21 years old Afroja Khatun, took on the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner of the family. Her father had been diagnosed with liver disease and was unable to work; the small clothes shop that her mother set up to support the family and to pay for his expensive treatment was the household’s only source of income – and not enough to make ends meet.
Realising how desperate Afroja was to find paid work, a friend told her about the vocational training offered by Grameen Alo training centre – a partner of the B-SkillFUL project. After learning that there was no course fee, Afroja contacted the centre. During enrolment she explained her urgency to support her family, and the Grameen Alo counsellor encouraged her to train as a mobile phone technician (MPT). Afroja soon acquired a reputation as a committed and inquisitive learner and upon recognizing her passion, Grameen Alo facilitated her employment with the LG Mobile Phone showroom, one of the most prominent mobile phone outlets in Bogura.
Afroja realised that there was a healthy labour market for MPT trainees in sub-urban districts like Bogura, with plenty of opportunities to choose from. She also found out that her technical knowledge gave her competitive edge as a salesperson. She now earns around BDT 15,000 (USD 180) a month, working at the same showroom and contributes majority of her salary to her family. Furthermore, despite living in a mostly patriarchal community she has empowered herself to state with confidence, “Women are no less than men in the family.”
Afroja’s training as an MPT has enabled her to overcome her family’s financial setback, and her monthly savings scheme supports her aspiration of becoming an entrepreneur someday. “I’ve no intention of being dependent on others,” she asserts, “I want to learn more and really shine in this sector.” Her current plan is to take higher-level MPT training and become an advanced skilled professional.
“My father, a chauffeur, was already struggling to support our family of four, when I had just gotten my Secondary School Certificate. I had already lost the motivation to continue further studies. You see, this is because attaining a formal academic degree followed by working for someone else had never interested me. I had always wanted to be my own boss,” says Md. Abdur Razzak Rupon. With his father’s help Rupon opened a small, independent stationery store. At first, the business had run smoothly, and Rupon had earned BDT 10,000 (USD 120) a month, but then a crisis had arisen: Rupon’s only employee fled after stealing a large amount of money from the store.
With his stationery shop at the brink of bankruptcy, Rupon looked for an alternative means of survival. So, he contacted Bangla-German Sampreeti (BGS), a local training service provider and partner of the B-SkillFUL project, to train as a welder. At this point, Rupon realized that the new medical college that had recently been established in the neighbourhood had a good job prospect for him. This inspired him to start his own welding shop. With financial support from his father and a microfinance institute and welding skills acquired from BGS through B-SkillFUL, Rupon’s welding business began to grow and was soon making twice as much profit as the stationery shop previously had.
Rupon understands the difference that work-based training makes when someone is new to a particular field, and he is driven to provide the same opportunity to others – he has already hired a BGS/B-SkillFUL graduate welder in his welding shop. He also recalls the course content about well-being in the workplace: “An important part of the training comprises of how to develop empathy for one’s staff – establishing a healthy working relationship, based on trust and mutual understanding between employer and employees, is essential.” The skills training that B-SkillFUL provides has transformed Rupon’s life, taking him from unemployment to being a successful entrepreneur.
“When I turned eighteen, my neighbour, a B-SkillFUL graduate, encouraged me to train as a karchupi (hand embroidery) embroiderer at Grameen Alo, a training centre operating as part of the B-SkillFUL project. My family was not comfortable with me, a young girl, working outside our home, since in most rural regions of Bangladesh, it is not customary for women to do so. I planned to start my own home-based business. I knew that taking vocational training meant that I could transform my skills into a source of income. Becoming an entrepreneur was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Shila, now 19, makes a profit of around BDT 7,000 (USD 80) per month, and more at the time of religious festivals. She employs three B-SkillFUL graduates, putting into action her belief that young women should have the opportunity to grow in independence just as she has. Her family is appreciative of the contribution she makes to the household expenses and supports her business in whatever way they can. Shila is somewhat of a role model in the neighbourhood, motivating other young women to stand up for what they believe in. She is confident in her achievements and is now planning to expand the business. “I believe that the combination of perseverance, passion to learn new skills and a proper support system has enabled me in achieving success”.
B-SkillFUL project aims to improve the wellbeing of poor and disadvantaged men and women by increasing their access to labour market and enhancing their incomes, while safeguarding their fundamental rights at work. The project facilitates implementation of training programmes through local Training Service Providers (TSPs) in selected districts on demand driven quality skills. Through innovative and demand driven solutions, the trainees are getting a first-hand opportunity to learn in classrooms and at actual workplaces with both training providers and employers. B-SkillFUL also raises awareness amongst the graduates and informal sector enterprises on issues of labour rights and decent work (LRDW).