Apr 02, 2013
People with disabilities are overturning negative attitudes and stereotypes, with help from an ILO vocational training project in Bangladesh.
Dhaka: When Mosharrof Hossain lost both his hands in an electrical accident two years into his career as a refrigeration mechanic, his friends and family tried to convince him that he would have to give up working because of his disability.
Undeterred, he found work as a street hawker, first selling rat poison and then mobile phone covers at a railway station. But he soon realised that he would need help to continue working, so he decided to go back to his trade and employ apprentices who would be able to assist him.
“People laughed and criticised me, asking how it would be possible to run a shop without hands. But I learned how to write with my arms and used all the money I had to buy an old fridge which I serviced and sold. With the profit, I sold another one and continued until customers began to have confidence in me,” he says.
Hossain started to take on apprentices to help him run the shop, training them until they had acquired enough skills to start their own businesses or work in larger organisations.
Today, he is a master crafts person, mentoring young people as part of an informal apprenticeship pilot programme brun by the ILO, UNICEF and a large national NGO called BRAC.
The programme is part of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Reform Project, a joint partnership between the ILO and the Government of Bangladesh, funded by the European Union.
Its aim is to help more people acquire marketable skills so they can generate income through jobs or self-employment.
With the overall objective of helping to reduce poverty, the project targets child labourers, rural populations, youth with low literacy levels, women and people with disabilities – people like Shuely Akter, who does not have use of one of her legs because of polio, but who has become a sewing machine operator in a clothes factory through the TVET Reform Project.
“Being the eldest daughter in the family, it made me frustrated that I could not help them when they faced problems. At first they did not support me moving to Dhaka but I went there anyway without permission because I knew I had to do something,” she explains.
She enrolled in a sewing machine operator’s course at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, an NGO that specialises in disabled welfare – one of ILO’s partners on the TVET Reform Project.
Now Akter has finished her training, she has become a skilled worker with nationally-recognised qualifications – and she mentors others on the course.
“Ever since I was a child, people tried to avoid me, and my relatives always treated me differently to others and so I always felt like a burden. Now I am doing work, earning money and even though I am far away from my family, I am able to help them,” she says.
Disabled people in Bangladesh often end up as low skilled workers on the street – largely excluded from society and vulnerable to poverty. Achieving productive employment is a way out, so working with the disabled is part of the ILO’s mandate to achieve decent work for all.
Changing people’s often negative attitude towards disability is critical, says Srinivas Reddy, TVET Skills Development Adviser. The evidence is that the project has begun to make an impact.
“Even hardliners have started believing that disabled people can be included in every skills development programme. Just like non-disabled people choose their occupations according to their aptitudes and interest, people with disabilities – with additional support if necessary – can also choose their occupations.”
Hossain’s business is now one of the most popular service shops in Tongi, on the northern edge of the capital. He is not only helping the ILO and his apprentices achieve the aim of decent work for all, he is also an example of what can happen with self-belief.
“I have a message for disabled people – never think that you are disabled. Think always that you can do everything and then you will find that you will be able to do it. Be confident, maybe you have to try harder than other people so you will be strong. Prove people wrong through your work.”
Debra Perry, ILO Senior Specialist in Disability Inclusion, believes success stories like Hossain’s and Akter’s are just a start:
“The project is doing a good job by including disabled people in its pilot training and poverty alleviation programmes and thereby changing attitudes.”
“But even more significant is the plan for long-term inclusion which is being designed by a government-led working group of disabled persons, employers, workers and civil society, which will support disabled persons in the vocational training on a permanent basis. This could benefit hundreds and thousands of people.”