In February 2011, Olivia Harrison made her first visit to Bangladesh with the President of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Caryl Stern.
DHAKA, Bangladesh (March 16, 2011) – Olivia Harrison, founder of the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF and wife of the late musician George Harrison, visited Bangladesh last month with a delegation that included U.S. Fund for UNICEF President & CEO, Caryl M. Stern and Jonathan Clyde of Apple Corps.
It was Olivia Harrison’s first visit to the country since her family began its 40-year relationship with UNICEF through the groundbreaking “Concert for Bangladesh” in 1971. Over the years, she has wholeheartedly embraced the legacy of her late husband’s humanitarian contributions to Bangladesh, and she is dedicated to helping foster a new Bangladesh where every child counts.
The trip was an opportunity for Olivia Harrison and the UNICEF team to see some of the programs that have been brought to life thanks to Olivia Harrison and the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
At a center for at-risk youth in Mirpur, close to 50 children between the ages of 5 and 15 gather every day. Almost 30 children, some as young as 4 years old, live in the Center, where they receive food, education, health services, and life-skills training. These children had been living on their own, without families. In fact, before coming to the center every one of them lived on the street.
On the day Mrs. Harrison and the UNICEF team visited the Center, the children performed a play about child labor, a critical issue in Bangladesh that the country’s society as a whole has yet to fully respond to. The children have learned a lot since they began going to the center. When the delegation asked about child rights, they all piped up: “We have a right to shelter, food, education, health and play!”
“These children are living a harsh reality,” said Olivia Harrison. “But what is amazing to me is that all of them know their rights.”
That same day, the UNICEF group visited an open air school and met children who are living in makeshift shelters on a river embankment. These children are involved in different kinds of informal jobs such as rag picking, collecting firewood or taking care of siblings at home when their parents go to work. Their work keeps them from attending traditional school. But with the support of UNICEF, an “open air school” is providing them with basic education and is helping prepare them for future enrollment in government primary schools.
“I have learned the alphabet, numbers and rhymes,” said an 8-year-old student named Hridoy. “I enjoy coming here.”
To help another group of working children get access to education, UNICEF is supporting a project known as the Basic Education for Urban Hard to Reach Working Children. The project is providing education to 24 children who live in the Balur Basti slum and who are involved in different kinds of work.
The children attend two-and-half-hour sessions five days a week at a learning center. The school’s curriculum is designed to address the specific needs of these children, and classes focus on the basic education and life-skills they need to best deal with the harsh realities of their lives. Despite those realities, all of the children at the school have dreams: some want to be doctors, some engineers and others want to be teachers.
Sharmin Akhter, 11, is one of the students at the school. She lives with her mother, three siblings and two nephews in a tiny room on a bamboo platform that houses 100 more families. Sharmin works as a helper in a shop where she earns just $12 each month.
Sharmin and her older sister Nasima took a little time out to chat with Olivia Harrison and Jonathan Clyde. Nasima told them that her husband and mother both work as assistants to a local chef. But the monthly income for the whole family is only $42. The family struggles hard to live a decent life with such a small amount of income. However, Nasima believes the school is helping her sister and other children in the area learn vital basic skills that can go a long way toward improving their livelihoods.
Just east of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, is the small town of Chouw. Here, the Kishori Girls Club greeted Olivia Harrison and the UNICEF team with traditional songs and dances.
The children were discussing HIV and AIDS that day. They are well aware of how to protect themselves against HIV, in fact, club members actually help promote awareness publicly through drama performances in public places. Even though the prevalence rate of HIV and AIDS is less than one percent in Bangladesh, there remains a significant degree of misconception among young people about the disease.
“This is a unique opportunity,” said Olivia Harrison, “where both boys and girls are mingling together, sharing ideas as friends and discussing this important issue, which will help them to develop their confidence level and hopefully spare them from an avoidable spread of HIV.”
Centers for at-risk children, schools for working children, and life-skills clubs for adolescents are a just some of the initiatives that the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF is supporting to help address the educational needs of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable children.
In partnership with the government of Bangladesh and other NGOs, UNICEF is working to prepare the young generation of the country for the challenges that lie ahead.