Living, learning, inspiring
Monzur Morshed Patwary/BRAC
Asma Jannat and Munni Aktar, two classmates from Cox’s Bazaar, had to drop out of school when they were in class 8. Their families could no longer afford to keep them in school. What they faced later is a story that is all too common in South Asia – the pressure to get married.
Fast forward to 2018, and they are among the brightest employees at AR enterprise, a local print studio. Just three months into their training, they had mastered a variety of skills including typing in three languages (English, Bangla, and Arabic), Microsoft Office package, and Adobe Photoshop. They now provide graphic design and Microsoft Office training to other learners. Not only have they gotten into the habit of saving up in their own bank accounts, but they are also contributing to their families, who no longer think about their daughters’ marriage as a quick fix to everything.
Asma and Munni are part of BRAC’s Skills Training for Advancing Resources (STAR) programme. Their story has inspired parents of young girls in their community. Recent studies show the programme has successfully delayed early marriage and reduced child marriage by 62%. It now has a footprint in 46 districts in Bangladesh, and boasts 28,000 graduates to date, of which 60% are females and 10% are people with disabilities. In addition to ensuring a job placement rate of 95%, STAR, according to the study, has raised income of the graduates by six times.
STAR innovates on an age-old apprenticeship (ustad shagred) model designed to provide vocational training for out-of-school children and young people (aged 14-18) from ultra poor and disadvantaged families. The only infrastructure STAR needs is themarket since the hands-on training and theory classes take places in the shops. This six month-long training adheres to the national curriculum and covers 25 demand-based trades.
The training places learners in pairs with a master craftsperson, like Salahuddin, the owner of AR Enterprise. Salahuddin initially took in learners through STAR because of social responsibility. Thanks to his learners, his business has gained a solid reputation. Salahuddin is now eager to recruit more learners in his business. His former students (graduates of STAR programme) aren’t doing very well in the market all by themselves. One such individual is Kamrunnesa, who graduated in 2016 and is now earning BDT 30,000 (roughly USD 350) per month at a local NGO in Ukhiya.
What makes Asma and Muni’s story more impressive is that they come from extreme poor families in a deeply conservative region of Cox’s Bazar. They would sometimes be harrassed and catcalled on their way to work, but it eventually proved to be no match for their determination. They wanted to learn to operate computers because they believed the particular skills will lead them to better jobs in the future. When their peers ask them why not choose a trade like beauty parlour services that is more commonly take up by girls, they reply with a smile, “We can learn that too with the help of a computer!”
BRAC provides demand-based skills training in both urban and rural areas and ensures decent employment opportunities in the domestic and overseas markets through STAR and several other initiatives.