“I want to write about child marriage, drug addiction, and gender-based violence. If these things continue, there will be a dark future for us.”— Sayem Shekh, 15
“Before this, I didn’t have any idea of emotions,” says 15-year-old Puja Golder. “Sometimes when I felt sad or angry, I would get suicidal.”
Life can be difficult for Puja and her classmates in southwest Bangladesh. Although the country overall has experienced a steady decline in absolute poverty rates, it is still struggling to reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty.
Poverty in southwest Bangladesh
In the area of southwest Bangladesh where Puja lives, 25–34% of households live below the lower poverty line. Poverty reduction efforts by the government and international organizations have long been underway, but they sometimes fail to reach and effectively address the needs of the extreme poor, who survive on less than $1.90 a day. These intense hardships take an emotional toll on families as well.
“I come from an extremely poor family,” says Sayem Shekh, 15, a classmate of Puja’s. “My parents cannot afford clothes and books for me. I was angry with them.”
But in addition to helping families in southwest Bangladesh improve their nutrition, livelihoods, and resilience to disaster, World Vision Bangladesh —with funding from the U.S. government — is providing hope for these teens, as well.
Life skills education in Bangladesh
Nobo Jatra , translated as “new beginning,” is a five-year development and food security program implemented by World Vision Bangladesh and funded by USAID. One way the program promotes food security is by working to increase gender-equitable household incomes — and that starts with making sure children, both boys and girls, can grow up to become confident leaders in their communities. That’s why Nobo Jatra runs Life Skills Based Education Courses at schools across southwest Bangladesh.
During the education sessions, 20 students — 10 boys and 10 girls — are taught leadership and communication skills, as well as about the dangers of child marriage. The class facilitators, trained by Nobo Jatra, teach students to control emotion, show leadership skills, and work to correct cultural imbalances between boys and girls when they see them.
“We learn about how to control our emotions, life skills, and how to be self-reliant,” says Puja. “We discuss these things with our parents, too. Before attending this, we didn’t have leadership skills. We learn how to face emergency situations. Day by day, we are adopting these things.”
“I don’t blame my parents anymore,” says Sayem. “Now I am respectful to my parents. My parents are illiterate, but they have dreams that their boys would be educated. My parents are so proud of me now.”
Dreaming of a different kind of future for Bangladesh
Learning to be leaders as well as how to spot inequalities in their communities had led the students in these courses to set some incredible goals for themselves. One student wants to become a lawyer who specializes in stopping child marriage. Several want to be engineers or police officers. Puja wants to be a doctor. And Sayem wants to be a journalist — “an honest one” — who writes about dangers in his society.
“I want to write about child marriage, drug addiction, and gender-based violence,” he says. “If these things continue, there will be a dark future for us.”
To make sure children can benefit from this program long after Nobo Jatra has ended, World Vision is working with the Department of Education in Bangladesh to ensure the sessions are incorporated as part of standard curriculum in the future. Currently, Nobo Jatra’s life skills education course is in 142 schools — all with their own incredible stories of students who used the communication and leadership skills they gained to transform their own lives for the better.
“I don’t think dangerous thoughts anymore,” says Puja. “Instead of thinking of terminating my life, now I know I have a bright future in front of me. I can be a good person in life. Now I try to find the good things in life.”
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Top photo: Puja Golder, 15 (white scarf and striped sweater). Puja attends a Life Skill Based Education Session in Southwest Bangladesh. These sessions are put on by Nobo Jatra, a five-year development program funded by U.S. foreign assistance. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)