St Siro is one of five Church-run schools in Bangladesh that abruptlyclosed down in December and January. Each had been running for three decades, providing predominantly tribal children basic education.
Rajshahi diocese officials, who made the decision to close the schools, blame the sudden closures on the disappearance of vital foreign donations. They say the closures may also be the outcome of poor planning.
Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) had set up eight Rajshahi primary schools, including St Siro, and ran them with donations from his religious society and friends back in Italy. Like St Siro, all the schools provided free education. He had also started housing and income projects for the landless laborers.
According to UCAN reports when Fr Ciceri was transferred to Dinajpur diocese in 2013, it marked the beginning of the end for most of the schools he had created. The closure of the schools has heard mixed remarks from the locals. Some say that they were extremely beneficial and children would never have studies had they not set up these schools but some say that, “Fr Ciceri set up the schools but didn’t make them sustainable with local resources and funding,” Fr Topno said. “He didn’t realize that it would be difficult to run them without foreign funds and this is what happened.
Many children from indigenous communities end up dropping out of school after the primary level because of financial problems and discrimination, said Poly Soren, a former teacher of St Siro School.Eight-year-old Ratri is old enough to know that her future plans may be in jeopardy without an education. “I wanted to become a nun in the future but I don’t know if that is possible anymore because I don’t go to school,” she said. Only a few months ago she was a regular first grader and now she ventures out into the fields every morning to search for potatoes and feed her family.