Beacon of hope

Second-year degree student Munni Akter, 21, from Barguna, needs a job in order to build a secure future. Her chances of getting a good job at first seemed slim since she has no fingers on her left hand. Yet, like thousands of people with disabilities before her, Munni has found hope in a joint project organised by the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) based in Savar, and British retailing giant Marks and Spencers. Since 2006 the ‘Marks and Starts’ project has been offering vocational training to prepare participants for meaningful employment.

“After I finish my two months of training in sewing skills,” Munni says, “I’ll be able to get a job in the garment sector. Although I am a disabled girl I have confidence I can succeed. Many who have completed this training already have good jobs.” The Marks and Starts programme is free for participants. Hostel facilities and food are provided.

“I suffered from a mental disorder,” explains another trainee, Marufa Akter, also a third year honours student from Narsingdi’s Shibpur. “Some people dishonoured me because I am different. I thought I had no bright future but since attending this training programme I have a dream of self-employment. The symptoms of my disorder have reduced a lot. I want to make a good life for myself, like those who completed this training before me.”

On September 19, 2017, a Marks and Starts experience session was held at CRP’s centre in Ganakbari. One of the speakers at the function was project beneficiary Reja Ahamed, who lost the use of his legs during a violent robbery incident a decade ago.

“Life as I knew it ended on the day of the robbery,” he recalls, “I suffered great mental anguish. Then I received treatment at the CRP and subsequently attended the Marks and Starts training programme. Now I work in a computer-based job at a garment factory. My health is good. Life is good. After starting my job I was even able to get married.”

“Since its inception, this programme has trained around 1,600 disabled workers,” explains CRP’s Executive Director Shafiqul-ul-Islam. “They have found jobs in 70 different factories.”

The trade envoy of the UK prime minister and member of the UK parliament Rushanara Ali, a guest at the recent event, expressed her gratitude to Marks and Spencer and CRP for their efforts. British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Alison Blake was also in attendance.