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Hostels in Bangladesh, a home for students

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Hostels in Bangladesh, a home for students

The PIME missionaries, who founded the two dioceses of Dinajpur and Rajshahi, operate in the parishes of rural areas offering support to young people from tribal communities

Education as a possibility of redemption from social marginalization and poverty. This is the idea that inspired the PIME missionaries who first arrived in Bangladesh in 1855 from the beginning. Today, the priests of the Institute manage a series of hostels for children and young people belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, scattered among the rural communities of the dioceses of Dinajpur and Rajshahi, both founded by PIME and now administered by the local Church. Hostels are structures where young people reside to be able to concentrate on their studies and make a change in their lives. The government schools of Bangladesh, in fact, are very poor and the children belonging to tribal groups (especially oraon e santal but also place, mandi o garo) are not native Bengali speakers and sometimes have more difficulty. In many cases the parents are illiterate, they work in the fields as farmers or as day laborers, keeping watch at night or selling vegetables.

“A mission without a hostel is dead,” says Father Carlo Buzzi, who has been in Bangladesh since 1975 after having been a diocesan priest for a few years. Today he is a priest of the Ave Maria parish of Gulta, in the diocese of Rajshahi, where, in addition to dormitories for children, there are also a church and a dispensary. «In Italy I felt like I was wasting time, I wanted to go where there was really a need, and once Bangladesh, after having proclaimed independence in 1971, was the poorest country in the world». The Gulta mission hosts 50 boys and girls who attend the local public school. «In the afternoon they are supported in their studies and parents know that their children can obtain a quality education here. Some even come from 200 kilometers away.” The children are all Christians and Hindus to ensure that, in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority, even minorities have the opportunity to emancipate themselves.

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Some PIME missions also host a school, as in the case of the Chandpukur parish, entrusted to Father Ciro Montoya Belisario, a Colombian priest associated with the Institute. “The kids in the hostels are all Hindu and Christian by choice, but the lessons are also attended by Muslim children.” The teachers ask for funds for the creation of textbooks in the native languages ​​of the tribals: “To overcome the problem we decided to hold lessons in different languages: one day in English, one day in Bengali and the others in the indigenous languages”, he comments the priest.

Other missionaries have instead focused on sport: as a good Brazilian, Father Almir Azevedo, originally from the State of Maranhao, covered a rice field in the mission of Moehshpur, part of the northern diocese of Dinajpur, with earth to transform it into a football field : «Sport helps us grow. The kids here have no other means or entertainment.” And who knows, maybe someone could even approach professionalism. But there is no shortage of more “traditional” competitions: «Every year in June we also organize an archery tournament for males and females, because the santal in the past they hunted with bow and arrows.”

Some parishes managed by missionaries also have an important historical value for Christians: in the community of Nobai Bottola, where Father Arturo Speziale, 83, lives, every year on January 16th a pilgrimage takes place in honor of the Madonna. Local Christians are particularly devoted to her because in 1971, during the war of liberation, the faithful who had taken refuge in the church were spared by the Pakistani army. In the parish, which is located on the border with India, the original statue is still present. «We prayed with feeling and fear, each in his own way. Often the soldiers, fearing that the civilians were also fighters, would clean up”, continues the missionary, who, after studying Hinduism for four years in India, arrived in Bangladesh in 1972. “There was so much poverty at the time . The kids hunted rats to earn some money. A large mouse, or 4 or 5 small ones were worth two take», today equal to approximately 20 euro cents.

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Despite a century-old presence, PIME missionaries in Bangladesh always have new challenges to face. Father Paolo Ballan, parish priest in Suihari, explains that the mission, when it was born, was in a rural area. «While now Suihari is a suburb of the city of Dinajpur, which has 100 thousand inhabitants. Today we need to take care of a city reality, the needs are different and we plan to change the structure of the mission to intercept these new needs. Many kids of different ethnic groups now come into contact with each other, and there is a need to do integration work”, explains the missionary.

94 boys and 61 girls are hosted in the parish hostels. «We could have welcomed more students, but we preferred to focus on quality. The fee we ask families covers less than half of the necessary expenses for each hostel guest – continues the priest – while distance support also allows us to pay the salaries of the teachers who take care of the after-school activities”. The structure of the PIME missions was then replicated by all the parishes of Bangladesh, explains Father Ballan. “If in some areas of Dhaka hostels may seem superfluous today, in tribal areas they still prove to be fundamental.”

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