WASHINGTON - In Bangladesh, two-thirds of all girls are married before the age of 18, depriving some of their childhood and others their right to an education. A U.S.-based nonprofit organization is trying to change that by providing educational support through a program called Girls Education Program.
But the support is also coming from everyday citizens, like a mother and her 9-year-old daughter from Maryland who are going out of their way to help girls living in poverty, halfway around the world.
When Sasha Forbes heard an interview with the founder of Speak Up for the Poor, she was moved and inspired by their mission.
“I’m very passionate about empowering girls and empowering women,” Forbes said.
?Speak Up for the Poor
The U.S.-based nonprofit does a lot of work in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Troy Anderson is the founder and international director of Speak Up.
“So in Bangladesh, the major problem there is child marriage, where up to two-thirds of the girls are married before the age of 18,” he said. “And quite a lot of those are getting married when they’re 13 or 14 years old. So we’re working on the preventative side to keep girls in school so that they won’t be forced into legal marriages when they’re young.”
The Girls Education Program provides extracurricular support, such as daily tutoring, books, school supplies and educational seminars. About 1,300 girls from 30 villages in rural Bangladesh are enrolled in the program with hundreds more on the waiting list.
The girls rely on sponsors like the Forbes family to help them finish school. But after a year sponsoring a 12-year-old girl in Khulna, the third largest city in Bangladesh, the 39-year-old mother decided to go the extra mile and brought along her 9-year-old daughter Maya to visit the young girl they were helping.
“I wanted her to be able to relate with a young girl on the other side of the world,” Forbes said. “And to get that perspective and know that not everybody lives the type of life or experience that we have. And then also I wanted her to know that if she felt passionate about something and she wanted to make a difference or volunteer that it’s very possible.”
?Volunteering in Bangladesh
For two weeks, the pair volunteered their time working in various villages in Khulna. They spent time with their sponsored girl, visited classrooms, brought presents and school supplies, and taught English lessons to dozens of young girls.
For Maya, the experience was a valuable lesson in compassion.
“I basically learned that no matter how much stuff you have, no matter how educated you are, inside everyone is basically the same person,” she said.
After returning to the U.S., the mother-daughter duo continued to “speak up for the poor,” raising money through yard sales, benefit workouts, even lemonade stands. They hope to bring the donations back to Bangladesh in November.
Their efforts have inspired others like Wendy Zanders to support their cause.
“Not everybody can go and go out into the mission field. Well, we can support people that do so. I may not be able to, you know, pack up my bags, take time off from work and go to Bangladesh, but because she had that passion to do so, we can support her financially, or whatever it is that she needs,” Zanders said.
With the help of groups like Speak Up for the Poor, Forbes and her daughter Maya are making a difference in the lives of many. Through their efforts, many more young girls are getting the chance to learn so they can follow their own paths to success.