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SUKTARA: Showing way like the evening star

A teacher of the SUKTARA school teaching a student how to write

Close geographical proximity with Khulna, one of the major metropolitan cities in Bangladesh, has never been a blessing for Rupsha. Populated almost entirely by working class people who are either fishermen or farmers or salt-factory laborers, Rupsha has never been well off.

Poverty has pushed many children in this area to drop out of school. As a result, literacy has never been a strong point for Rupsha either.

That is exactly where begins the story of SUKTARA, the Bangla word for evening star, which, like its name, has been showing way to the destitute. With whatever meagre resources it has, SUKTARA – Somaj Unnayan Kendro for Training, Rehabilitation and Advocacy – has given primary education to a total of 60 former school dropouts since 2011. It has also arranged special livelihood training for local women so that they could become self-sufficient.

In 2015, SUKTARA won the Joy Bangla Youth Award as a recognition of its good work in bringing dropouts back into the mainstream of education. And since then, things have changed for the good.

“A few years ago, I took sewing training from the government’s youth development project. Since then, I have trained 20 women from my locality who are now very much self-reliant,” said Fahima Khatun, one of the frontrunners of SUKTARA.

Fahima, who is an active employee of the organization, played an instrumental role in bringing SUKTARA to the limelight and eventually steered the organization towards winning the Joy Bangla Youth Award in 2015.

“After getting this award, things have been drastically easier for us. We never got good response from local people. But after getting the award, we now have greater acceptability. More importantly, now we have a strong identity and a voice,” said Fahima, who is now pursuing a master degree in public administration at a local college in Khulna.

Hira Mukta Begum, founder of SUKTARA, used to work in a local factory. For many years, she has seen children drop out of school. She always believed that if these children could be given the minimum of education, they could bring positive changes to their families and the society on the whole. That was the thought behind SUKTARA.

“There was a time when we struggled a lot to get funds and cooperation. But the award has changed our fate. Everyone in our area know us and respect us. Government officials such as the UNO [upazila executive officer] and the local education officer cooperate with us,” said Hira Mukta Begum.

As a winner of the Joy Bangla Youth Award 2015, SUKTARA received a computer lab from Microsoft Bangladesh which comprised several laptop computers with which they are now providing training to local youth. That has ensured a secured source of fund for the organization. On august 2015, As part of a collaboration between CRI-Young Bangla and Microsoft Bangladesh, 10 women were nominated by Young Bangla for Microsoft Brand Ambassadorship titled “Windows Women”. Fahima Khatun is one of them. By joining the team, she also became a part of the apps community and received free trainings on Microsoft.

Recently, she has finished an 18-month paid stint as a data enumerator with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). She also runs an e-Shop under a government project in her area and is now working as a trainer of a Sheikh Russel Digital Lab (SRDL), another government project, in one of the local schools.

Young Bangla, the largest youth platform of the country and host of the Joy Bangla Youth Award, played the role of connecting the award winners like Fahima with these public and private sector organizations.

These have all helped SUKTARA, which, since inception has always run on the personal income of its 50-plus members.

In 2015, Young Bangla recognized a total of 60 such organizations by giving them the Joy Bangla Youth Award. In addition, another 140 were given special certificates for their good work at the community level.