Story collected by Nazma Akte
Photos by Aldrin Hawee
Across Canada, June is graduation month. From big cities to small farming towns, teens are moving those tassels from right to left, grinning ear-to-ear as they stride off the stage of their childhoods and into the boundless world of adulthood. Moms are crying. Dads are cheering. Siblings have mixed feelings. But everyone is proud!
In Bangladesh this year, a young man named Sumon made that same journey, thanks in no small part to his long-time Canadian sponsor.
You see, when Sumon was growing up, his parents couldn’t afford school fees or notebooks or any of the things you need to get through school. They couldn’t even afford a table and chair at home, so Sumon had nowhere to do his homework. Without access to clean water at home, Sumon was often sick. His dad worked hard at farming, but couldn’t get the training he needed to make it profitable enough to support his family. They lived hand-to-mouth and experienced discrimination from their neighbours because of their poverty.
His parents, Helal and Jubeda, remember how bad it was and describe the atmosphere at home as “dark”. “We were mentally broken,” his parents shared. “We felt inferior and suffered a lot.” Because of the stress in his home and frequent illnesses, Sumon struggled to concentrate on school work. He began to skip class.
In Canada, we know that home environment and parents’ involvement makes a huge difference to a child’s education. It can make or break their chances of success. Sumon’s parents never had the opportunity to go to school themselves. They didn’t know how to support Sumon’s education nor could they afford to—they hardly had enough to eat.
Thankfully, an opportunity to change their situation came along in the form of community partnership with FH Bangladesh.When FH began working with Char Borobila, Sumon’s family was recognized by local leaders as a family that needed someone to walk alongside them. So, they invited Helal and Jubeda to enroll Sumon in the child sponsorship program. It wasn’t long before Sumon was sponsored by a Canadian! He started receiving health and education support so he could go back to school.
Through their work with FH, his parents gained a new appreciation for education. They encouraged Sumon to study and provided support as they were able. Their affirmation gave Sumon a huge boost. His interest in studying grew and he applied himself. He even attended an extracurricular teen club to sharpen his academic skills and learn about values and ethics, including the damaging effects of child marriage and child labour.
In addition to excelling in the classroom, Sumon joined competitions in drawing, reading, sports, and essay writing, which sparked a new interest in reading. In this year’s reading competition, Sumon took first place.
It was a long road—nine years!—from when Sumon was first sponsored by a Canadian to when he completed high school. Sumon passed his higher secondary school certificate with flying colours, achieving a mark of 5 (that’s an A+ in Canada!).“My family and I are very happy because I got GPA 5 in the Higher Secondary School Certificate!” Sumon beams.
Because of the years of learning he lost due to poverty, Sumon was one of the older ones in his grade to graduate—switching those tassels at the age of 20 instead of 18. But his Canadian sponsor didn’t care how old he was—the important thing was that Sumon had all the support he needed to get to the finish line. Because his sponsor stuck with him, Sumon can now dream of a future different to his past—and actually achieve it!
“After finishing my studies I want to do a good job or business [with] which I will be able to meet the needs of my family. I want to see this change in all the families of the community, to be economically strong and 100 per cent of people educated.”
In Food for the Hungry’s child sponsorship model, a sponsor’s support funds not only one child’s opportunities, but also the entire community’s access to clean water, education, health care, livelihood development, agriculture, leadership training, and more! By pooling together sponsor funding, FH makes each donation exponentially more powerful.
Because of this model, Sumon’s sponsorship meant his parents were included in FH skills training workshops. Jubeda dove right in and joined a community savings group. She learned about women’s rights, how to lead a group, and even how to write! Nine years later, she’s still a member of the Rupali’s Women’s Development Savings Group.As the whole family grew their skills and knowledge, their self-perceptions also changed. They stopped seeing themselves as poor and unworthy. Through working with FH staff, they learned about Jesus and have begun following his life-giving example.
Helal and Jubeda brought that new life into their home in practical ways. Jubeda taught her family to make simple hygiene changes like handwashing and they stopped getting sick so often. Helal’s farm started producing enough for the family.
Jubeda began raising goats and increased their family income. With more money coming in, they could eat healthier, regularly having highly nutritious food like rice, fish, eggs, meat, and milk. This was a huge support for Sumon as he worked hard to catch up in school. Through combined child sponsorship funding, the community gained access to tube-wells for safe drinking water and latrines for better sanitation.
Consistent child sponsorship funding over the past nine years in Char Borobila has made an incredible difference in Sumon’s entire community. Before FH partnership, a dramatically low level of education led to child marriage in nearly every household. Sickness was simply a way of life because of a lack of access to safe drinking water, clean toilets, and basic public health information like handwashing.
Through child sponsorship funding, however, the community transformed. Parents gained access to skills training, health education, and livelihoods development. They began to send their children to school and protect their girls so they can live out their childhoods and become well-educated, healthy adults. Prejudices are disappearing and neighbours are strengthening their relationships.
“I am very happy to see that the people in my community are now educated and aware, [and] maintain good relationships with each other,” Sumon shares.
Now that he’s graduated, it’s time for Sumon to bid farewell to a formal partnership with his Canadian sponsor. After graduation, most young adults who participated in FH’s sponsorship program go on to work to support their families or continue studies in higher education institutes or trade schools. At this point, they “cross the stage” so to speak, and enter into adult participation in the community.
Their sponsor celebrates the success of their collaboration, and then (hopefully!) chooses another child and family to walk with to help them transform their community from stuck to thriving.