Golap Shah is a 14-year-old student of class 8 at Kolatoli High School in Cox’s Bazar. She is somewhat hesitant when talking about her life – impeded in no small part by her having to abandon her dialect in order to communicate. But once the conversation turns towards the one passion of her life, her face lights up with an infectious smile, her apparent unease replaced by a sense of self-belief and an eagerness to let the world know what her life is really all about. Every day, between school, studies, and her daily chores, between 4pm and sunset, she takes to the waves of the Bay of Bengal, her and her surfing board ready for everything the sea has to offer.
In Bangladesh, far too many students do not get the chance to go to college. In a country where 30 per cent of the population are young (10-24 years), it remains evident that much of the potential remain untapped, and too many young voices go unheard. Medhabikash, a scholarship programme that funds meritorious and underprivileged students, offers a second chance at learning- the kind that transcends social and economic boundaries.
Violet is 21 years old, married and a mother of two. She is also the owner of a steelworks business where her husband is one of her employees. When she speaks of expanding her business, her voice is full of confidence and hope, undeterred when others make jokes about how she manages her husband.
Imagine you have just received the result of your secondary school certificate exam (equivalent to GCSE O’Levels). Congratulations! You have been awarded the highest grades: GPA 5, securing more than 80 per cent in all the subjects. You and your whole family celebrate while you start planning to go to a top college. Future is all set! But what if you are an indigenous girl in a poor family of five like Laome? Or what if your father is unemployed and your mother takes care of you and your three siblings on her own like Habib’s family? The future does not look that bright now – it looks quite bleak.
In Dhaka, it is a common sight to see street children running around, dodging vehicles, and weaving in and out of traffic jams. Some beg for money while others attempt to sell flowers, stickers or candy. It is also common to see street children carrying loads, often too heavy a burden for their little shoulders. But these are only a few examples of occupations street children are forced to take on. Many homeless boys and girls at BRAC’s children’s centres for the urban street children programme (USCP) were involved in similar jobs before being taken in, in 2013.
Polli shomaj, or community-based organisations, are designed to empower poor, rural women, by enabling them to raise their voice, and claim their rights and entitlements. These groups are powerful and successful mediums of sustainable development. They actively engage more than one million rural women in 55 districts of Bangladesh.
In some Bangladeshi schools, talking about problems is getting easier, and it’s about time. Especially when more than half of the students drop out of school once they complete their primary education. Various social pressures faced by adolescents contribute to the high level of dropouts.
Maria Joseph got pregnant when she was in class 7, and had to drop out of school. She stopped stepping out of home and spent her time helping with household chores. Not too long ago, she heard about BRAC’s study clubs from a friend. She soon became a member of a club in Kitunda district. “I had lost all hope. When I got pregnant, everybody told me I had ruined my life. I was shunned by my family and friends. Thanks to the study club, I now have hope for my future and my baby’s future. People will respect me now.”
“A study undertaken in Bangladesh revealed an 11 per cent increase in girls’ enrolment mainly due to the provision of sanitary toilets.” -Technical paper series/IRC, In Bangladesh the standard number of toilets in schools has been set as a minimum of one toilet for every 60 students. However, this is far from being achieved. The infographic below shows that on average, schools in Bangladesh have half the number of toilets required. However, although 94 per cent of schools have latrines within the compound, a large number remain unusable because they are dirty or broken.
“As long as I have these two hands, I will continue to write,” says Lunkuse Betty Ssekirevu. “I want to write stories of Africa, and share the narratives that are yet to be told.” Betty lives in a village in Uganda along with her mother and her siblings. Awarded with a scholarship from The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at BRAC, she has currently applied to top universities in the USA to pursue her higher studies.