“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.
Although the amended Children Act 2013 has been in effect in Bangladesh for almost a year now, key actors in charge of juvenile justice (ie, police officers, sub-inspectors, lawyers and judges) still lack clear understanding of child rights laws. Moreover, juvenile development centres continue to operate at less than full capacity due to a lack of coordination. This means that children are still being sent to adult jails.
According to UNICEF, Bangladesh ranks second in terms of under 18 marriages in the world. Child marriage has become a crisis due to its pervasiveness. The problem seems to be more acute in rural areas (71 per cent) compared to urban areas (51 per cent). Illiterate women are more vulnerable than those who completed a secondary or higher secondary education. Those employed are also less likely to fall victim than woman without a job. Thus child marriage can impact the achievement of almost every single millennium development goal. It even has a direct impact on GDP, as child marriage forces girls to drop out of school and lose any opportunity to contribute to the national economy.
According to a nationwide study conducted in 2013, about 87 per cent of women in Bangladesh are abused by their husband. A recent report by BRAC’s community empowerment programme (CEP) revealed that eight out of 10 violence perpetrators are men. Thus involving men is crucial if we want to eradicate violence against women. In 2013, BRAC for the first time initiated a project to engage men as partners to reduce violence against women by changing their attitudes.
Maria Ndagire is 17 years old. Her parents died when she was only four years old. “My uncle had to take care of us after our parents died, but it was not easy. He already had his own children to care for and did not earn that much money.” Ndagire almost gave up on life when the only brother she had, left home one day never to return again. She was able to go to school, only because the head teacher there was her aunt. But her losses did not make her lose focus.
Around 20 girls sit in a small room, decorated with messages about leadership, reproductive health and family planning along with pictures they have drawn themselves. This is a BRAC Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) club. This particular club called Bwebajja is located in a semi-urban area, under BRAC’s Kajjansi branch in Uganda. Huddled together, the girls look up at us, muzungus (foreigners) with awe and anticipation. They know who we are. They know BRAC. They call it “Blaca.”
I am a public health practitioner and a physician by training. I grew up in a small town in the north of Bangladesh. After finishing tenth grade I came to Dhaka and continued my studies. I finished my bachelors in medical science, worked in two of the biggest national dailies as a writer and photographer and involved myself with community service.
Mitu and Tania are club leaders and cricket coaches from BRAC’s adolescent development programme (ADP) in Bangladesh. The programme creates safe places where adolescent girls can read, socialise, play sport together, take part in cultural activities and have open discussions on personal and social issues with their peers. Each club has 25-35 adolescent members aged 10 to 19 years old. A range of livelihood training courses are offered to the older girls to help them learn new skills for employment.
When you first meet Jackie, it is difficult not be to be taken by her charm. She sat opposite me in her calm, collected, yet casual poise, occasionally breaking out in laughter. But she still managed to exhibit a stern resolution as we discussed what it meant to part of BRAC’s first batch of international young professionals.
Over the past one month, Bangladesh has been eagerly following their favourite football teams during the FIFA World Cup. BRAC decided to harness this nationwide enthusiasm by organising a match between Brazil and Argentina – two of the country’s most beloved teams. However, the players themselves were made up of girls from BRAC’s adolescent development programme’s (ADP) adolescent clubs. The best players were selected from across Bangladesh to ensemble the two teams who played a friendly game against each other on 27 June at the T&T field in Motijheel, Dhaka.
Limia Dewan, senior manager of BRAC Education Programme’s (BEP) children with special needs (CSN) unit, met Belal after conducting a door-to-door survey in Korail slum where he lives. With more than 40,000 inhabitants, Korail is Dhaka city’s largest slum. “Out of that many people, there had to be children with specials needs who needed our attention,” said Limia. “So we set out to find them by asking residents if they knew of any specific cases.”
Meet Sonya –an 18 year-old girl living in Narayanganj, Bangladesh. Sonya lives a typical Bengali lifestyle; she enjoys the park with her friends and helps her parents with chores. But Sonya isn't typical. At an age when girls are often expected to get married, she is breaking gender stereotypes, instilling confidence, and empowering a new generation of girls… all through her love for karate. Sonya is among a group of girls who are taking part in BRAC’s Adolescent Development Program where they are mentored in life skills, in this case, through the art of karate.