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Bangladeshi girls undergo training in life skills

Apr 23, 2009

Several NGOs in Bangladesh are engaging adolescent girls in educative and occupational programmes to help them gain financial independence. By learning skills of risk-management, hygiene, communication and decision-making, these girls have equipped themselves to avoid early marriages.

Manikganj, Bangladesh: An NGO directed by a Catholic woman is one of several helping thousands of teenage girls break free from a tradition of a lack of education and early marriages.

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Bithi Rani Halder, 14, daughter of a fisherman, dropped out of school four years ago when her family faced a financial crisis. "My father was not able to buy books, notebooks and other school materials," said Halder, who is the oldest of five siblings. "I could not attend school any more."

However, in 2008, Halder enrolled in a one-year training course at a center for adolescent girls in Manikganj, west of Dhaka, run by Mother and Child Integral Welfare Organization. The NGO, directed by a Bangladeshi Catholic woman Silvia Mondol, runs similar courses in 34 centers, each serving about 25 girls. Stromme Foundation, a Norwegian development organisation, funds it.

The foundation takes its name from Lutheran minister and chaplain, Olav Kristian Stromme, who dedicated his life to serving underprivileged people. It helps people out of poverty through microfinance and education schemes.

Training

The course run by Mother and Child Integral Welfare Organization is called Shonglap (dialogue). A total of eight NGOs, funded by Stromme Foundation, ran the course in about 900 centers across the country during the pilot phase of the project. The two-and-a-half-year phase started in June 2006 and a new five-year phase of the program was launched in March.

The course teaches subjects such as reading and writing, rights, health, and hygiene, and helps girls to understand the risks of an early marriage and HIV/AIDS. The girls also receive vocational training to become financially independent.

"At the center we learned to share our thoughts openly on different issues"

The course's first six months focus on basic life skills such as interpersonal relationships, having a positive attitude to life, problem-solving, risk-management, effective communication and decision-making.

The girls also learn about family law, gender-related issues, the risks of an early marriage and HIV/AIDS.

"At the center we learned to share our thoughts openly on different issues," said Halder, adding that she was happy to attend the program.

Micro-finance

In the second half of the year, the girls spend three months on literacy-studies, and the rest learning an occupation. Once graduated, the Stromme Foundation helps them to start small businesses with micro-financing.

"We offer a small income-generating activity funding for one year," said Stromme Foundation's country operations manager Joel S. Das. Das said 22,400 girls have already graduated from the courses. About 100,000 adolescent girls are expected to be trained in the program's next phase.
The Shonglap training has helped many girls become better equipped to avoid early marriages.

"In rural Bangladesh poor parents have their daughters married before the age of 18"

Halder herself managed to have a marriage, which her father had decided for her, postponed. "I was so worried about it. I knew from the classes the possible negative consequences I may face if I get married before I am fully grown up," she said.

In rural Bangladesh, it is common for poor parents to have their daughters married off before the age of 18 years as daughters are considered financial burdens on the family.

One of the Shonglap teachers was able to convince Halder's parents about the risks involved in child marriage, and how occupational training can help her find a better husband later in life. "It took days to counsel her parents but finally they changed their minds," the teacher said.

Halder, who is now learning tailoring, said she wishes to start a small business in her village. "I hope to do tailoring with support from the organisation. I believe I will have clients, mainly women," the girl envisioned.

Other Christian organisations addressing adolescent issues in Bangladesh include Caritas Bangladesh, the Catholic Church's relief and social development wing; and World Vision Bangladesh, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation.

Source : UCANEWS
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