How a Dubai resident’s change of travel plans led to a new school for Bangladeshi children
DUBAI // Children from Bangladeshi slums have an Icelandic volcano to thank for their new school – and the great efforts of a Dubai woman.
In 2010, Slovakian Eva Kernova cancelled a visit to Europe because of the ash cloud from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull.
Instead she went to Dhaka, where the shocking conditions of the slums moved her to set up the Choice to Change charity.
“I had visited near to Dhaka and there were more than 2,000 slums,” Ms Kernova said. “The first school I visited was in Lalmati. It was the most simple place – a small room with only carpet. They had no uniforms.
“It was 2010 and people were living in conditions like hell.”
Her involvement began with a Dh500 donation towards a school but her commitment soon increased. Running costs were about US$1,000 (Dh3,670) a year for a single teacher to give basic education to 25 pupils.
There are now 150 pupils in a proper school building with 10 full-time staff. Ms Kernova hopes to lift that to 500 children.
Extending beyond education, the charity has also provided iftar meals for more than 300 people in the area this Ramadan.
Mohammed Loch, chief executive of media company DMS Global, came on board the school project in 2013.
“Eva and I had a mutual friend who put us in touch,” Mr Loch said. “Eva had someone she could trust in Bangladesh and my company helped to promote what the school was about and encouraged businesses to get involved.
“This school is keeping children away from child labour and we want to sponsor the brightest children to go on to university one day.”
He helps to pay the costs, which have since spiralled to about US$8,000 a month for primary education, uniforms, schoolbags, books, stationery, basic medical care, daily breakfast and occasional meals.
Mr Loch, a Briton schooled in Abu Dhabi, encouraged the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference to sponsor the school building, while shoe maker Crocs donated 300 pairs for families living in the slum.
Etihad, for which Ms Kernova used to work as cabin crew, also joined in by offering her free flights every two months and donating from its air miles scheme to pay for a bus to take children from the slum to school.
The British International School in Abu Dhabi has helped to sponsor uniforms for the children.
The French School Lycee Theodore Monod in the capital is the latest to get involved. Elisabeth Rayer, its director, said her pupils had learnt valuable lessons in life by supporting other children less fortunate than themselves.
“This is such a wonderful cause and it is something our school is proud to support,” Ms Rayer said.
“Connecting children from Abu Dhabi through this programme with the children in Bangladesh has been a strong learning tool to being perspective to their lives here in the UAE and help them realise how lucky they are.”
To get involved, email Mohammed Loch at firstname.lastname@example.org or Eva Kernova email@example.com.