Bangladesh: The Magician's Way To Good Nutrition
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Published on 13 July 2011

'Magic Uncle' entertains a group of enthralled school children in Dhaka (Copyright: WFP/Emamul Haque)

In Bangladesh, the World Food Programme is using the skills of a magician to help teach valuable life lessons on nutrition and hygiene among children attending WFP-supported schools and learning centres. WFP's Emamul Haque and Farina Noiret went along to find out more.

by Emamul Haque and Farina Noiret

DHAKA -- Every eye in the classroom was glowing with excitement as the conjurer on his makeshift stage held up his ‘magic book’. The magician asked them to draw in the air their favourite flower or animal. A frenzied flurry followed as every tiny hand was lifted in the air, furiously doodling away their creations, which as if by magic appeared immediately on the pages of his book. 
 
And he was not finished. The magician pointed out their drawings lacked colour and asked for their assistance once more. Again their hands went up and within seconds, the pages danced with colours as bright as the glee in the eyes of the children. 
 
As they marveled at what they saw before them, the magician explained the power of their imagination and the wonderful things they could achieve if they really put their minds to it. 
 
Ulfat Kabir – or ‘Magic Uncle’ as he is known – is the World Food Programme’s resident magician and was visiting Mirpur slum learning centre. Among his many tricks he brandished his wand to make a bar of soap appear out of nothing, and amidst the gleeful laughter and applause, he explained the importance of personal hygiene by washing hands very carefully. 
He then moved on to a pot of water, which, by another neat wand-wielding technique, began to bubble. As the children gasped in amazement, he explained the significance of safe drinking water in order to prevent water-borne diseases. 
 
Finally, he ended the show with yet another educational trick: by materializing a pair of sponge slippers as if out of thin air, which he used to explain the importance of wearing shoes when outside to prevent infectious cuts and bruises.   
 
“We’ve learnt a lot of new things today,” said nine-year-old Bithi. “I’m going to go home today and tell my parents that we should never drink unsafe water.”
 
For most of the children at the centre, the chance to experience a live magic show was a dream come true, and they waited with hungry anticipation for the arrival of the magician. The Enter-educate Magic Show is a regular event organized through a partnership between the KS Welfare Foundation and WFP at primary schools and urban learning centres under WFP’s School Feeding programme. It is designed to create better responsiveness to education, hygiene and nutrition among students, parents and communities in food-insecure areas.
 
“I’m going to ask my mother to buy me a new pair of slippers today,” said Halima Akhter who is ten.” I’m also going to make sure that my younger brother never goes out bare-foot while playing. I will always remember today’s lessons and the fun we had. I really hope Magic Uncle will come back again.” 
 
WFP Bangladesh has introduced the use of magic as an educational tool to promote good health, confidence and social skills among schoolchildren and to mobilize communities in favour of keeping kids in schools. In 2011, the scheme will cover around 30,000 children in 100 schools across the country.