| June 25th, 2007

Teenage 'saviour' of Dhaka's Slums

A teenage resident of one of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka’s poorest slums who transformed the area through concern for fellow residents is preparing to leave – as she is now to go to university.

Eighteen-year-old Doly Akter’s work in the slum to help improve health and education has been widely praised, even earning her the chance to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

With the help of some friends, she set up a project to change the lives of local women that became massively successful.

“I hope we showed the strength we have by establishing ourselves,” she told BBC World Service’s Outlook programme.

“As teenagers, we have stood side by side.”

Everyone’s kitchen

Although she was born in an area with real problems in terms of access to health and education, Doly’s mother saw the advantage of education, saved hard and sent her daughter to school.

In turn, Doly decided to use the benefits of that education to help the neighbourhood.

Two years ago, she and a group of women started a project to try to improve living conditions.

They began house-to-house visits of the 2,000 families in the slum, checking up on the health and hygiene, and offering basic advise – such as how to prevent diarrhoea.

She still lives in the slum with her mother, two sisters and brother, spending a lot of her time in the place she describes as “the kitchen of everybody”.

Eighteen families use the four single gas rings on the kitchen stove.

Doly’s work has been supported by the UN children’s organisation Unicef, and she was invited to speak at Unicef’s 60th anniversary – which ultimately entailed addressing the UN General Assembly.

“I had no real time to prepare, as I was given very little notice that I would be going to New York,” she said.

“Before I made the speech, I was really afraid. I thought I had made a lot of mistakes – and when I came down from the stage I thought I was going to collapse. But a colleague gave me a big hug and said I had done really well.”

She told the Assembly about the work being done in her slum, involving girls saved from early marriage. And although she is now leaving for university, Doly is keen to stress the work of her group will go on – and they are now looking at helping tackle the dowry system.

“I compared my life and the life of my mother,” she added.

“I told the General Assembly that at my age, my mother was at home without education. Now, I can study, go abroad and think about doing some good for my society.”

Source: BBC

 

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