With almost half the population living on less than a dollar a day in Bangladesh, many families can’t afford to educate their children.

That’s what inspired 19-year-old student Tajrean Kashem to organize a JAAGO event with musical performances and a dance competition to raise awareness and as much money as possible.

The University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) saw students pouring into Rex’s Den to cheer on Toronto’s first ever JAAGO fundraising event last Thursday.

JAAGO – meaning “step up” in Bengali – is an international foundation that raises money to build free-of-cost schools for impoverished children in Bangladesh, where students are required to pay tuition as early as kindergarten.

“This event turned out to be way better than I expected,” Kashem said. “I didn’t think I’d have so many audience members.”

From belly dancers to hip-hop acrobats, the talented performers attracted a huge crowd. At one point the manager of Rex’s Den had to stop people from coming in because the room was well over capacity.

“After it ended, I couldn’t believe how successful it was,” Kashem said. “Everyone was talking about it and gave positive feedback. All those sleepless nights were definitely worth it.”

Kashem, the Toronto representative of JAAGO along with her team of volunteers invited dance teams from several universities in Ontario to participate. They raised funds by collecting donations and selling raffle tickets.

In November 2007, JAAGO opened its first school with 17 children attending. Today, over 300 children attend and the second school has almost been built. The funds collected from Toronto’s event will go towards building a third school.

“I decided to start something here because this is my country,” Kashem said. “I’m living a great life here [in Canada] so I might as well do something to help them out.”

JAAGO also donates clothing for impoverished children and hosts programs such as “Healthy Living”, “First Aid Center” and “Call for Hygiene.” They have started initiatives for women empowerment and to clean up Bangladesh as well.

Subha Salwa, an 18-year-old volunteer says she joined because it’s important to spread awareness about the issue in order for people to help out and donate.

“These children could have a better life like how we have it here,” Salwa said.

“I think that it [education] should be free as they grow up so that whether you’re poor, middle-class or rich, everyone could have the education that they need.”

Published in the Toronto Observer and The Underground

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