Shanti is setting an example in Bangladesh, where only 28% of girls complete their education. The 15-year-old's passion for education is supported by her mother and the local church's child development center.
As a child in the Chakma group of Bangladesh, Shanti grew up with the challenges of being a minority every day. Her very first words set her apart, as they were in her tribal language, not the majority language of Bengali.
The language differences become nearly insurmountable when minority children enter school, where the main, if not only, language spoken is Bengali, leaving children literally unable to understand their lessons. If Shanti had followed the path of other Chakma children, she would have attended school until the government-required fifth grade, and then dropped out to work on her family farm.
But Shanti is different.
Shanti is a bright girl with big ambitions. Always at the top of her class, she is currently preparing for her 10th grade final examinations. Not only has she broken the education mold for the Chakma people, she is also setting a new bar for all girls in Bangladesh.
Shanti would likely have followed in the way of most Bangladeshi teen girls by dropping out of school and marrying early, if not for the influence of her mother, Birohini, and the Compassion center Shanti attends.
Shanti is the youngest of three girls living with their widowed mother. The family’s only source of income is from Birohini’s job selling turmeric in the market and working occasional jobs on local rice and pineapple farms. For all her hard work, Birohini doesn’t earn nearly enough to provide adequately for her daughters’ needs.
However, Birohini is determined to make sure Shanti has a different life than hers.
“I only reached grade four, and by the time I realized the importance of primary education, it was too late,” says Birohini, who dropped out of school to work in the fields with her family. “Now,” she says, “I focus my time and resources on my daughters’ education.”
Birohini’s passion is contagious. Shanti has worked hard in her studies, and the staff at her Compassion center say she has inspired other teen girls in the community. She has even accomplished something unheard of in her community: She is trilingual, understanding not only Chakma, but also Bengali and English. She is especially proud that she can read letters from her United States sponsor without a translation.
"I am grateful that my mother registered me in the church's center and that my sponsor’s support is ensuring my education,” says Shanti.
Shanti and Birohini’s determination and ability to rise above their circumstances have earned them the respect of the entire community. Beyond that, Shanti is already giving back by tutoring her neighbor’s children for free.
“I like to teach them, since it allows me to expand and practice what I know,” says Shanti. “It also helps me develop my teaching skills. My goal when I complete my education is to become an excellent teacher.”
If you’d like to help more children like Shanti have access to an education, learn more here.