About ACEF (article in English)

by Hideaki Nakagawa, Director
Asia Christian Education Fund

ACEF (Asia Christian Education Fund) celebrated its 20th anniversary in October 2010. Since its establishment in 1990, the objectives of the Christian NGO have always been twofold: working in partnership with BDP (Basic Development Partners), a Bangladeshi Christian NGO, to establish and operate non-formal primary schools for the underprivileged children of Bangladesh; and training and nurturing Japanese youths who opt to take up their share of the challenges faced by our neighbours in other parts of Asia.*

Basic Development Partners was founded by Mina Malakar, a Bangladeshi medical doctor and a devoted Christian. She was engaged in public health activities aimed at disseminating basic knowledge on health and hygiene to rural women, especially young mothers, but soon noticed that none of the women were taking notes while earnestly listening to her seminars. She then realised that these women were illiterate and that her efforts to help enlighten and empower them could not be very effective. As they could not read the handouts or take notes, there was a limit to the amount and the accuracy of what they could learn on the spot and take home with them. With this realisation, Dr Malakar determined that literacy and education were the keys to the development of these women as well as of their communities. Consequently, she resigned from the hospital and started her own NGO, initially named Sunflower Education Programme (SEP), which later became Basic Development Partners. Several months later, ACEF was established by Japanese Christians who wished to participate in the new endeavour established by Dr Malakar.

In 1990 SEP established a non-formal preschool in the slum area of Juline in the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital. The initial classroom was set up in an open space in front of a private house, with 163 children and 10 female teachers, some of whom were high school students. On one hand, this arrangement supported the young teachers by making it possible for them to continue their secondary education. They would otherwise have been forced to leave school and get married at an age as young as 14 or 15. On the other hand, their employment also supported the empowerment of women in their communities. Even today, almost all BDP school teachers are women. BDP has maintained a “female teacher only” policy and believes that this policy is the key to an effective education for children as well as to the empowerment of women in rural society.

Since then, 20 years has passed, and the number of non-formal primary schools operated by BDP and supported by ACEF has now reached 75. In these schools, 300 teachers teach 12,000 children. The ACEF membership has also grown from 74 in 1990 to more than 1,200 in 2010.

One of the major achievements of BDP and ACEF is the improved enrolment rate in the areas where BDP schools exist. Although the numbers and ratio of children attending the schools have now increased dramatically compared to 20 years ago, even today only half of the students can complete the five-year primary education program. Improving the completion rate at BDP schools is emerging as a new challenge for BDP and ACEF.

Neither measurable indicators nor specific targets were set when BDP and ACEF started to work together in 1990. If these organisations had announced at that time that they were planning to establish 75 primary schools within the duration of 20 years, people would have thought the organisers were crazy and the plan unrealistic. Potential supporters would have been reluctant to participate in such an impossible mission. Instead, the two organisations continued to persist in their low-key efforts, without a grand plan, and to do what they could do each year, however small and limited it might have seemed. They continued to follow Christ, giving thanks for whatever they had, and did whatever they could do with it. Eventually, their persistent efforts have graciously been multiplied and maximised to bear the miraculous fruits of education in time. It seems as miraculous as when 5,000 people shared five loaves and two fish and were satisfied.

*Many Christian schools in Japan, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, are supporting ACEF with their prayers and contributions.

This article was published in the Februrary 2011 issue (no.361) of Kyodan Newsletter, a publication in English of the United Church of Christ in Japan (UCCJ) and is reproduced here with the permission of UCCJ.

Asia Christian Education Fund, Tokyo, March 2011