DHAKA, BANGLADESH – My very own unique story of fighting the outdated beliefs started when I was only three years old. My mother wanted me to attend one of the best schools of the towns. Therefore, she spent four hours in a long line under the sun just to buy the admission form. Things were going pretty well; my mom even took me to the photo studio with my old pair of shoes to make proper photos for the admission. That day I was very happy until I saw my mother crying in a corner. All the women of our community came to our house just to prevent her from sending me to that school. Why? The reason was very simple: combined education. They told my mom that I will elope with a boy if I go to that school and leave the whole community in an unbearable shame! However, my mother didn’t listen to them and kept fighting for me. Well, unfortunately, I didn’t elope with a boy (!). Instead of that I completed my graduation with an outstanding result and became the first graduate girl of my community.
I always tell people that our life is like a circus elephant. What we see in the circus is that the mighty enormous elephant is leashed on a week chain without being aware of its power to crumble the chain effortlessly. Likewise, our life without education is just like the circus animal. It might be tough for some people of developed world to understand my statement because they take education for granted but in our culture we have to fight for our education.
I could have a well-paid job in a multinational company after completing my degree in Finance, but instead something different touched the core of my heart. One day on my way to the university, I saw a little girl about 3-4 years old selling candy on the road. A man kicked her very brutally because she was asking him to buy some candy. I was shocked and discovered that those children are treated everywhere as street dogs. I felt very bitter because I have a niece of her age – she goes to school and gets any toys she wants.
I found that this discrepancy was only because of the financial freedom and education. After that, with the support of my friends I started a small initiative at my university campus. We went to the slums where the poorest children live: our goal was to convince them to get the basic education from us. We failed again and again. We had to make great efforts to persuade the children and their parents to allow us to teach them. Instead of attending school, these children work in dangerous and illegal environments just to afford food to survive. They have no education, so most of them have only the unbearable life of a sex worker for their future. After a heart and soul endeavor, we were able to convince six slum children to join us. We taught them essential skills for life: basic reading, writing, and math as well as necessary social and vocational skills to earn a living. In just four years, we have helped more than 250 children. To further meet their needs, we will begin providing at least one meal a day; this is a top priority now. Most of the students are girls.
Less marriage – more knowledge!
I firmly believe in the power of personal development, so apart from my work I started applying for educational programs abroad. Thus, last year I was selected by Watson University in the USA as a scholar. I went to the USA all by myself which was another epic story. As girls in Bangladesh are not allowed to travel alone abroad, before my journey my relatives were forcing me to get married – so that a man will guarantee my security. But again to their utter disappointment I stated “I am strong enough to take care of myself. I don’t need any man to feel secure” and denied their care.
Moving to the USA changed my life. I call it my rebirth. I learned so many things and broke my old shell of low self-esteem. Within a month from an introvert, shy girl of 24 I became an extrovert public speaker. At Watson University, with the help of my mentors I bloomed like a flower. It was the place where I first realized that I want to help as many girls to get an education as I can. As a result, after completing my semester at Watson University I founded a non–profit organization AMAL aiming to help more underprivileged children in my community. Through AMAL, we are providing free food, education, health treatment and vocational training to empower them. Our goal is to empower 150 children in 2015 and 500 children by the end of 2016.
Recently we have started a crowdfunding campaign for the benefit of the street kids of Bangladesh, please support us! Even a little amount of money will sufficiently help – you won’t imagine, but it can save lives.
I believe the best way of spreading peace in the world is by educating children. Therefore, I will keep fighting to educate underprivileged and street children till my last breath.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Esrat Karim Eve lives in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. A graduate in finance, she choose NGO work over the shiny perspectives of a corporate job. Eve was the first graduate girl of her community and now her goal is to make education affordable for every girl in her country. She is the founder of the NGO AMAL which goal is to provide basic education for the slum kids. Eve is an open-minded woman and absolutely can’t stand social stigmas and inequality.
Edited by Hanna