Teaching Literacy in the Slums of Bangladesh: The Amarok Society


Looking for real Canadian heroes? Try this!

Meeting Tanyss and GEM Munro and their Family

Three years ago, I made the acquaintance of Tanyss and GEM Munro and their family. They were doing a cross-Canada book tour, had stopped in Belleville and had left a copy of their book at our public library. The librarian, who knew about my interest in literacy called me and told me that she was saving it for me. I read “South Asian Adventures of the Active Poor” in one night. I also noted that there was a telephone number on the back cover, indicating that the author was in Vancouver. At the time, I was the founding chair of my Rotary club’s literacy committee and was anxious to start a program in some third-world country.

I called the number and reached GEM, Tanyss and their family in Ottawa on their way within a half hour of my front door to the next stop on their book tour. The five family members were travelling in a Suburu Outback, with tents and books and everything they owned in the world crammed into its various corners. They were making their way across the country hitting every book store and library they could and flogging their book to make money to support themselves and their schools in the Dhaka slums.

Becoming Involved with Rotary

As an author, with a couple of hundred book signings behind me, I knew that they were not likely to raise the money they needed with a single book. I suggested that they approach Rotary clubs as well as book stores. My literacy committee agreed to help and we began to set up speaking engagements for them at Rotary clubs nationwide. We then made an arrangement with a Dhaka Mid-Town Rotary club so that we would have a contact in Bangladesh, consistent with the Rotary method of joining clubs together to accomplish projects.

About the Amarok Society

The Amarok Society literacy program taught impoverished women to learn to read and write in Bangla, their native tongue and then in English. These mothers have taught more than 1200 children.The teaching has succeeded wonderfully and the numbers of mothers has expanded over the past three years despite some hefty problems. Women are not held in high regard in the slums of Dhaka. The Munros were told that they:

  1. Would never be allowed into the slums
  2. Would never get out if they did manage to get in
  3. Would never get to meet the women who are at the bottom of the social order,
  4. Would never be successful because the women were incapable of learning.

The letter that follows pokes a major hole in all of these assertions. Enjoy it.


June 2013
Tarikul Islam

Dear John,

Today I will tell you about my father, his name is “Hannan Sheikh”. I think you know that my father works hard as a day labor. The interesting news is now he can count numbers in proper way.

I shared with you that he learns small math from me. Before he can`t read or write numbers (could count orally without identifying the numbers). But now he is able to write numbers and maintain paper for small account. Firstly he learnt from me them from my mother-teacher. He said to me “when your mother-teacher comes to you and teach you I stay outside the door and observe what she is doing. First time I think this is difficult. After few days I realized it is not very difficult for me”.

He learn from me and observing my mother-teacher teaching staying outside the door and looked at my note books that how I write. Finally now he can write 1 to 1oo and making short list like salt, potato, egg, rice, fish, price, etc. So this is my pleasure that through me and my mother-teacher he can write and read now. But my father is a slow learner and still he is trying.

Thank you very much for your support to me and my father in our education. My mother-teacher says that if my father wants she will give him notebook to write more and teach him for reading.

Convey my regards to all of your family members and friends.

Yours with love,


Hannan Sheikh father of Tarikul

Children playing in a monsoon in the Amarok Society work area in the city of Dhaka

Children playing in a monsoon in the Amarok Society work area in the city of Dhaka



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