LETTER from FATHER MARTIN
South Asia Youth Conference - Call for Peace
It was in May, 2002 that I was selected by our Bishops, along with ten other friends, to attend the first Conference of South Asian Christian Youth, held over seven days at Colombo, Sri Lanka. We flew via Bangkok to meet almost 200 young friends from the South Asian countries, and many resource persons from overseas. The conference aimed to break down barriers and hatred between the Christian youth of neighbouring countries, and focussed on the theme 'Peace' with a call to be peacemakers. Peace was understood in terms of peace with God, peace between peoples and nations, peace within the Church, the local community, family, neighbours and oneself.
Due to the historical and political background there have always been conflicts in the South Asia region, and now new problems and issues are emerging out of the situation of hatred and enmity: like fighting between Sinhalis and Tamils in Sri Lanka, tension between India and Pakistan, hatred between Bangladesh and Pakistan, Maoist struggles in Nepal, and so on. Therefore we, the Christian youth, came together on one platform to realize 'our call to be one in Christ'. We were trained to pray and work together for peace.
The outcome of the conference was highly effective and encouraging. Many young people continued their friendship by e-mail and post, organized the same kind of conference in their local churches, took peacemaking initiatives, had peace rallies in their countries and towards the border between two countries, made chains of prayer in different situations, arranged sports and games between conflicting parties, provided counselling, and worked in many other ways. All these made us have a follow-up meeting of representatives of different South Asian Churches in Colombo again, in which a Core Group was formed and two co-ordinators appointed. (I represent the Churches of Bangladesh in the Core Group.) A book was published and distributed, and the decision was taken to have a monthly newsletter to share all we do.
We are now organizing the second Conference, from 8th 15th June, 2005 in Bangalore, India on the theme 'Gospel and Globalization'. This time everything is being arranged by the Core Group, the youth people, so it becomes very much of, for and by the youth. We met twice in Mumbai, India and in Kathmandu, Nepal and wish to go one week before the June Conference to organize it. We are also having preparatory schools of mission and theology for the selected youth in our countries before they attend the main Conference. In the church of Bangladesh, we had a three-day school in January at Savar Retreat Centre, Dhaka and the next one will be in April in the O.M. compound, Barisal. We are grateful to C.M.S. and U.S.P.G. and to all the Bishops and leaders of the churches for sponsoring our programme. More co-partners and sponsoring groups are also welcome to fund the entire programme, and especially the Church of Bangladesh youth programme.
For more information, please consult the book Called for Peace, ed. Leslie Nathaniel and Adrian Watkins, ISPCK Delhi, 2003.
The Oxford Mission High School, Barisal
This is my second year of teaching in our school as a full-time teacher, though I have been taking coaching classes for our Hostel boys since 2000. I felt that it would be good to gather real experience, so I joined the school before I complete my Bachelor of Education degree. My final exam will be at the end of June this year (please pray for me). I teach English, Bengali and Science to the Sixth - Ninth Standard students. I feel proud of our school when I see that most of the students from outside (day scholars) as well as from our Hostels are very poor, financially and in merits (standard), but we have the highest percentage of passing the S.S.C. exam. Believe it or not, this is a miracle! Very often we are criticized when compared with the results of the past, and with some good schools of the city now. This is because we do not have many 'excellent' results, and most of our students get a B grade.
To develop the standard of the school we need to have meritorious students, so we wanted to be a bit strict in our admission test; but we found that Christian students from our villages, and girls in general, got very poor marks, so we had to come down from our decision. This is not new, and true for the day scholars also. Most of our students' parents are either rickshaw pullers or maidservants. They cannot pay fees regularly, and take six months to buy all the books. Girls get some Government scholarship, but the procedure to get it itself takes a good amount of money and a long time. Only a few students can manage one full set of uniform and a school bag. Their parents may earn Tk.1 000 - 1500 a month, but they need to pay Tk.100 for the school fees - which is far less than any other school. The economic condition of Christians who work in N.G.O.s or churches is not that bad, but they need to pay about Tk.400 in addition for the Hostel fees, which is about one-third of what we spend on them.
Most of the students need special care and private tuition, as their basic standard is far behind the syllabus and parents are not educated to help their studies. Our school teachers take about Tk.250 from a student (for one subject, three hours a week, in a group of 5 - 10), whereas outside teachers demand from Tk.500 - Tk.1500 for the same. In the Hostels we try to provide special coaching for each class, two to three hours in a week, for the main subjects. Outside teachers, house teachers, school teachers and we Brethren are involved in these. We have a budget for the year, but regular floods and heavy rain never allow us to keep within it. At the time of floods poor families cannot pay fees, but we need to manage the situation.
We like to have some intelligent students in our school, because if there a few of them in a batch, the whole batch improves a lot. But the physical arrangements of our school (building, desks, rooms etc.) are a hundred years old (!) and we cannot provide the facilities the intelligent students demand. Classrooms, which were made for Christian students a long time back, are very small, and now we are under pressure to admit more students every year. I am sure if all the students come to the school regularly, some of them have to remain standing. We the teachers cannot move around the classroom so cannot check what they are writing. In each class we have the capacity for about 40, but the present number will be about 70. I have some plans for reshaping the building and having a new room for the Hostel, which I shared with our Bishop and with General Secretary Mrs. Mary Marsh when they visited us. Both of them realized the need, but the problem is with the funds.
Anyway I am very grateful to our teachers, as they are very committed people in their service to God. We cannot pay them a good salary, facilities and training to cope with the new syllabus changing almost every two years, but they make a high effort to convert a zero into a hero. These people are our people and happy in their work, with all our limitations. I personally feel proud that we are serving the poor community of our society, and I call this a miracle! I am also grateful to all the donors who help us regularly to run the schools and hostels at Barisal and Jobarpar. In return we can only pray for you that our loving God will bless you in all your ways.
Now no more. We wish you all a very happy Easter.
MARTIN, Father S.P.B.