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Today is International Day of the Girl Child. This year, the day focuses on a skilled girlforce, drawing attention to the importance of investing in girls to attain skills for productive lives.
Girls are outranked by boys in all aspects of life. However, when given the opportunity, girls too grow up to become engineers, lawyers and athletes. There are 600 million adolescent girls in the world today, and many miss out on these opportunities. With the right support, they can grow up to be part of a dynamic generation, knock down gender stereotypes that hold them back, and be the superheroes that the world needs.
Today, we are celebrating the stories of five girls from our adolescent club and skills programme who are on their way to doing exactly that.
Ria – Miss Lightning
Superpower – Fiery agility
“Once I started, I couldn’t stop.”
Ria found love at 14 when she tied the knot on her first gi – the traditional uniform of karate. She mastered her punches, kicks and the kata – the Japanese word describing a detailed pattern of movement, until she achieved lightning speed.
“I was no longer the shy girl my friends once knew me to be.”
Karate became second nature to Ria. She hit the hardest and screamed the loudest. Soon she was bringing gold to her sleepy town of Joypurhat in northern Bangladesh from the competitions she was winning.
“I feel unstoppable, like I can do anything I want to do.”
Ria excels not only in karate, but also kumete, where she incorporates martial arts techniques in self-defense strategies. She strikes like lightning, catching her opponents off guard, stunning them into submission. She knows exactly what to do when a friend gets catcalled outside the college gates.
“I’m going to train harder, and represent my country.”
The ball is in Ria’s court. She recently accepted an offer from the Bangladesh Army who took notice of her skills. Ria will start training with the army from next year.
Keya – Queen B
“I was told to stay home. I had other things in mind.”
Keya is all brains, business and beauty. She signed up to be an apprentice, without telling her father soon after she was forced to drop out from school. She trained for five years under an expert beautician. Her salary tripled after she graduated, but she wanted more.
“I wanted to be my own boss.”
She had big dreams, a mind of an entrepreneur, and her mother’s support. Keya set out on her journey to run her own beauty parlour. The daunting task of running her own business rested on her shoulders, but she refused to give in to doubt.
Her very own Keya Beauty Parlour now stands tucked in a corner of a bustling street in Savar, Dhaka. Today, her father proudly points to her daughter’s name on the signboard to passers by.
“Laughter is my greatest weapon.”
Keya recommends adding a healthy dose of laughter in our daily beauty routine. She believes no amount of makeup will make a difference if we do not feel good inside. Every day, Keya adorns her clients in the most beautiful of colours, and most importantly, making sure everyone gets a good laugh in.
Seema – Wavebender
Superpower – Water breathing
“The water is where you will find me.”
Twice a week, you will find Seema surrounded by excited faces bobbing up and down in her village pond. One of the boys gently bumps his head against one of the safety poles. They explode in giggles. Seema calls him back. The children line up like Olympic swimmers, and they’re all ready to win gold.
“I am happy knowing they are safe.”
Seema is a community swimming instructor in her village in Netrokona, northern Bangladesh. She is not only making waves in the water, but all throughout her community, empowering young girls and boys to dive headfirst into whatever they want to be.
These kids can dream to compete professionally, and might even make it, but most importantly – they are safe from drowning, a leading cause of death for children in Bangladesh.
“I’m creating a dream team.”
Netrokona’s little swim team is safe under Seema’s guidance. The swimmers duck through overhanging branches and glide towards their imaginary gold medals. Seema watches them intently, equipped with the rescue and first-aid skills. She will finish the lesson and then help them through training and mentoring so they are making waves out of the waters as well.
Puja – Lady Storm
Superpower – Lightning speed
“I am crazy about football – it is in my blood.”
Puja never liked being indoors. After school hours meant pulling on a t-shirt and shorts, her classmates cheering as she stepped onto the field. Her heart lies in football, which began her excursion into sports.
“I was determined to push myself as far as possible.”
From football, to volleyball, to boxing and martial arts. There is no finish line for Puja. The self-trained boxer and skillful martial artist finds peace in muddy fields and bruised knuckles.
She taught herself how to box and won gold in the first boxing competition she took part in.
That was only the beginning. She now has taekwondo, wushu, and bajiquan under her belt. Her agility has earned her gold in multiple competitions. She is currently training in martial arts at the Ansar Academy.
“I want every girl to feel powerful.”
Puja is not taking on the world alone. She is making sure the girls around her are coming with her. She recently opened a club of her own where she trains a team of 17 girls in boxing.
Nothing short of a superhero of her own right.
Shuborna- Magic Weaver
Superpower – Laser precision
“I love to be self-dependent.”
Combine mind with might, and the world presents you Shuborna.
Those who do not know her may call her ‘disabled’. She’s anything but. Courage and tenacity run in her veins, and she will stitch together just about anything to create beautiful pieces of clothing.
She came into the world in silence. “I would cry for hours without making a sound”. Her parents knew in that instant that she was different from other children.
Being born deaf and mute barely brought limitations for her though. Diving into the world of sign language, Shuborna soon excelled at reading and writing, guided by her inner voice of strong conviction. But what she loves most is using the magic in her hands to weave threads and motifs, and making her clients smile.
The wonder girl is unfazed by the chaos around her as she stitches away, fingers flying, toes swinging the iron pedals, transforming yards of cloths into sarees and dresses.
“People know my parents as Shuborna’s parents.”
Shuborna is determined to live her life to the fullest, and thrive while doing it.
Ria, Seema and Puja are members of BRAC’s adolescent club. There are 5,000 adolescent clubs across Bangladesh, providing safe spaces where 100,000 young women are given the chance to be themselves, and the skills to become what they want to be. Research has shown that these clubs help girls to stay in school, become more financially literate and communicate more confidently. Similar clubs have also been started by BRAC in six other countries; Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nepal.
Keya and Shuborna are graduates of BRAC’s skills development programme. The programme has so far seen 35,000 apprentices graduate in Bangladesh. 50% of them are girls. The programme pairs apprentices directly with master craftspeople. Ninety-five percent of graduates are employed upon completion of the programme. They are employed in the informal and formal sectors, or start their own businesses. Studies show that the programme reduces early marriage by 62%.