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Teaching the moms to teach

Mothers with their children learn to write so they, in turn, can teach the skills to children in their neighbourhood. A Canadian family works with the Bangladesh woman to help expand education in the impoverished nation. -
Mothers with their children learn to write so they, in turn, can teach the skills to children in their neighbourhood. A Canadian family works with the Bangladesh woman to help expand education in the impoverished nation.
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The Munro family spends a lot of time in the poorest country in the world.

In fact, said Gem Munro, he hopes it is true that the slums of Bangladesh are the worst in the world “because we wouldn’t want to encounter anything worse.”

And, while the world may not be paying much attention to the country, Munro, his wife and his four children have found a place where they can make a difference.

Teachers by trade — and British Columbians, if they must identify a home — the Munro family goes to the slums to teach women how to teach children.

From that work, which they have done since 2005, has come a book by Munro, South Asian Adventures with the Active Poor, a collection of stories about the family’s interaction with the people who live in those slums of Dacca, the country’s capital.

Munro will be at Chapters on Sunday, April 1, for a book-signing event at 12:30 p.m.

He said the family chose the country when presented with an opportunity to go there and help with its education system.

Bangladesh met the two criteria Munro required: It has need and it is neglected.

“The world has not directed its attention to the plight of Bangladesh,” Munro said, noting it does not even draw attention from the media, possibly because “there’s no kick. It’s not sexy at all for the media.

“People are attracted to the acute circumstances but people don’t find the same enthusiasm in the chronic travails.

However, Munro said, “if you attend to the chronic, then they acute won’t be as acute when they arise.”

When he first went to Dacca to work with the people administering the education system, Munro said he was struck by the reality in the city and country — no agencies were addressing the day-to-day realities the people were facing.

He was told the mothers he wanted to reach, to teach them to become neighbourhood teachers, were unreachable and the slums impenetrable, Munro said — but the family persevered and found people who wanted help and were prepared to help others, as well.

They discovered that, in teaching mothers how to teach, they created almost a pyramid effect — one mother could then teach others who could teach even more and the process of  education spread.

However, with a lack of funding, it became imperative to raise money so the family created the Amarok Society — Amarok is an Inuktituk word for wolf — and it spends part of every year in Canada raising money so the teaching can continue.

The book is one vehicle for that fundraising.

The family’s four children, ranging in age from 12 to 25, are equally involved.

Munro said exposing them to the work they do has given them a different world view from others in the same age group.

While they have seen poverty, “what they get back outweighs what they lose,” Munro said.

For example, during one return to Canada, one of their sons was astonished to see a commercial on television — something they don’t have when in Dacca — for a handheld game that allows the player “to spend their day doing imaginary warfare.

“He just could not see why anyone would want to spend their day that way,” Munro said.

For more information on the family and its work, go online to amaroksociety.org.

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