The black mark of education

Most Match Colony residents overlook 19-year-old Marina Akhtar and her family. Wherever the teenager walks in the area, muffled whispers tend to follow.

What did the family do to deserve to be excluded from the community? The only crime of Marina’s parents was investing in their daughter’s education.

Marina is the only member of the community who is pursuing higher education. She is currently studying accounting at a public university.

The majority of Match Colony residents view education as a luxury, not a necessity. Boys and girls are taken out of school as soon as possible, married off and pushed into the labor market to contribute to family income.

In such a community, children, especially girls, who are unmarried and still attend school as teenagers are considered black sheep. People believe that there is something wrong with these children, that they are lazy and badly brought up.

“Everyone I went to school with got married, even the boys. Most of the boys left college and became factory workers for only Tk 3,000 a month. only learn one thing growing up: that they have to earn and give to the family. As people here are not prosperous, they don’t want to overstep asking to continue their education,” Marina told the Dhaka Tribune.

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The teenager was visibly irritated when asked about the perception that she was going to university to avoid marriage and employment. Such a view sheds light on her own hard work as well as the sacrifices her parents made to further her education, she said.

Her father is a day laborer who earns only Tk 8,000 per month, and 10 years ago he was only Tk 6,000 per month. Her mother used to make incense sticks and sell them for Tk 22 per kg, but she can no longer do so after developing asthma.

Her father continues to spend Tk3,000 every month on the education of Marina’s nine-year-old brother, just like he did for Marina. The rest of her income is spent on food, electricity and other expenses.

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“Although my father was more progressive than the others, he still could not afford to continue spending so much on my studies. As there was no government college near my home, I was admitted to a private college where there was no science department, but the tuition fee was Tk 450,” said the ‘teenager.

Marina’s grandmother paid the entrance fee by selling her only pair of earrings. Marina often walked through rain and waist-deep water to attend class.

After graduating from college, Marina was determined to both continue her education and give back to her family. She started teaching local children to earn money for textbooks and college fees.

She covers the full cost of her accounting course.

“I earn 100-150 Tk per child,” Marina said.

She attends classes from 7 a.m. until the afternoon, eats a singara or parched rice for lunch, and then continues teaching the children until about 10 p.m. The only time she has for her own studies is usually from midnight to 2 am.

“It’s getting harder and harder to do this every day, every day is like a battle. But I’m determined to keep going because I don’t want our next generation to grow up in the same circumstances,” the teenager told this correspondent.

“People here have been unable to advance their lives beyond working in nearby factories and industries. They can’t even think of a different way of life. But I want my family and the whole community to come out of poverty and the only way to do that in a sustainable way is through education, not just mine,” she added.

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