The Shrine of Shah Jalal- Syhlet

Shah Jalal is a Saint from the region of Syhlet, Bangladesh. I was able to visit his shrine in Syhlet, which has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands of muslims from all over Bangladesh.

Shah Jalal was buried in Sylhet and his tomb attracts visitors every day. His robes and sword are preserved within the mosque, but are not on display to the public. The guardians of the shrine decide who may enter to view the tomb, and sometimes visitors are turned away if the guardians feel that they are dressed inappropriately. In the evenings, the tomb is illuminated by candles and outside visitors will find a massive pond filled with catfish and a separate tank with gold fish, both of which are considered sacred. 


Inclusive Education

There were many services available for students with special needs in Bangladesh. At Brahmanbaria High School, there are 10 student who are visually impaired. These students receive special instruction in reading and writing in braille. they are provided with books in braille and all of the supplies they need to write using braille. Most of these students also take music and computer classes at Inner Eyes Music Institute for the Blind.

There is also a school in Brahmanbaria for students who are hearing impaired. Students from all over the region attend this school. There is a strong focus on art in this school. Many students have won prizes for artwork they submitted to competitions in Europe. The students gave me two pictures as a souvenir to remember my visit to the school.

There is also a school in Brahmanbaria for students with disabilities. The teachers have received special training in using strategies to meet the needs of their students. While I attended the school, the teachers were using plastic fruit to teach students how to read and write about fruit. Music is also a focus at this school.


Freedom Fighter Graveyard

The people of Bangladesh fought a war of independence against the Pakistani occupation forces in 1971. 
Members of the armed forces, students and people from all walks of life took part. They fought for nine months and defeated the well-trained Pakistani forces to became a free country. The people who fought against the Pakistani army and took part in the war effort are called Freedom Fighters. Many Freedom Fighters sacrificed their lives for the cause of independence. 

While I was in Bangladesh, I visited the graveyard of Freedom Fighter that was located near Brahmanbaria. Freedom Fighter who were killed during the war of independence are burried in this graveyard.

I was able to meet one of the Freedom Fighters, Abdul Karim, who now oversees the graveyard.

There is also a museum where visitors can learn more about the war for independence in Bangladesh.


Teaching and Teacher Workshops

I really enjoyed teaching while I was in Bangladesh. The first day my host, Mustofa Kamal, took me around and introduced me to all the classes. The students were very enthusiastic to have a native English speaker teaching their English classes. They often brought me flowers, chocolate or pens. I taught classes on a variety of topics including: career planning, American culture, interviewing, the value of education, etc.

All of my classes focused on speaking skills. Many of the teachers and students understand verbal and written English very well, but they are not comfortable speaking in English. In each class I taught, every student was given a chance to speak English.

I was able to co-teach with many teachers at Brahmanbaria High School, which was nice as well. Many of them translated the work in Bengali and I encouraged them not to so that students would be forced to use more English.

I was also able to lead a workshop on strategies to Teach English as a Second or Foreign language for teachers from Brahmanbaria High School and some of the surrounding communities. I introduced the idea of scaffolding to teachers, demonstrated activities they could use to scaffold reading, and then had teachers create lesson that incorporated scaffolding into their content areas. Throughout the workshop, I also encouraged teachers to use more English in their classrooms.


Phela Baishakh (Bengali New Year)

I really lucked out...it turned out my trip to Bangladesh coincided with the Bengali NewYear on April 14th, otherwise known as Phela Baishakh. This holiday connects all ethnic groups in Bangladesh and is celebrated throughout the country.

The day started with a parade through the main street in Brahmanbaria. I marched with the school in the parade. Everyone dresses in red clothing and marches with colorful signs and traditional music. Following the parade, there were several street fairs with performances and vendors selling artisanal merchandise.

Many people wore traditional clothing:

There were performances of traditional street fighting:

In the afternoon, the school hosted a festival in my honor. The administrators, teachers, and students organized musical and dance performances. There was traditional dance and singing:

There was also modern dance:

And a few tributes to Michael Jackson:

I am so grateful to my host, Mustofa, and all of the teachers and students, who worked to put on this amazing show to introduce me to the culture of Bangladesh!

Inner Eyes Music Institute for the Blind

One of the highlights of my time in Brahmanbaria was the chance I had to visit the Inner Eyes Music Institute for the Blind. The Institute was started by Afzalur Rahman and his 2 daughters. Afzalur Rahman was blind at the age of 9 after suffering from typhoid. He did not let his blindness hold him back. He started playing the violin and the sarod at a young age and was until his death, the top classical musician in all of Bangladesh. He was also thought to have been the only blind sarod player in the world.

I was able to meet Afzalur Rahman's two daughters during my visit to Bangladesh. The older of the two is Mohua Rahman Ruba who started losing her eyesight at an early age due to a glaucoma attack. Mohua has specialized in singing popular Bengali songs as well as in sub-continental classics. She sings fluently in Hindi, Japanese and English, and has participated in several concerts both at home and abroad. She, like her father, plays the sarod and the violin. The youngest daughter is Antara Rahman TungTang, who is completely visually impaired. Antara is an expert violin player.

I was fortunate to have the chance to be invited into the home of Mohua and Antara for a small concert. They were truly the kindest hostesses. The following clip shows the sisters performing classical music from Bangladesh:

The sisters also performed an original song they wrote in English:

Afzalur Rahman and his daughters started the Inner Eyes Institue in Brahmanbaria and his daughter continue to run the school out of their home today. While their primary focus is on music, they also teach their students how to use computers using special software. Almost all of the blind students who attend Brahmanbaria High School take classes at the Institute.

Ustad Afzalur Rahman passed away in 2009, so I unfortunately I did not have the chance to see him play. Lianain Films posted the following video of Maestro Rahman after their visit with the family shortly before he passed away:

Aljazeera recently posted a slideshow featuring Ustad Afzalur Rahman and his daughters. You can view the slideshow at the following link the following link:


Hinduism in Brahmanbaria

Hinduism is the second largest religion in Bangladesh. Just over 9% of the population practice hinduism. In terms of population, Bangladesh is the third largest Hindu state in the world after India and Nepal.

In Brahmanbaria, I was able to visit a Hindu temple, Kal Bhairab dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is seen as the Supreme God. The temple, dating back to the 19th century, is famed for the giant statue of Shiva, said to be the largest in the country. The temple is a major pilgrimage place for Shaivites in Bangladesh.

I was also able to visit the Hindu burning grounds in Brahmanbaria. In the Hindu religion, outdoor cremation takes place when a person passes away. During the day of the funeral, family members cover the corpse with bright orange cloths and carry it along the streets while singing songs to Shiva. They wear white clothing and do not cry because public display of sadness are thought to bring bad luck to the karma of the person who is about to be cremated. Once they arrive at the burning grounds, the cremation ritual takes place. The body is given a last bath and then is given to Agni, the Hindu God of fire.


A Typical Day at Brahmanbaria High School

Brahmanbaria High School is an all boys private high school in the city of Brahmanbaria. Classes run from Monday through Sunday, starting at around 9:00 a.m. and ending around 5:00 p.m. Upon entering through the school gate, there is a large courtyard surrounding by several small buildings where classrooms are located. Each school day starts with a large assembly in the courtyard. Students line up in rows, by class to listen to do morning stretches, sing the national anthem, recite Islamic, Christian, and Hindi prayers, and listen to announcements made by the school leaders.

After the assembly, students walk in lines to their classrooms and the day begins. Each class is about an hour long and students break for an hour at lunch. Each class roster has at least 80 students names, though there are usually "only" 60 students present.

With so many students in one classroom, I would have thought classroom management would be challenging. This was not the case at all. In the classroom, the teacher is highly respected by the students. Students stand any time an adult enters the room. They listen attentively when the teacher is speaking and they complete activities quickly when assigned. Students are eager to participate in class and those who do not complete their homework are embarrassed when they show up empty handed. Many teachers use group work and have student created visuals related to their content hanging around the room.

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