While a large section of Dhaka’s population is housed in densely populated slums, a glaring lack of fire safety and prevention measures mean that many slum inhabitants are constantly at risk of losing lives and livelihoods.
The group most impacted is often children. Take Sharna, a student of Class 3 in Jaago Foundation School in Korail, the city’s largest slum with an estimated 200,000 residents. When a devastating inferno broke out there in March, within hours it had gutted Sharna’s house, along with 500 other homes. Their lives upended, her family had no other option but to leave the city, taking Sharna out of school in the process.
The total number of children like Sharna who drop out from the 142 schools located in Korail every year as a result of fires in the community is not known. Still, the reality is grim. One day children in Korail are in classrooms working towards a better future, and the next they are out on the street without a roof over their heads. Simple fire safety measures could help change the courses of their lives.
Simple precautions could change lives
Concerned by the alarming frequency of fires in slums, Shahinur Selim Sujan and Faysal Mahmud, two teachers at Sharna’s school, took the initiative of organising workshops on fire safety in their community. Their goals were to increase awareness of fire safety measure among their students and also the community. Both of them are fellows of Teach For Bangladesh, a leadership development programme that places exceptional graduates and young professionals in under-served communities like Korail with a two-year full-time teaching commitment as part of a lifelong commitment to education equity in Bangladesh.
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The workshops they organised included information about safety precautions and fire extinguishing practices, as well as a fire drill conducted by 40 firefighters from Baridhara and Tejgaon Fire Station.
“I was sleeping, and I woke up to people screaming. When I opened my eyes, I saw the fire had reached our house. Everything burned to ashes in front of our own eyes. We couldn’t do anything,” said Amina Begum, a parent present at the workshop, demonstrating the need for workshops like these.
“Most of the houses in densely populated Korail slum are made of tin and wood. Due to a lack of precautions and awareness of the inhabitants regarding fire safety, every year hazardous fires breaks out in this area and causes irreparable damage to properties and goods. This was the first time that an initiative has been undertaken to address the issue,” said Mamun Mahmud, assistant director of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense- Dhaka Zone.
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Hands-on techniques for future fires
During the first session, students were taught to use fire extinguishers. Firefighters demonstrated modern fire extinguishing techniques such as AFT (Advanced Fire Technique). Students were also shown the procedures for putting out fire with water and rescuing people from houses on fire. Leaflets on fire safety were then distributed among the attendees.
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“Our Fellows are committed to developing the leadership skills of their students from a young age with high-quality education in classrooms and beyond. We congratulate both our Fellows at
Jaago Foundation School on their success in addressing a pressing problem in their community,” said Maimuna Ahmad, CEO of Teach For Bangladesh.
Other than Mamun Mahmud, assistant director of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense- Dhaka Zone, the workshop hosted other guest speakers, including Salehuddin Ahmed from Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense- Dhaka Zone 2, Abul Kalam Azad from Baridhara Fire Station, Foysalur Rahman from Tejgaon Fire Station, Mohammed Zami from ActionAid, Ayesha Rahman from Jaago Foundation, and staff from Teach For Bangladesh. Volunteers from Bijoy Bangla Foundation also assisted in conducting the fire drills among community members.