Small children in the remote villages of Pirojpur district row dinghies to attend school.
At first sight, it may seem the children are in a boating race.
But no, the children in uniform are rowing dinghies to school from the villages of Deulbari Dobra union in Nazirpur upazila of Pirojpur.
Children in these parts learn to swim and row boats to get around, long before they can attend school.
Attending schools in the area is challenging. Only the sturdy and determined attend school, braving several kilometers of hard rowing in boats.
Deulbari Dobra union is 14 kilometers away from Nazirpur Sadar. Early morning of 9 September, this Prothom Alo correspondent set out for Dobra on a motorbike. The correspondent reached Gaukhali bazar by road, and then took a trawler. The trawler moved through all kinds of canals and water bodies used by a variety of boats. Some people were going to haat (village bazar) and some were returning from haat.
After reaching Gaukhali village, he found that children were rowing to school by boat. There were two to eight students to a boat. After travelling about five kilometers, this Prothom Alo correspondent reached Uttar Gaukhali Government Primary School No-6. By then it was 9:00am. The children were arriving in groups by boat in nearby ghats to attend school. Children between seven and ten years of age can row boats like skilled boatmen.
They tied their boats to the ghats, and they entered classroom in delight. The students were competing to enter their classrooms first. They did not look tired at all though they had rowed their boats from a quite distance.
Sanjida Akhtar rowed two kilometers to reach school from Bildumuria village. She is a student of class three in No-6 Uttar Gaukhali Government Primary School. In the beginning, she attended school in a boat with others. In course of time, she learnt how to row a boat herself.
Sanjida said, "In the beginning I had trouble rowing but now I am used to it."
Acting head teacher Dileep Roy said there are over 100 students in the school. Most of them know how to row.
Another group of students arrived in school at 12:30pm. They were in class three, four and five. Sabbir of class five said, "Water Hyacinth has swamped the canal. It is very hard to row boats in the canal." Sabbir says, "I want to be a doctor."
This Prothom Alo correspondent started out again by motor boat to reach No-32 Manaharpur Sarkarpara Government Primary School. Before reaching the school, he met some villagers. The villagers said 90 per cent of the people in the villages are farmers. Most of them survive on farming and fishing.
Head teacher Tapos Gharami of No-32 Manaharpur Sarkarpara Government Primary School said, "The attendance of students is thin due to transport problems. The canal is shallow between March and November. As a result, the students attend school at high tide. During the winter, schools can only run following the timing of the ebb and flow of tides.
There are canals and water bodies around most of the villages of Deulbari Dobra union. Padmadubi, Daspara, Manaharpur, Bildumuria, Sonapur, Deulbari and Uttar Gaukhali villages remain inundated all year round. There are hardly roads in most of these villages. Village folk have been using boats to get around for many years. So every house has one or two boats.
Head teacher of Manaharpur Secondary School Anil Chandra Baral said there is no health service centre in Manaharpur village. Villagers have to travel 15 kilometers to go to the upazila health complex. Nor is there any electricity in the village. Students have to study by kerosene lamps. When evening falls, it is as if villagers are living on some sort of isolated island.
Braving so many hurdles, these little village scholars attend school by row boat to fulfill their dreams. Some of thems want to be engineers, some doctors.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.