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General

A place to promote young talent

Imagine you have just received the result of your secondary school certificate exam (equivalent to GCSE O’Levels). Congratulations! You have been awarded the highest grades: GPA 5, securing more than 80 per cent in all the subjects. You and your whole family celebrate while you start planning to go to a top college. Future is all set! But what if you are an indigenous girl in a poor family of five like Laome? Or what if your father is unemployed and your mother takes care of you and your three siblings on her own like Habib’s family? The future does not look that bright now – it looks quite bleak.

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Laome, a Medhabikash scholarship recipient

BRAC identifies brave souls like these and provides monthly stipends, English and ICT training and cash grants for university preparation. If students continue to uphold good results (which they usually do), the scholarship gets extended for the next four years of their university education. BRAC spends a little over USD 500 per student every year in the higher secondary level and over USD 700 per year for a student who makes it to university.

Aptly named Medhabikash (meaning ‘nurturing’ or ‘promoting talent’), the programme establishes a support mechanism, harnessing the existing potential these kids have. The results are remarkable: most of the first batch of graduates have started their own careers or are pursuing higher studies.

All over the world, there are various forms of these scholarship programmes that are changing young people’s lives for the better. MasterCard Foundation is already doing it in a big scale in Africa through their Scholars Program where BRAC is also a part of the initiative in Uganda. The private sector in Bangladesh is active in this sphere too, providing a number of scholarships, run by commercial banks and multinational corporations.

However, with gaps in funding, only 500 meritorious students can be accepted into Medhabikash per year. What happens to the thousands who get left out and do not manage to get another scholarship? As I said before, the future is pretty bleak for them.

People who are living in Bangladesh or are still in touch with Bangladesh know that the secondary school certificate exams finished a month ago and the results will be published soon. A new batch of Habibs and Laomes will be graduating with top results, but will have less of a chance to progress further. BRAC has reached more than 3,500 students so far, will you help to make it a bigger success?

To contribute, please contact:

Medhabikash Udyog
BRAC Education Programme
BRAC Centre (10th floor)
75 Mohakhali
Dhaka, Bangladesh 1212
Email: medhabikash@brac.net
Tel: +88 02 9221265, Ext: 3410/3433


By Rakib Avi, manager of communications and partnership at BRAC Communications

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When perseverance pays off

Liton Hossain hails from the village of Chatua, in Natore, Bangladesh. He was one of the first students to receive a Medhabikash scholarship for his higher secondary certificate (HSC) studies. Liton went on to receive the scholarship again for his undergraduate degree, which he completed from Khulna University of Engineering and Technology in 2012. He is now completing a master’s in electrical and electronic engineering at University Teknikal Malaysia Melaka in Malaysia with a full scholarship. In his own words, Liton talks about overcoming his struggles and how his life changed after receiving a BRAC Medhabikash scholarship:

I started school at the age of four without any books or school supplies. I remember passing my final exams of classes 3 and 4, securing second and first places in the merit lists. The joy I took in learning did not last long. Soon I had to join my elder brothers to work as a day labourer. I toiled in the fields for five months from January to May and attended school for the remaining seven months. It inevitably affected my performance; the first position that I had previously held in class plunged to the tenth in class 5 final exam.

I grew up with nine brothers and three sisters along with my parents that included my father, mother and step-mother.  We were not a rich family, and the family crisis that we found ourselves in right after I passed class 5 was bad enough to not only end my education but also displace us from my father’s house. My mother, my siblings and I moved into my maternal grandfather’s house. I worked long hours as a day labourer to support my family. I would remember my happy school days every time I walked past my school. One night I told my mother that I wanted to go back to school. Knowing that she will not be able to afford my books and uniform she had no choice but to disagree. I then came up with an alternative option. I took admission for class 5 again to avoid paying for new books. I thought if I came out first in my class again my mother will surely let me continue with school.

And so I resumed my education. I did not have any decent clothes to wear to school and had to travel barefoot, sometimes going hungry for long hours but nevertheless, I successfully maintained top grades in my classes. I completed my secondary education with the support I received every now and then from many kind well-wishers, with scholarships for class 5 and again for class 8. I passed my secondary school certificate (SSC) exam with GPA 5 or grade A+ and thus got selected for a Medhabikash scholarship.  I got GPA 5 again in my HSC, after which I started to work harder to get myself admitted into a reputed public university. During this time, along with other Medhabikash students, I received a grant of BDT 5,000 (USD 63) as a support for my university admission. This proved to be the biggest help. My family had already sold a small poultry farm to support me for my admission, which I later paid back with the one-time grant I received from BRAC. After a fiercely competitive admission test, I got admitted into Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET). BRAC’s Medhabikash scholarship supported me throughout my undergraduate years. With the money I received, not only could I support myself but also my mother and younger brother.

I believe to be successful in life, one needs a strong willpower, proper guidance and lastly, economic solvency. I had pushed myself through to secondary level with a determined heart but without the Medhabikash scholarship, I may not have been able to complete my HSC or university. Medhabikash not only helped me financially, it also pushed me to build on my English and computer skills and guided me through my academic years, helping me with valuable suggestions whenever I needed. I owe BRAC for giving me this scholarship, allowing me to push towards my sky’s limit, and here I am pursuing my master’s at a reputed university in Malaysia. I am the first university graduate in my family and the first engineer in my village. I know of many Medhabikash students want to do their post-graduate degrees from abroad but they often cannot afford the initial costs of plane fare or the living expenses for the first few months. I hope BRAC may consider providing either one-time grants or study loans to such qualified students in the future.

Words translated from Bangla by Rizwana Akhter, who works for BRAC’s education programme.

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When the student becomes the teacher

“I couldn’t help but teach – it was the only way I could manage time and space to get my own studies done,” says Habib with a wide grin. He was enjoying my reaction as upon hearing this, the biscuit I was having dropped from my hand.  Habib is from the first batch of students to receive BRAC’s Medhabikash scholarship. He is now a lecturer at a private university in Dhaka, and he looks nothing like one.  When he came to greet me and my colleague outside the university gate, I looked past him, trying to spot someone in formal attire and a teacher-like persona.  Habib, slender and casual, with expressive eyes and a teenager’s profile, introduced himself. He looks barely young enough to join university, let alone teach in one. Following him through the bustling student common room to his quieter   room, I couldn’t help but ask him if his students give him a tough time in class; he doesn’t say anything and just smiles.

We talk about many things – mostly about how a simple boy from Shirajganj  became a lecturer at  a university in Dhaka.  His story is pretty straight forward for the first 12-13 years of his life: a hard-working mother providing for her family of two sons and three daughters, a bohemian father who inspired him to study but earned so little from his homeopathic practice in the village market that his words were just that – words.  Habib didn’t receive any government scholarship after completing primary school (end of class five), like many poor meritorious students of rural Bangladesh. It meant that his mother, who was supporting the family through her poultry farm, had to pay for the tuition fees for both Habib and his elder brother. Reality hit hard a year later when Habib realised that he could not continue his studies in a good high school with the spiralling expenses for school fees and books.  Along came a sympathetic teacher from his village school who believed Habib had potential and admitted him to his school in the same village. Habib recalls starting to work as a tutor from class 8 where he used to earn BDT 30 per month from each student.

In class 9, Habib did something extraordinary – he completed his mathemetics syllabus for SSC, which is taught in a span of two years, within four months.  He started to teach three students senior to him who had failed their SSC exams the previous year. His reputation as a teacher was set when all three of them passed with A+. Habib began to take on more students, including his classmates.   He mentions matter-of-factly, “My family of six used to live in one room. There was no room to study in so I had to find my own time in my students’ houses in between tuitions.”

Habib sat for his SSC exam in 2005 and secured the highest result: a grade point average (GPA) of 5. He was the first to do so from his school, and the only one from his sub-district.   Soon another crisis hit him – his family was unable to support him for the next phase, his college. BRAC’s Medhabikash scholarship initiative identified him as one of the potential recipients.  One of his uncles who lived in Savar offered to let Habib stay with him and eventually helped him get into a local college. The principal of the college liked him and exempted him from tuition fees. Habib used to receive a stipend of BDT 150 per month. It wasn’t much but along with computer and English language training, and the frequent meetings with other Medhabikash recipients, Habib knew he was not alone in his fight for a better education; he was and still is part of a group of brilliant people who weren’t afraid to dream big.

Habib scored GPA 5 again in higher secondary certificate (HSC) exam.  With help of a grant from Medhabikash to pursue a university admission coaching, he got into Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, a government financed public university in Tangail, to study textile engineering. The four years of university was a challenge: staying in a crammed dormitory while studying a highly technical subject, and settling in a completely new place.  “I was receiving BDT 2,500 every month from Medhabikash during my university days and that really helped me,” recalls Habib.

Habib graduated from university securing a high CGPA. His career as a teacher began even before his results got published. Habib now effortlessly teaches a big class of students. His tested method of learning by teaching is still working as he now pursues a Masters degree in Bangladesh University of Textiles. He dreams of going abroad for PhD. As he takes his books and enters the classroom, I see the face of a person who had had to fight hard for everything he has ever achieved – and I know that he has so much more to achieve, so many more to inspire.

 

By Rakib Mohammad Avi, partnership manager at BRAC in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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Medhabikash: BRAC’s College Prep Program For Meritorious Students from Economically Disadvantaged Homes

On a recent trip to Bangladesh, I met with a group of young people who had just successfully enrolled in university after completing a special college prep program run by BRAC. All 7 of these students had been able to attend high school because of BRAC scholarships. They are all meritorious students from economically disadvantaged homes in rural communities. All had lost their fathers when they were young. Their mothers struggled to ensure that they got an education. Some of them were members of BRAC or Grameen microfinance groups. The three young women had just started BRAC University with full scholarships from the Ford Foundation. The four young men were cobbling together tuition and living expenses by working part-time jobs and taking loans from family. Unfortunately, the time working was time away from studying. For just $50 a month, each of them would be able to devote themselves to study full-time. And they all had big dreams: they wanted to become doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists and government officials.
Shafiqul Islam, Director of the Education Program, along with two of his colleagues, came in on a weekend to listen to the students share their stories and give feedback on the Medabikash Program. This important initiative for meritorious students from economically poor households is a relatively small program but one that is highly effective in defeating poverty. Joined by Sarwat Abed from BRAC University Center for Languages, the group discussed various ways to improve and scale up the program if more funding were available.
Sharmin went to primary school in one of BRAC’s special schools for those who never enrolled or who had dropped out. She recalled, “It was so much fun; we sang and danced and learned so much about the world.” Sharmin said that “BRAC opened the door to my dreams.”
She spoke about how she fell in love with English in Class 9. “The other kids would call me ‘dictionary’ because I knew so many words and could help them solve their problems in school” she said. “Now I want to become an English teacher because I want other villagers to have a chance like me. English opens the door to so many opportunities.”
Sharmin talked about how BRAC gave her the first chance of her life to use a computer. Now she said on the way out, “I need a laptop,” as she got my email address.

I was so inspired. I immediately wanted to figure out how to raise money to give more scholarships and support. These young people were so intelligent, articulate and passionate. They had big dreams and such desire – not just to help themselves but to contribute to their country’s development. They want to provide electricity to the countryside because they know what it is like to grow up without it. They want to provide good medical care in the villages because they know the acute pain of losing a loved one because care was not available. They want to open doors for other kids because they know the joy that results. Education is the best route out of poverty. This generation of Bangladeshis are changing their world.By Susan Davis

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