Sr. Miriam Francis Perlewitz, MM

Our Story

Many of you are educators. Just now I invite each one of you to pretend that you are an educator.

What kind of education would you promote in a country with an illiteracy rate of 62%?

The country I am referring to is Bangladesh, one of the poorest, most densely populated countries in the world. Average per capita annual income is $170. In the United States some people earn that much in an hour! I, Sr. Miriam Francis Perlewitz, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, went to Bangladesh in 1985 as a visiting professor of biblical studies. What better way to spend the time than testing the results of a Scriptural PhD degree in a country that is basically Muslim. Thus, I began teaching six months in New York and then six months at the National Major Seminary in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Classes were conducted in the mornings, due to the weather conditions and other practical chores, so I had time for other afternoon alternatives.

Having been invited to hear the testimony of recovered addicts I was so impressed that I decided to spend the afternoons conducting sewing classes using the electric machine for the men in their rehab center. But Brother Ronald Drozal, CSC had other intentions. He wanted to open another facility for the women, mostly the wives of these men, who also had succumbed to the condition. The archbishop, however, wanted us to prepare a program for the prevention of this disease.
Sister Miriam Francis Perlewitz talks with young seminarians in 1989 at Holy Spirit Seminary in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she taught for 25 years. (Maryknoll Mission Archives)
Brother offered to pay the funds needed for Sr. Joan Cordis Westhues and me to go to Madras, India where there was a clinic that trained members to sponsor rehab clinics in other parts of the country. The center’s program was under the auspice of the Minnesota Training Center. It was a marvelous opportunity and stood us in good stead when we returned to Bangladesh with the manual that they had prepared.

Sr. Joan Cordis’, from Jefferson City, Missouri, earlier mission experience had been in the Philippines and Yap. I also had taught in the Philippines, as well as Hong Kong.

The two Maryknoll Sisters did not set out to devise and implement a brand-new program for the schools. No, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit they gradually found their way.
1993 - 96
Sr. Joan and I wrote lessons based on the content covering ten topics such as self-esteem, recognition of anger, communication, behavioral changes, hurt feelings etc. These lessons were tried out on the students of St. Gregory’s Grade School in the old city and each week we finalized the copy if it seemed worthwhile. The results of this project became known as a three-fold volume entitled:
Education For Life (EFL)
Jiboner Jonna Shikkha.
1997 - 2000
The first book pertained to the person the self, the second book was concerned with relationships and the third volume addressed world issues. The lessons were translated into Bangla and then shared with about 17 young men and women who were interested in promoting the program in schools throughout the country. Sr. Joan and I went to the headmasters in village schools and proposed the opportunity to send teachers/trained persons in their district, to conduct the program in their respective schools. This training program lasted about three years, from 1997 to about 2000.
En 2017, David Laroche recoit le prix de meilleur “motivational speaker” de l’année.
2001 - Onwards
The next hurdle was to manage payment for these teachers/college students, who needed travel money and some subsidy to assist them while completing their education during the time of their teaching/training. For three years the program was supported by the Mission Project Funding Department of the Maryknoll sisters. After that, we were required to find local sponsorship. Archbishop Michael asked us to have the participants suggest a way that they could earn money to cover these expenses. The staff had many alternatives but none of them seemed to be cost-effective. The last resort was to begin an English Medium School. Sr. Joan and I were astounded because none of these young people spoke English. But we did begin, Nursery, KG and Class One. The first year we had 24 students, the second year there were 150 and the third year almost 500 youngsters.

The rest of the story is history. We have been in existence since 2001 and have almost 900 students in a building that seats 500 comfortably. Thus, we have two sessions per day, and shortened classes. Albeit, not ideal, this was the beginning of an -
Alternative Course For Human Advancement in Bangladesh (BACHA)
Present Day
BACHA proudly stands as a family of 100+ dedicated staff members and a thriving community of 800+ students. Our story is still unfolding, filled with the promise of tomorrow's leaders, innovators, and thinkers. Together, we continue to write the story of a bright future, one lesson, and one success at a time.

The EFL staff is supported by the BACHA School but has its own directress and staff independent of the BACHA School administration. Presently, there are more than 30 educational institutions throughout the country with trained staff facilitating this program. For the past 26 years this program has spread throughout Bangladesh due to the efforts of 18 facilitators. They have introduced the course to educators in the districts and villages with a very positive response.