Intel Education Service Corp: Looking Back at our First Week in Bangladesh

The Intel team (Joya Chatterjee, Noor Chowdhury, Shubho Nag, Hisham Chowdhury, Jenn Miller and Parrish Pynn) arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Sunday, March 7th. In our first face-to-face meeting with BRAC, the global NGO based in Bangladesh with whom we would be working, we went over our plans for four days of training, to be split evenly between Dhaka and Pabna. The plan was to have the Intel team teach an introduction to the Intel-powered classmate PCs (CMPC) using the keyboard, mouse and camera features. In Dhaka, approximately 50 girls (ages 15-18) attended the training, including clubhouse “captains”, as well as the local clubhouse coordinators (more on the clubhouses later). The girls came to Dhaka by bus from the towns of Borura (in Comilla) and Dhamrai (in Manikganj). The goal of the program is to teach PC literacy to the girls to enable them to go back home and teach the other girls at their local clubhouses.

ISEC Bagladesh Mar 2010 Hisham_1565.jpgIt’s important to start with the fact that most, if not all, of these girls were really nervous to have come all the way from their village to be trained by people who are not from Bangladesh. Also, the majority of the girls that we were training had never touched a PC before (let alone a CMPC). It was really motivating to our team that the opening day of training in Dhaka fell on International Women’s Day (March 8th). The team knew that the girls would be nervous, so we did our best to help them feel at ease and understand that the training was actually going to be fun for them. We did this by beginning all of our trainings by showing pictures of ourselves and providing introductions by everyone on the team in Bangla (this included the two members of our team that had never spoken Bangla prior to this trip). This was a spectacular icebreaker because it really helped the girls realize that the entire team was there on their behalf and that we were willing to come out of our comfort zones both for their entertainment and to help them learn. It was really cool to see the wide-eyed grins and laughter as Jenn and I hashed our way through introductions in really bad Bangla.

IESC Bangladesh Mar 2010 Pabna_2625.jpgIn Pabna, the team taught 75 young women from villages in Magura, Rajshahi and Pabna. The first day in both facilities really just entailed getting the girls comfortable with the CMPC. We also made sure that the girls attending the training took detailed notes so that they would be able to train their peers when they returned home. The second day of training we made a point to encourage the young women that were fast learners to help teach the others what they had learned. The idea here was really to encourage the concept of train-the-trainer and to increase the girls’ confidence. This was really unbelievable to watch because when we gave the young women the opportunity to teach their peers you could see their confidence grow by the minute. The girls enjoyed this format so much that we used this as part of our training method for the rest of the trip. While we were in Pabna we had the opportunity to visit one of the young women’s clubhouses that was deep in the countryside. The population density in Bangladesh is incredible, so BRAC has put these clubhouses throughout much of Bangladesh as close as one kilometer apart so that the girls can walk to their local clubhouse. The idea behind the clubhouses is to provide young women the opportunity to have a break from their daily lives and just spend time with other girls and young women from 4-6 PM most days of the week. The clubhouses also provide them a chance to sing and play games.

IESC Bangladesh Mar 2010 BRAC clubhouse_6011.jpgNothing could have prepared us for the experience at the clubhouse! We must have been greeted by 300 people that had all heard that the Americans that were teaching computers were visiting the clubhouse. All the people were wonderful and having everyone gathered around us during our tour of the clubhouse was an experience I will never forget. I also had the good fortune of entertaining the villagers with a game that is played with a stick and a crooked bicycle tire. The gist of the game is that you use the stick to try and keep the bicycle tire rolling down the road as long as you can while trying to stay alive by dodging people, bicycles, goats, cows and chickens.

When talking with the team you realize that this training opportunity has been one of the most humbling experiences of everyone’s life. It has been an absolutely amazing experience to watch these young women walk in our training rooms wide-eyed and apprehensive of both the team and the CMPC’s, and walk out as confident and anxious to learn. These girls were so excited to have this opportunity to learn that we literally couldn’t get them to leave the room during their breaks or during lunch and they also pleaded with us not to leave when we would go home at night. We wrapped up both of our trainings by asking the young women what they had learned and how the training made them feel. One of the young women in Pabna told us that she “feels like she has found a new life after finding us and taking this training”. Another told us that she “had never thought that a career involving computers could be a possibility, but after taking this course and seeing what other women had done, she realizes that she can do anything that she sets her mind to”. Many of these girls were really emotional when we left the trainings and pleaded with us to come back soon. Some girls even insisted on getting our autographs so they would have a memento from our visit!

The thing that has really struck me the most in this trip is the empowerment that these young women feel in seeing the two women on our team (Joya and Jenn) both in positions of authority. It is so incredibly moving to watch both Jenn and Joya act as role models for these young women to do things that they otherwise would have thought are totally out of their reach. I mentioned this earlier but I also can’t get over how much the confidence of these young women grew from when we walked in the room to when we left the training. You could see it relative to how loudly they spoke, how much they smiled and how they carried themselves in class. The other thing that has struck me is that smiles and encouragement are universally uplifting regardless of who is being taught. Many of the children that we are training live very hard lives but by taking the time to let them know that they are important I truly believe that we are making a difference in these young people’s lives.

One of the other things that this team has found incredible is how warm and friendly all the people of Bangladesh have been. From the people at BRAC to the families of our team members, people have treated us like royalty.

The team will also be posting a second blog about our time working with Save the Children so if you enjoyed this summary of our first week please come back and check out the second posting!