The Asha story
Visiting Dhaka’s Gulshan market in 1999 we gradually got to know some of the slum children well as they all clamoured to carry our purchases.
Once they had discovered the International school where we worked we often had an excited crowd waiting for us outside the school gates.
On Saturdays I sometimes took them for a meal in a small restaurant at the back of the market. At times we had three sittings with children waiting for seats to be available. And it wasn’t at all unusual for a little old beggar to sneak in for a free meal too!
Despite their ragged appearance they were mostly very obedient and helpful. The older girls would organise the washing of hands and keep distribution fair. They always insisted I eat with them too and my plate soon became the general receptacle for the gifts of everybody’s choicest items – an endearing Bangladeshi habit! If a little insanitary – I seemed to survive it.
… the beginnings of Asha
When we discovered how illiterate the girls in particular really were, with no suitable school available to them, we decided to set up our own.
In starting a school, we had to promise parents an allowance for each girl so that they would not be sent off to the garments factory. Most families relied on the little income their girls were able to bring home. Without money only a handful would have been allowed to indulge in education.Beginning with 12 older girls we hired teaching staff and began. Within months we needed larger premises and more staff. And so it progressed, with every week seeing new girls added.Visiting family homes became the next priority. A rather hectic procedure, it introduced us to the real conditions the children lived in, tiny bamboo and tin shacks huddled within the city slums. Despite the poverty, we were warmly welcomed into each crowded home.
In addition to running Asha’s education projects, we have spent a great deal of time with these slum families over the years, providing health treatment and support. Sharing happiness and pain.
… changed lives
The work of Meider Jonno Asha has changed the lives of many girls in Dhaka city. Over the years around 300 illiterate teenagers have received basic education and skills that they would otherwise have been denied. And, perhaps more importantly, they have also received the love and care that has given them assurance of their true value in a society that constantly demeans them.
Not only have the girls’ lives been changed, their families and communities have also been impacted by the spread of hope.
Some stayed only a little time with us, succumbing to family pressures to marry or find work in the many garments factories. But even a short time in Asha helped them to grow in confidence and equipped them with some of the tools to take greater control of their lives and their future.
Some have moved on to better jobs and many are still with us in our Next Steps Asha work and training projects sharing knowledge and developing skills.
Founder and Director, Meider Jonno Asha