Experts at the University's Institute of Aquaculture have set up a community education centre in Bangladesh to teach local people how to get the most from fish. In the process, they have also become involved in running a night school for some of the area's poorest children.
Dr Andrew Shinn - a senior lecturer at the Institute, which is part of the University's School of Natural Sciences - is a regular visitor to impoverished Bangladesh, where he teaches, supervises and sets exams. Fish is by far the largest source of animal protein in the average person’s diet and growing demand for it is putting pressure on the country’s aquatic systems. Realising this, Dr Shinn saw the need to teach a largely illiterate population the importance of conserving the country’s native aquatic species.
“We already know how effectively education and conservation initiatives can be used to protect endangered species, as well as sustainably managing others,” he explains. “So we felt there was an urgent need to promote greater understanding and appreciation of Bangladesh’s natural history among ordinary people. And as fish is so central to their daily lives, it seemed obvious to build the idea around the aquatic environment.”
Working with Professor Mostafa Ali Reza Hossain from the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Dr Shinn set to work to provide an educational centre in Mymensingh, to which people of all ages would have free access. “We were gifted a building by BAU, which we renovated inside and out before setting up exhibits in five rooms,” he explains.
Back in Stirling, Aquaculture staff members gathered, packed and shipped a large consignment of exhibits to Bangladesh in March and in August, the Fish Museum and Biodiversity Center opened to the public. There was heavy press attendance and a thirty minute documentary about the museum later appeared on national television.
As the Overseas Director of what is now Bangladesh's first natural history museum, Dr Shinn spends much of his free time trying to secure more museum exhibits from around the world. He is currently negotiating with an overseas government for a large collection of African animals, which would make a further substantial contribution to the museum.
As if running one foreign community project isn’t enough of a challenge, Dr Shinn is also helping out with a second one, alongside many former Stirling students who are now staff members at BAU.
Aware that the level of poverty in surrounding communities is such that many children forego their chance of an education and work instead to help support their families, some of the BAU staff have also set up a night school. Five evenings a week, the school delivers a basic education to around 60 children aged from four to eleven, who study from 8-10pm each night, having already done a full day’s work.
Some are orphans, some are looked after by older brothers and sisters and others have parents; but all come from families where everyone must work to make ends meet. The night school receives no Government assistance and survives on donations from staff and friends of BAU and Stirling Universities.
When he discovered this, Dr Shinn enlisted the help of his family, friends and colleagues, who made donations and raised money through a series of small charity events.
“Last March, we shipped out a modest consignment of about 100kg of basic classroom equipment – stuff like lamps, because the children often study in the dark – together with a small donation of £200 to help the school. By contributing their spare change, staff members here at the Institute have already raised another £300 and we’re collecting equipment for the next consignment, which we hope to send out in spring.
“Working in Bangladesh, you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the level of poverty,” he adds. “I think what the BAU does is wonderful and I would like to help however I can.”
Dr Shinn’s community work in Bangladesh is a striking example of the University of Stirling’s fundamental aim – which is to inspire, challenge and support those motivated individuals who want to shape our world.
It is also an example of the Institute of Aquaculture’s international focus. Its extensive alumni network is spread throughout some of the world’s poorest places, whilst many of its joint projects have resulted in firm friendships and enduring working relationships.
The Bangladesh Fish Museum and Biodiversity Centre, together with its nightschool, is proof of this. Both projects highlight the ways in which the wider community is benefiting from the Institute of Aquaculture’s knowledge and expertise and its commitment to creating sustainable and ecologically friendly marine environments.
Notes to editors:
The University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture runs a part-time distance learning course for students who are working towards Master’s Degrees in Aquatic Resource Development in Bangladesh. For details, see: http://www.aqua.stir.ac.uk/training/masters/
An estimated 40% of Bangladesh’s 150 million people survive on less than $1 a day and it is estimated that around 30% of the country’s population suffers from acute hunger.
Picture captions. Top: Fishermen parade a modest sized Devil's Catfish on the way to market. Bottom : Local boys settle down to their evening class.
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