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Then and now: The girls of Hatibandha

What a difference a couple of years and the generous support of Canadians can make. When we first introduced you to the community of Hatibandha, in Bangladesh, you had the chance to learn the stories of several local girls and discover the major challenges and obstacles they faced, including child marriage, gender inequality, and the risk of disasters, like flooding.

These factors posed barriers to girls’ right to health, education and safety – limiting their opportunities and preventing them from realizing their full potential. But with the help of our generous community sponsors we’ve been able to clear new promising paths for the girls of Hatibandha, helping them take huge leaps towards brighter futures.

Now, two years later, we’re excited to update you on how Community Sponsorship has helped change the lives of these girls, their families and the entire community in important and lasting ways!

Crossing unchartered waters

Secondary schools are located on the mainland of Hatibandha and can take up to 1.5 hours to reach on foot. In the rainy season (3 - 4 months every year), students would often take the risk of wading through flood waters to reach school, though sometimes they were forced to miss class entirely.

“I wish the road conditions would improve so that I can go to school safely,” Shohagi, then 13, shared at the onset of sponsorship.

In a community where only 7% of secondary students are girls, removing barriers to education was a top priority for Plan. That’s why we provided 5 brand new boats, helping ensure a safe, dry trip to and from school every day for more than 500 boys and girls!

Before and after photo: wading through the water and later riding school boats.

“Nobody can stop my education because I am going to school every day on the new boat,” says 14-year-old Shirina.

A bathroom of one’s own

When planning projects, children told us that existing toilets at their schools were in a terrible state, forcing them into potentially risky situations.

"Once I was badly in need of using the toilet. Unfortunately, there was only one toilet in our school which was very unhygienic. I had to use a neighbour's toilet," said Ripa, 11, recalling the ordeal with embarrassment.

Together we built 3 gender-separated school latrines, providing private, secure and clean spaces for children, complete with access to water for hand washing. The entire community gathered to celebrate the new latrines and their contribution to improved safety, sanitation, health and learning!

Before and after photo: the old unsanitary latrines and the newly built clean ones.

“We are so delighted to use the new bathrooms!” celebrated Ripa. “One morning, after washing my face, I stood in front of the mirror and realized this clean, beautiful bathroom has made me look beautiful. I like coming to school now.

Students not brides: A renewed commitment to education

Due to extreme poverty and traditional practices in Hatibandha, parents often alleviate financial strain by reluctantly removing their daughters from costly schooling, and having them marry instead. About 90% of girls in Hatbandha are married before the age of 18, abruptly ending their studies and exposing them to dangerous risks.

Plan-organized awareness sessions, training, and sensitization events like theatre performances have given children a platform to voice their concerns and help parents understand the negative impact of child marriage and the value of education.

“Now people are talking about the child marriage issue and taking initiatives to stop this. Recently the community members have prevented a child marriage from taking place,” explain Mohammed and Zennatun, the parents of two young girls, and early adopters of the new stance.

“Since Plan began working here, parents are more serious about our education,” shared 12 year-old Rima.

Female students use an opinion box and Alpona and her sister walk to school.

This opinion box at a local primary school encourages children, like these girls, to speak up for their rights. “More girls and women are participating in the community, which did not happen before,” says Alpona, (pictured second from right, on her way to school with her sister).

Knocking gender inequality out of the park!

Recently, girls broke new ground in Hatibandha, thanks to the power of sport in the shape of a cricket tournament. Not only was the girls’ cricket tournament the first of its kind in the community, it was also used to promote awareness on proper hygiene and sanitation, drawing big crowds!

By taking part in a previously male-dominated activity, the girls gained a new sense of empowerment and confidence, while proving to community members that girls deserve a level playing field – in all aspects of life.

Two panels of girls playing cricket midst spectators.

Boys from the community cheered on the girls’ impressive display of skill and tenacity in the cricket matches!

Brighter futures

Over two years ago, Morzina (then 8) dreamed of a community “where everyone will be happy and have equal opportunities.”

Now (at the age of 10), she sees that dream becoming a reality: “Parents are taking care of their children equally. I do not find any difference between the life of boys and girls. All are growing up here equally by getting equal treatment and cooperation from the guardians and school teachers,” she explains.

Split panel: Morzina with her mother and younger sibling and a photo of the winning team from the girls’ cricket tournament and their trophy.

Like Morzina (top left), the girl cricket players in Hatibandha (pictured top right) and all the girls who have benefitted from Community Sponsorship, we know that when a community champions gender equality, everybody wins!

We know that when girls thrive, communities thrive. Since Community Sponsorship began in Hatibandha, people of all ages have started embracing gender equality, showing their commitment to girls’ education and making girls’ rights a priority. Through the support of Community Sponsorship the girls of Hatibandha have made huge gains in the past couple of years and we have no doubt that this community – and all its members – will continue to grow and thrive for years to come.