A Bridge to School

New bridges are making travel easier across the hills of Bangladesh, and helping children stay in school.

Kyamalongpara, Bangladesh - Mayoisaing Marma, a sixth grade student, missed classes for about a month during the monsoon in 2007 - not because she was ill, and not because she did not enjoy studying.

She was forced to stay home because there was no bridge over the canal outside Kyamalongpara, the village where she lives. The canal overflows during the monsoon, separating the village from other parts of the region. Villagers relied on boats as their only means of transport.

Mayoisaing could go to school whenever a boat was available, but on many days it was not. This was true for about 50 other children in this area of rugged hills in Bangladesh's remote southern district of Bandarban.

But now, children do not have to rely on the availability of boats to make it to class. Boat or no boat, the children can go to school on the other side of the canal even during the heavy flooding, spurred by rain thanks to a bridge built by the Government of Bangladesh with assistance from ADB.

"We can now go to school even when there are floods," said Mayoisaing, a student of Balaghata Bilkes Begoum High School, which is a 30-minute journey on foot from her home.

Built in 2008 at a cost of 554,000 taka (about $8,000) the 24-meter by 1.8-meter bridge has made travel easier for the villagers, especially during the monsoon.

"The children are happy. So are the farmers and traders who can now easily transport their products," said Mong Prue Aung, an elected member at the local Union Parishad, the lowest tier of rural local government.

He said as many as 1,500 villagers are benefiting from this small bridge. The bridge itself is a product of the villagers' choice made through the community development committee comprising 11 village representatives.

There are now 35 such bridges—locally known as culverts—helping improve rural transport in the hills of Bandarban district, according to Aungsathwi Aung, executive director at Eco- Development, a nongovernment organization that has helped the villagers design and construct the bridges under the ADB-financed Chittagong Hill Tracts Rural Development Project.

The bridges have reduced villagers' travel time and provided them with better access to market. "We are saving much time now. We are saving money too," said Maung Swai, a 75-year-old villager. "Time is really proving to be money."

That's thanks to these bridges built in the area, Swai said, pointing to the culvert over Kyamalong canal outside his village.