In southern Bangladesh, facing the sparkling Bay of Bengal waters and surrounded by lush green hills is Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach. Dozens of children ply their trade along the stretch, selling chips, water, and some offering massages or songs.
One 14-year-old girl used to be among them three years ago. But she overcame economic, social and cultural hurdles to become the first local girl surfer.
Shoma Akhtar, together with seven other girls, came to the world’s attention when they were featured in publications such as Los Angeles Times and National Geographic. Known as the ‘Bangladeshi surf girls’, images of them perched confidently on surfboards while dressed in the traditional shalwar kameez outfit captured international imagination.
Help poured in from around the world to put the girls in school, but the fear of funds drying up after a year or two was very real.
“While they understood that education is valuable, they are also aware that their families need their income right now to survive. What will help the girls are knowledge and skills they can tap immediately,” explained Sonia Bashir Kabir, Managing Director at Microsoft Bangladesh.
In consultation with the girls and their families, as well as their surfing and English mentors Rashed Alam and Venessa Rude, Microsoft decided to design an ICT skills workshop for them. Digital literacy and basic IT knowledge are useful in their daily lives, but more importantly for these girls, these are skills that can help them earn a living. Without it, they have a narrow slate of options; underprivileged girls in the region typically stay in hawking or go into domestic work and usually marry before they turn 18.
“When women earn more, they have greater power in making decisions and shaping their own lives,” added Kabir.
In September, the surf girls underwent an intensive three-day workshop aimed at enhancing their digital literacy. They learned how to use the computer and the Internet, and how to create email and social media accounts. They then progressed to learning about basic maintenance and repair of hardware, as well as software debugging.
It is anticipated that the girls’ new knowledge will be in demand locally. As such, Microsoft has negotiated with two major hotels which will outsource basic computer training and repair jobs to the girls in the future. They will also continue to receive training, so they will be better equipped to fix more complex issues.
The girls hope to continue schooling and be able to access safe and quality employment. Help support them today!