Junab gave a riveting talk on Wednesday morning about his involvement with the Bangladesh Female Academy. He started with a few facts about the country to put the school into context. The population is about 200 million and between 55-60% are female. Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s first highly placed woman politician in Bangladesh has been the Prime Minister since 2009. So whilst the-well educated and middle class, urban-dwelling women are well represented in positions of power this is not the experience of many other women in the country.
In rural areas, the story is very different. Girls are being married off at nine and ten years of age to reduce the costs of bringing them up. Many families in rural areas have six-ten children on average. This is partly because of a lack of access to healthcare but also for the need to have someone to care for the family in the future.
The Founder’s dream
Local landowner Jamil Choudhury founded the academy in 2002 He was concerned at the plight of young working-class girls in the countryside. He started by giving ten acres of land for the building of the academy. Later he went out on to the streets to find girls who would benefit from such an education. His purpose was to rescue them. To rescue them from poverty; from destitution; from the dangers of being married off early; and from child exploitation.
The school is based in the Sylhet District northwest of Dhaka not too far from the western border with India. All the girls who attend the school come from poor, destitute, or orphaned backgrounds and remain for several years at the school. Here they get clean accommodation, an education, school uniforms and all their meals.
The mantra adopted by the school was ‘If you educate a man you educate a man. If you educate a woman you educate the whole family’.
To pay for the academy resources and its dedicated staff, a campaign was launched in 2003 and by 2006 there were one hundred founder members, many living in the UK, most making £1000 donations. The school opened its doors in 2006 with 120 girls. There are now over 300 pupils attending the academy at any one time.
The good news is that there are already some amazing success stories with three of the girls from the school came to London and gained full degrees from the University in London.
So how can we help?
Thankfully, 60% of costs are now met by the Bangladeshi government but there is still a need for basic things such as feminine hygiene products. Junab is negotiating with transport companies and airlines to see if goods such as underwear, sanitary ware, books, writing implements, and clothing can be collected and sent to the school. He will be keeping us updated.
Rotarian Junab Ali joined Rotary Old Town Swindon in 2019 after finishing his year as Swindon’s first Muslim Mayor. He is a labour Councillor in Central Ward and now sits on the board planning how the government’s rumoured £25 million windfall should be spent in Swindon. Contact Junab Ali. to learn more about his involvement with the Bangladesh Female Academy.