Posted by Sharon Schendel on Feb 11, 2023
Amarok Society co-founder Gem Munro speaking about the efforts to train mothers to teach their own children, and children in their communities in Dhaka, Bangladesh (photo credits: Amarok Society)
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and has one of the most deficient education systems.  Our speaker for our February 9, 2023 meeting, Gem Munro, along with his wife, Dr. Tanyss Munro, founded the Amarok Society in 2006 to change those statistics. The challenge was great. Gem quoted the Canadian Ambassador to Turkey who said: “of all the countries in the world, only Bangladesh made me cry”.  Improving education in Bangladesh couldn’t be done using normal methods like building schools and hiring teachers. Tanyss and Gem had a simpler idea: Teach mothers in the slums of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to become teachers.  Agencies they approached declined to help on the grounds that: 1) The slums are impenetrable due to slum lords and corrupt police; 2) Even if penetrated, the poorest Muslim women living in slums are essentially controlled by their husbands and hard to reach; and 3) Even if reached, the women couldn’t learn.
But Amarok Society tried anyway.  Munro showed a video that featured a mother enrolled in an Amarok Society school reciting a nursery rhyme. When that mother began the program six months earlier, she had had essentially no education at all.  
Amarok Society establishes “micro-schools” by renting rooms in Dhaka slums. Inside these rooms up to 25 mothers learn lessons that they then teach to at least five children on a set schedule every weekday. The lessons are basic (even as basic as teaching which end of the pencil touches paper to write) and include English (which Amarok Society believes is the language of opportunity), math, social studies, science and health. Health lessons include information about birth control, so that women can better control their reproductive lives.  Such control is important given that high fertility rates are tied to poorer economic prospects. Bangladesh is the eighth-most densely populated country in the world. Dhaka has nearly 200,000 people per square mile (in the United States, Washington D.C. has the densest population, but still only has 11,000 people per square mile).
One of the most important topics the women cover is conflict resolution. These women are socially isolated and have no skills to resolve conflict. By acquiring these skills, not only are they better able to navigate and make sense of their own lives, they become community leaders able to solve problems of others.  For their work with the Amarok Society, Gem and Dr. Munro were recipients of Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals in 2013.
Rotary International has partnered with the Amarok Society since 2007.  Amarok Society’s goals in some way address all seven areas of focus for Rotary, but in particular emphasize improvement of basic education and literacy and maternal and child health.  Click HERE to learn more about Amarok Society.