Outcast tribe receives first-ever written alphabet and real hope for a future free from oppression

This story comes from David Burton, International Communications Officer for FH.

Alomgir is a young man at the forefront of his tribe’s escape from poverty. He is a member of the Koda tribe in western Bangladesh.

The Koda people (above) never before had an alphabet for their own language; they suffer from marginalization, living poor lives in communities far from the mainstream.

This isolation means they lack the power to advocate for themselves or their families; they often are often bypassed by facilities such as schools or development aid.

FH has been partnering with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and working with the Koda for two years. While SIL helped the Koda develop a written form of their language, FH started running savings and learning groups in which community members come together to save money, learn new skills (such as good health practices) and learn about their legal rights so as not to be taken advantage of. These community-led groups are producing long-lasting change while lifting whole families out of extreme poverty.

One of the most important interventions for Alomgir’s village is a preschool which prepares young children for school, making them more likely to succeed and less likely to drop out before completion. Alomgir has been the teacher for the school for just a few months, but he already sees the excitement of his students.

The village is dusty and closely cramped in order to grow as much food as possible in the surrounding fields. But as I was welcomed into the dusty space between the houses where the lessons take place, children ran around me with excitement. Alomgir smiled.

“We had no documents,” Alomgir (above) said. “People used to say, ‘If your language is real, where are your books?'” He held up one of the story books that have been developed with the new written Koda language. “Now, we have them.”

The children sat as Alomgir told the story of a bird and a fox. The story was proudly titled “Koda Songs,” and in it, a bird and a fox debate their differences, deciding in the end that one can sing and the other can howl, without harming each other.

The village gathered round. I met 20 or 30 people in this visit, and each one spoke with excitement about the new alphabet. Adults are learning to read and write in Koda and Bangla (the national language of Bangladesh) in their savings and learning groups, and children are being prepared for education right in their own village. There is real hope here.

Before I left, Alomgir offered to have the children sing a song. I was honored to hear it, and as their children sang, some parents translated the words for me:

Come on, boys and girls, men and women
Sleep no more! Wake up! And read.
When are you going to read?
Are you happy in life? If you read,
You are happy. You have a name.

For the first time in their history as a people group, the Koda can read their own language.

“My dream is for these children to grow up respected and to become highly educated,” said Alomgir. “They can help other nations to keep their heritage.”

Such a dream is extraordinary, and I was amazed. Groups like this all over Bangladesh subsist at the boundaries of public life, ignored and forgotten. Yet, because their new alphabet is such a precious thing, the Koda in this village dream of helping others to celebrate their roots in the same way.

A storybook and a song don’t sound like much to write home about, but to the Koda, they’re symbols of a dying future brought back into vibrant life.

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