Jalil and Ayesha live in Gazipur, a town around an hour north of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. The husband and wife team are conducting mapping surveys to find where people with disabilities live, which is crucial in enabling Sightsavers to support them across the country.
Jalil’s organisation, Physically Disabled Development Organisation, then refers people to Sightsavers’ formal employment programme which, as part of the Inclusive Futures initiative, supports people with skill-based training, enabling them to find employment and earn a living.
Jalil has been disabled since birth. To walk he uses his arms to support his weight and Ayesha helps him to reverse while on his motorbike. “I have been able to collect the data of 200 people with disabilities who intend to work in Gazipur.” Jalil explains. “To conduct the survey, we look for people with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 35 in the area. We go to authorities and ask for the available information.”
It was on one of their house-to-house searches that they located Nipa, who is in her second year of college. “Although she is a student, she wants a job,” Jalil says.
Nipa is studying engineering while living with her family. Although the 19-year-old comes across as self-assured, she calmly recounts how she has often been treated differently because of her disability. “When I walk in the street many people stare at me,” she explains. “At first classmates don’t want to mix with me. But over the time when they get to know me and realise my pain, then they start to befriend me.”
Since birth, one side of Nipa’s body has been weaker than the other. Although she doesn’t know the cause, when she was a young child a doctor told her mother Momotaz she needed to have an operation for her condition to improve. Momotaz told us a friend’s child had a similar operation but unfortunately it resulted in their condition deteriorating. In the end, Momotaz feared the risk was too high and didn’t take Nipa for the operation.
Jalil remembers when he first met the family in 2007: “Nipa’s mother said that her daughter wanted to study and asked if I could arrange something for her. So I went to the college and now her tuition fee is completely free now. We also arranged an annual government allowance.
“People with disabilities are not disabled. They are also a human being, just like a person without disabilities. As a human being, they have honour in the society and their rights – that is what I want. There is no such thing as disability.”
Since then, Jalil has continued to support Nipa, and now, as part of the Inclusion Works project, they are working together to explore and plan employment prospects. “I want to get a job, because I am the eldest in my family,” Nipa explains. “I am the eldest daughter; I don’t have any brothers. My mother and father are both ill and I have two siblings. For them, I have to get a job.
“From a very young age I had a dream of joining the government service. I am interested in computers and really want to learn. In future, I want to have a better life, everyone wants to have a better life. We don’t have anything in our village.”
But Nipa knows all too well the challenges she’ll face. “When we apply for jobs they [employers] say that we may not get the job because of our disability, and question whether we will be able to do the job like a ‘normal person’,” she says. “Many obstacles may come because of this. Our disability is the main obstacle for applying.”
Jalil explains further: “In Bangladesh, females are less advanced so if she has disabilities too, [discrimination] goes without saying. Sometimes when working with women and girls with disabilities, it becomes difficult for me to convince their family [they can work].
He goes on to speak proudly about how his wife supports him to reach more women with disabilities: “When we go to houses, Ayesha helps me. She calls the family from the house and we explain to them that their family member or child with a disability can be self-dependent.
“She inspires them; that’s why I feel sometimes her help is needed to speak on behalf of the women. I also have other female volunteers who have disabilities; I encourage families by saying: ‘She is a woman with a disability and she has come out to establish her rights, why wouldn’t you be able to do it? You have to speak out for your rights,’” Jalil adds.
“I am very happy [working] with him.” Ayesha explains. “He is a person with disabilities, and if he can help another person with disabilities to get a good job, that makes me very happy.
“I tell him if he has any problem, then I will be with you to support you.”
It’s not only Jalil’s organisation conducting the mapping. Access Bangladesh Foundation, a well-known non-governmental organisation coordinates mapping in other areas of the country and facilitates the link with vocational training opportunities and employers.
Safyeter, project coordinator at Access Bangladesh, explains the process: “First we ask people with disabilities to fill out a questionnaire to find out, according to their need, which educational training institute is suitable for them.
“We then coordinate meetings with the institute and conduct meetings with employers to increase their awareness and encourage them to make their human resource policies more accessible for people with disabilities. After these sessions, when people with disabilities give them their CVs, they are employed more often.”
“Through advocacy we want to ensure that the people with disabilities get job opportunities in organisations according to their qualifications,” Jalil explains. “If they get support or assistance, they can bring change to the family, community, society and ultimately in the country.
The Inclusive Futures formal employment programme is funded through UK Aid Connect, a DFID funding initiative that awards grants to groups who create innovative solutions to complex development challenges to make real change. It demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to global leadership on inclusive development by ensuring people with disabilities are central to international development policymaking and programmes.
Professional photos: ©Sightsavers/Farzana Hossen
Phone photos ©Sightsavers/Kirsty Bridger