bangladesh, Olivia Harrison and members of the UNICEF family traveled to Bangladesh to visit programs that had been funded by The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
It was the Harrison family’s first visit to the country since they began their 40-year relationship with UNICEF. Over the years, Olivia Harrison has wholeheartedly embraced the legacy of her late husband’s humanitarian contributions to Bangladesh, and this visit was a catalyst for increased investment in a new Bangladesh where even the hardest to reach children are remembered . The one-week mission included visits to programs for urban, at-risk children in Dhaka, an open-air school on the banks of a river embankment and a meeting with a family in one of Dhaka’s largest slums. The team also spent time with a master shipbuilder who designs modern ships based on traditional Bangladeshi craftsmanship.
During the visit, after consulting with UNICEF Bangladesh, the team decided to invest in an area of the country where children are among the hardest to reach. This area of Bangladesh, the Kaptai Lake Region in the Rangamati Hill District in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, is located in the Southeastern corner of Bangladesh, close to India and Myanmar. UNICEF and the community identified a number of immediate needs, and proposed to refurbish and modernize a number of schools, train teachers, engage the community and build and utilize special shuttle boats to cut travel time to school to promote higher attendance.
Drawing on over 60 years of experience working in Bangladesh, UNICEF collaborated with the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF, the local community and local government to address this problem. To date, through this project, the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF has provided quality education to over 2,000 children and 480 adolescent boys and girls in this very remote area. While seasonal flooding and difficult terrain can prevent children from attending school, and many schools were in a state of disrepair, the project achievements are impressive. To date, funding from The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF has:
· Provided Boats: Designed, built and delivered 24 shuttle boats to bring children to school in the Kaptai Lake region
· Built Schools: Repaired 14 schools, and completely reconstructed three additional classrooms using environment-friendly mud-brick technology
· Provided Sustainable Technology: Procured and delivered IT equipment and solar panels to power computers at 5 schools that previously had no electricity or access to computers. These labs are now run by small committees of students and teachers who were also trained on Information and Communication Technology. Over 780 children are now using these labs to accelerate their education.
· Protected Girls and Children: Each school is certified as a “Child Friendly School,” which means that the educational environment is safe, healthy and protective. This includes separate bathrooms for boys and girls, and teachers who are trained on inclusiveness, gender-sensitivity, tolerance, dignity and personal empowerment. Over 42 teachers and 10 key local government officials were trained to make school environments more inclusive
· Engaged the Community: Children put on theater shows in 20 schools for their community that teach about important health and hygiene messages, and community members share the IT labs during off hours.
On July 1st, 2014, UNICEF and the Rangamati Hill District Council held a ceremony where the last of the boats were handed over to the community. The Chairman of the Rangamati Hill District Council, Nikhil Kumar Chakma, stood with a large audience of community members and officials and UNICEF staff.
The Chairman gave a passionate and emotional speech where he recalled George Harrison’s love for the people of Bangladesh and his families’ close involvement and dedication to the people of the Rangamati Hill District. In an emotional delivery, he narrated Harrison’s engagement with Bangladesh, recalling the concert after the liberation war to his continued commitment to Rangamati over the following years.
He underlined the importance of school and community ownership of the shuttle boats and emphasized the school and community’s responsibility for maintaining and taking care of the boats. At the end of the ceremony he read the following message from Olivia Harrison to the community with the request to share it far and wide with the people, the schools and the children of Rangamati:
“The Harrison family is incredibly proud of its longstanding partnership with UNICEF and the people of Bangladesh. Built on the tradition of friendship between George and Ravi Shankar and The Concert for Bangladesh, The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF is proud to stand with the Rangamati Hill Districts Council and invest in children and families who are the future of this great country. We are so pleased to see that the community has chosen to stand with us to increase the number of boys and girls who have access to a quality education, and are proud to see the commitment of the teachers guiding them through their education. We are honored and moved by this project and trust that it will sustain through the support of the local community and government, who also believe in the power of education and are committed to investing in their future.
I would also like to add a personal message – this project is so important to me and it means a great deal to have all of you as partners in building a future for your children.
Congratulations on the success of this project! – Olivia Harrison”
For over forty years, UNICEF, the Harrison Family and the people of Bangladesh have partnered to create a better future for the children of Bangladesh. UNICEF thanks The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF for investing in children and families in some of the most vulnerable communities in Bangladesh. This project will sustain through the support of the local community and government, who believe in the power of education and are invested in their future.