2016 Davis Grant Recipient
Biddai Ballo Bibaho – Goodbye to Child Marriages
My name is Muntasha Quddus and I am currently doing a research internship at the Public Health sciences department here at Uchicago. I am an international student from the UK and this is part of my undergraduate program for Medical sciences at the University of Exeter. I am thrilled to have received the Davis Grant and have the opportunity to carry out my grassroots Project in Bangladesh.
Throughout my life I have travelled a lot, I was born in South Africa and then at the age of 7 I moved to UAE and then 3 years after that we moved to the UK. I have been very lucky to have lived in so many different cultures. My parents are originally from Bangladesh and from a very young age I have visited my extended family there nearly every year. Even though I have never lived in Bangladesh I still feel I have very close roots to it. So when I saw the opportunity for the Davis grant I knew I wanted to do my project in Bangladesh.
For my project I want to raise awareness for the issue of child marriages. I strongly believe in women’s equality and values the importance of education, this issue is something I feel very strongly about. Bangladesh has the 4th highest rate of Child Marriages in the world. These girls are taken out of education early and are deprived of a normal childhood. They suffer from domestic violence as well as poor health due early pregnancy complications. I will be going to 3 different schools in rural areas of Bangladesh, where this a common practice. I will be conducting workshops and talks to outline the importance of education for these girls, and the impacts child marriages can have on their lives. Another very important aspect I want to raise awareness on is the girl’s health. Not many are aware of the early pregnancy complications that can occur as well as becoming infected with STDs when proper precautions are not taken.
I am hoping that by raising awareness through these workshops and talks the communities will start to see this practice is not in the best interest for these young girls. I am very excited to carry out this project. I know it won’t be easy but I am so grateful to have this opportunity!
Here are some pictures of one of the schools I will be working at in Bangladesh.
Only two weeks left till I fly to Bangladesh and start my project! Excited would be an understatement. I have spent the last month in Chicago finalising my details for the project. I am happy to say I got in touch with a NGO in Bangladesh called Shorno Kishoree, (http://www.shornokishoree.org/) who focus on helping adolescent girls and young mothers through reproductive and sexual health education. They also focus some of their work on child marriages in Bangladesh! So it is great to have their support on this project and I am very excited to be working with them as well as other NGOs such as BRAC.
The most important aspect for this project is to raise awareness of the harmful effects these forced marriages can have on young girls, and try to inform the parents other ways they can secure a brighter and healthier future for them. One of the ways I wanted to help the girls and also raise awareness was by providing them with school supplies. Many of these girls come from poor backgrounds and cannot afford school bags and just carry their things to school. So I would like to provide them with this. I have created a logo for my project that I will be printing on all items to spread the message further. Below I have a picture of the logo and a prototype of the school bags I am having produced for the girls, I have ordered 750 of them for the 3 schools. I have also ordered stationary and journals for the girls and I am in the process of producing informative leaflets on child marriages and reproductive and sexual health to be given out at my talks. I have also contacted many of the organisations I will be working with and have set up meeting with them in my first week in Bangladesh to get their input on the project as well as get any useful resources they have to help me.
This project means a lot to me and it is heart-breaking to see that it still has such a huge impact on over 50% of the girls aged under 18 in Bangladesh. So even if my project can even make the slightest of impact to these girls it will mean the world to me. I have attached a news article that was very recently shown in BBC UK on the situation of young girls in Bangladesh, Dhaka (the capital city) for those interested in knowing a little more about this issue:
I will be updating this blog while I am in Bangladesh. Wish me luck guys!
I have been in Bangladesh for 10 days now and successfully conducted my awareness workshops in my first school in Raipura. This is a little village 3 hours drive from Dhaka. It is a very rural area and the high school I went to has been built very recently, but has been a great improvement to the community.
Before I went to the school I spoke to the head teacher to find out a bit more about the school and community. I was told that just this year at least 4 girls from years 6 and 7 had dropped out of school due to them getting married. She said every year they notice a significant dropout rate due to these child marriages and so was very happy that this project was taking place.
Getting to the school was a not an easy task. As it was in a very rural part of the village the car could not go there. We had to walk through a crop field, but due to it being monsoon season the small path was very muddy and on either side the water was nearly knee high. However I got a very warm welcome one I got there!
The first session there were about 95 girls in years 8 to 10 and then on the next day I did the workshops with years 6 and 7 with around 130 girls. They were all very responsive to the group activities and when I interacted with them which was nice to see. The first group activity I wanted to know what they knew about child marriages and how it can impact a young girl. To my surprise they did have a fair bit of knowledge but I elaborated on the parts about the health issues that can occur.
The most important part of this project is trying to make a positive impact for these girls and the community. And I got to see just this in the first week of being here. There was a girl called Purna, who is in year 10 but attended the session with the girls in years 6 and 7. It turns out that her parents had stopped her from coming to school due to guys verbally harassing her on the streets and they thought it be best to get her married. However since they heard about this awareness program and everyone was talking about the impacts since I got there, her parents called the school to let her back in. She then attended my session and will now continue her high school education. It was amazing to see that in such a short time it had already made an impact on at least one girl’s future!
Also on the first day a few girls actually put as one of their future girls that they too wanted to work on preventing child marriages which was really promising to hear. The school was also really pleased to have this project took place and have invited me back to come visit the school and see the progress.
I have 2 more schools that I would like to go to and I am hoping they are just as successful as my first school! Below are some pictures from the school and the stationary each girl received from these sessions.
I went to visit the village my mum’s parents grew up in and took the opportunity to also talk to a few girls there. This village is only 40 mins from Dhaka yet it is still a pretty common practice there to get girls married early. It was nice to have a different setting to a school where they are surrounded by teachers. I got to just chat with a few girls and get their thoughts on this issue. It was encouraging to see that all the girls I spoke to there did want to continue their education and knew who to go to if they were forced into a child marriage.
I also held the program at my second school this week in a village called Bhakurta. This village is a bit more developed than the previous one. The school is also much bigger, yet they still have a high rate of girls dropping out due to them getting married. The workshops went well and even the chairman of the village attended. The teachers, principal and chairman were keen to continue holding workshops like this for the girls. I had left them plenty of leaflets to post to all the parents and well as a few materials on child marriages for them to use later. Also as I always get girls to create spider diagrams on the harmful impacts of child marriages, the teachers were saying they would stick them up in the classrooms which would be very beneficial for the girls!
This time I met a girl called Marriam who was in year 9 and married. She got married in year 8 and her husband, who now lives abroad. I asked her if she was happy she said yes and that she has had no problems. She didn’t want to get married but as her family found a suitable husband they had put a lot of pressure to get her to agree. She herself said that it is nice of them to still let her continue her education. It’s true she is one of the luckier ones as plenty of other girls do not get to do that. It was still heartbreaking to see such a young girl already married but was glad to see that she was still healthy, happy and in education. Hopefully the program can make some impact and reduce the number of girls getting married and allow them to prosper!
With the last school done, I cannot believe how fast this month has gone! It was great to see that the girls were very enthusiastic during the workshops and they themselves were asking me what they can do to help in their little villages. The school I went to last week is in Narshingdi, around 3 hours drive from Dhaka. A lot of people were telling me before I went that it is not that rural so there is probably not that many cases of child marriages. Once again visiting the village you see a different scene. You ask the girls, teachers or others in the community and they all know someone who has got married at a very young age.
Throughout all three schools the teachers were very happy this program was taking place. It had encouraged them to conduct workshops like this to further educate the girls and parents on child marriages. The girls also said they liked the programme as they enjoyed the interactive elements of it and can see the importance of it. On the last day many parents had attended the program as well, even though they didn’t participate in the activities they saw how the program works. After that was done I took 20 minutes just to chat with the parents and saw what their thoughts were. At the very end one of the mothers spoke out telling all the other parents how she got her eldest daughter married off when she was 15. She regretted taking that decision instantly and was telling the others that she wished that she had waited and wouldn’t make the same mistake for her other daughter. It was great to hear from all the parents who attended that their first priority was to let their girls finish their education then study. I urged them to spread this message to the other parents who couldn’t attend as well as others in the community.
Overall it has been an eye opening experience. It was devastating to see that child marriages were still so common in the areas I went to. However I am really glad the message I was giving out was taken positively by the parents and students. They were all really happy receiving the stationary and school bags and was good to see they were actually getting use out of them. Since I had some fund left I wanted to do one last things for the schools. I noticed that the schools really lacked in computers. Their computer labs had no more than 3 PCs and most of the time they would always say not all are working. So I bought each of my three schools a computer, hoping this helps the girls education.
I will be going back to Bangladesh in December and will be visiting the schools to see what progress has been made. I am very lucky to have had this opportunity to try and help prevent and raise awareness for child marriages. Thanks for keeping updated with me :D!