Proverbs 14:1 tells us “The wise woman builds her house.” In the Khagrachari Hill Tracts area of Bangladesh, the Sisters of the Holy Cross have built a house—not with bricks and mortar, but with love.
Situated in the compound of Saint John Catholic Church, the hostel created by the sisters in 2015 accommodates up to 25 girls. The days start early, and the girls are sent off to the public school after a good breakfast and morning prayers. When school is done in the afternoon, they return to the hostel, complete their homework, engage in play, and enjoy the evening meal before retiring to their beds with, hopefully, good dreams of all the wonderful things they are discovering in themselves. With the hostel providing the opportunity to attend school, the world opens up to the girls, and they open to the world. Without the hostel, many of them likely would grow up illiterate, never reaching their full potential.
A pandemic interruption
But with the advent of the global pandemic in 2020, schools in Bangladesh suddenly closed and did not reopen until 10 months later. By this time, the girls in the 2020 class had been promoted to the next grade, so it was a new class that arrived in January. Almost immediately, however, the government again brought all schools to a halt.
The 22 new girls had traveled to the hostel from farther distances than the previous class, so a return home in this extremely remote, hilly and rural region was not practical. Most of the girls are children of indigenous, poor and marginalized parents, who themselves lack a formal education. So even if they were to return home, they would not be able to join online classes on a mobile phone or computer.
Holy Cross Sisters Mary Magdalena Gomes, Ahati Christina Tripura and Semita Nokrek were delighted with the arrival of this new class, but found they needed to keep the girls occupied during the day. So they took it upon themselves to become teachers, as best they could.
“We are teaching their formal education, as well as moral and ethics lessons, general health knowledge, preparing menus for their meals, how to keep themselves and their environment clean, and helping them spiritually through worship and prayer,” said Sister Mary Magdalena. Their efforts are making a difference.
“I want to be a Holy Cross sister”
The Khagrachari region is a land of tribal people. Aina and her sister Rekha are of the Chakma tribe, the children of impoverished parents. Their father, the only earner in the family, receives about US $40 per month as a prayer leader. It is not nearly enough to raise a family of five children, nor obtain land for cultivation.
“Parents dream that their daughters will be educated formally, emotionally, spiritually and socially,” said Sister Mary Magdalena.
Aina is approximately 14 years old. With bright eyes, she said, “I want to continue my study. After finishing higher secondary school, I would like to earn money by doing a job in garments to build a house for my parents.”
Rekha is about 10 years old. At the hostel, she has improved her handwriting and become bilingual. With a big smile, she said, “I want to complete my higher study and become a Holy Cross sister like you (pointing to Sister Mary), teaching and serving people.”
The houses these girls will build, whether physical or metaphorical, are bound to be beautiful.
Aina, Rekha and all the girls at the hostel depend on the graciousness of donors to the Ministry With the Poor Fund. With your help, we can continue empowering girls in Khagrachari and other people in need across the world.
“Your helping hands and loving sacrifice strengthen and support the Khagrachari Girls Hostel. We do pray for you,” said Sister Mary Magdalena.