Youngsters turn the wheels of their fate
04 February 2013, Dhaka: Muktar and Maria are both in their late teens and working as trained electricians in Filament Engineering Ltd, a renewable energy and environmental industry; where they assemble Solar Charger Controllers.
It is a rather heavy-sounding job for such youngsters but they are over the moon at being able to work in the formal sector as trained technicians and turn the wheels of their fate.
Life, however, was not easy for these children -- they are among the thousands of working children living in urban slums of Dhaka city. Earning their own living and supporting their ultra-poor family has been their job ever since they could remember; doing odd and risky jobs, living life on the edge has been their childhood reality.
Muktar, 17,- wants to take up an overseas job as a skilled technician and live a reasonably good life. However, his dream has a clause attached to it -- he can follow it only if his family responsibilities allow him.
He contributes a lion's share of his income to support his brother's education, while also bearing the financial burden of caring for an ailing father, who works as a night guard. His family struggles to make ends meet and Muktar, from a very tender age, has been working at local electronics shops to address his family needs.
“I used to work at an electronics shop as an apprentice and was running odd errands. I have come a long way; a few years back I did not think I would get a formal job in any office, but ever since I went to school and my madam insisted that I take training in electronics, life took a positive turn. At least, I can now boast a Mirpur Agricultural Workshop and Training School (MAWTS) training and have a stable job,” Muktar says matter-of-factly.
The lanky teenager with a serious look about him draws a monthly salary of Tk.4,500 (US$ 55) and does the work of troubleshooting, finishing, testing and packaging solar charger controllers.
“After the girls assemble the circuit my job is to test it, troubleshoot and finally pack the product for the finishing line,” he says, showing off the end product with pride.“The apa (sister and mentor) who visited my slum helped me get enrolled in a local school where I studied till Class IV and later I was selected for learning a trade. I took to the trade of electrical house wiring because I was working in such shops from a very early age,. I bought a tool box with the Tk.11,000 (US$ 134) I which I have received after completion of my training, and now during my off days I go for some hired electrical household jobs."
Confidence of an engineer:
Maria, a chubby teen, is all giggles when she talks about her current job, “I feel like an engineer when I assemble the circuit of the solar charger controllers. It is a meticulous job of assembling wires and making the circuit work. And I am trained to do this job, and being surrounded by engineers and extremely helpful colleagues, I too at times feel as confident like an engineer.
“I am amazed at my skills and thankful for this job at Filament Engineering Ltd. I never thought I would have such a stable, formal job that pays me Tk.4,200 (US$ 51). I had no idea what circuits were and I wanted to be trained in tailoring, but my madam at school inspired me to join the MAWTS electronics and mobile phone repair training course. Ever since, my life has changed,” Maria said enthusiastically.
Maria has a small family comprising a minor brother and her parents. Her father used to pull rickshaws, but left for his village after falling ill and now runs a small grocery shop. Ever since she was young her father gave her Taka 2.0 to buy candies, but Maria saved the money and gave it to her mother to do her grocery. Maria still saves most of her salary, “I am saving to help my husband start a business of his own; I got married six months ago, after I joined work,” she relates her future plans.
Trained to deliver:
Muktar and Maria are among the first few urban slum children who got a 40-month non-formal basic education up to the standard of Class III and then received a vocational training in MAWTS through the Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Working Children project of the Bureau of Non-Formal Education under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education supported by UNICEF, Sida and CIDA.
MAWTS is a market-oriented technical education and training school where they have been developing skilled human resources in the field of technical education and training since 1976.
“I am hopeful that by giving six months' training to working children and offering them a possible job linkage, will benefit them. This is the first time that MAWTS is providing training to such children and many of the first batch graduates are now working in the formal sectors,” says Md. Atiar Rahman, Manager of Training and Education at MAWTS.
With the support of UNICEF, MAWTS has provided skills training to 6,100 urban working children who are above 13 years of age. They offered training courses on seven trades which include tailoring, dress-making, embroidery, electronics and mobile repairing, electrical house wiring, basic masonry, plumbing and pipe-fitting and motorcycle repairing.
“Coming to an office in the morning and working among professionals gives us a confidence we never experienced before. I feel like my life is all set now and I will not face hardships like my parents. My job offers stability, security and makes us disciplined; I make more money than I used to by doing street jobs and I now have a bank account. I wish other children in the slums can get similar opportunity,” says an exuberant Maria while her colleague Muktar, silently nods in agreement.