Preserving endangered languages and traditional folklore through children's literature
Located in southeastern Bangladesh, the Chittagong Hill Tracts is a steep and forested area that is home to 13 different indigenous peoples, each with their own distinct cultural identity, history, and traditions. Many have their own languages, but those languages, and the culture they are a part of, are in danger of being erased. After decades of intense violence this region is still highly militarized and suffering from insecurities with their education system.
Virtually all schools in the Chittagong Hill Tracts teach classes in the imposed language of Bangla, the country’s official national language. However Bangla is not a language spoken in the Hill Tracts, and as a result the children’s education is difficult, confusing, frustrating, and often futile. By second grade, 35% of students drop out, and that number jumps to 65% by fifth grade. Not only is an entire generation growing up without an education, but in being denied the opportunity to learn in their own languages, like many Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, they lose a sense of their own cultural history and identity.
Our Golden Hour is a nonprofit organization that is expanding educational opportunities for children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts by building schools in the region, and, in collaboration with the Endangered Alphabets Project and the Champlain College Publishing Initiative, publishing educational materials in indigenous languages. With your contribution, we hope to create children’s books in the alphabets of Mro, Marma, Tripura, Chakma, and others in an effort to promote learning and to preserve the cultural identity of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
As part of this project the students in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been tasked with collecting oral histories from tribal elders and community leaders. A group of authors and illustrators then compile the stories into children’s books that are translated into the indigenous languages of the Hill Tracts as well as English and Bangla. As Maung Nyeu, the founder of Our Golden Hour, states, “This will not only only save our alphabets, but will also preserve the knowledge and wisdom passed down through generations. For us, language is not only a tool for communication, it is a voice through which our ancestors speak with us.”
Funding, printing and shipping of these books is expensive. To ensure these books reach the students in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the students and professors of the Publishing Initiative have been working tirelessly to reach this objective, but we can’t do it alone. By contributing to our cause, you will not only be helping educate these children, but you will also be assisting in restoring and preserving several long-established cultures for generations to come.
Risks and challenges
Communication with the Hill Tracts, a remote and forested region, is always somewhat uncertain, and some of the indigenous communities live in especially hard-to-reach areas without electricity or cell phone access. Getting translations, therefore, is a difficult and time-consuming process, and even mobility within the Hill Tracts can be a challenge.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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