Transformation: Seeking help when things look impossible
A compelling story about a young girl living in an area with one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. It’s an area where it’s also common to send kids off to work in situations of child labor, or forced labor, for very little pay and under extremely difficult circumstances, which is what this young girl had to face.
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Join host Cathy Herholdt and Karess Linzer as they share a riveting story of transformation of a young girl whose life was halted when she was sent to Dhaka to work in a garment factory to help with her family’s income. Hear how her desire to continue her education and become a teacher was the driving force behind her determination to ask for help and explore all of her options to reach her goals.
Transformation: Seeking help when things look impossible
Cathy Herholdt: We’re doing something a little different on the podcast today. We’re going to continue our conversation on the issue of protecting young girls from early marriage, forced labor, and other forms of harm, and empowering them to get an education. So we’re ready to dive in today and as always, we’re so glad you’re along for the ride. My co-host for this series is Karess Linzer, so welcome back, Karess.
Karess Linzer: Thank you, Cathy. I am excited to be joining you on the podcast again and my hope for this series is that we can shed light on important topics like this and on the incredible transformation that’s happening in many lives in the areas that we serve.
Cathy Herholdt: Great. Well, let’s jump right into a story. I want to share the story of a 17-year-old girl named Swapna, who, like Rhea, whose story we shared last week, lives in a very poor part of Bangladesh. And in case you haven’t had a chance to listen to last week’s episode, Bangladesh is a country with one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. It’s part cultural tradition and part lack of knowledge about alternatives to this really harmful practice and the impact that it has on young girls and on continuing the cycle of extreme poverty that has gripped Bangladesh for generations.
But it’s also common to send them off to work in situations of child labor or forced labor for very little pay and under extremely difficult circumstances, such as was the case with Swapna. When I look at the photos of Swapna, the word that comes to mind for me is innocent. I see photos of her studying, helping her younger brother with his homework, harvesting vegetables from the garden and cooking in the kitchen with her mom. And I know she just wants to be a girl, a teenage girl who can spend time with her girlfriends, who loves to study and dreams of being a teacher someday.
Unfortunately, like many girls in this part of the world, that was likely just a dream. Here are some of her own words. Let me just read what Swapna had to say. “My father is the only earning member of our family. Due to physical weakness, he does not work For a long time. His income was too small, so it was very difficult for him to bear the expenses for continuing our studies and our living costs. In this situation, when I was a student of class six or what we would call sixth grade, my father decided to stop my education and send me to Dhaka to work in a garment factory to increase the family’s income. But I had a strong desire to continue my studies. In our male dominated society, our guardians do not give importance to a girl’s education, but I want to continue my studies at any cost.”
Karess Linzer: With Swapna being in such a position where her dad was a provider of the family, but also had a physical ailment, I’m sure she knew that the odds were stacked against her. I’m sure she knew … She wanted to pursue her education, but that her father wouldn’t be able to provide for their family, and also continue paying for education. What an unfortunate reality of tension to be in. I think it’s interesting that her dad decided to send her to work in a garment factory to help with a family income rather than arranging for her to get married. It had to also be very hard for her to stay committed to her education while also seeing her parents, her grandmother, her young brother struggle as well. But she was determined. She was determined to figure out a way to continue her education no matter what. And that kind of determination is inspiring.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah, agreed. This girl who looks so innocent is actually really incredibly strong and resilient. She was brave enough to share her family’s financial situation with one of her teachers, and that then got passed onto the head teacher who recognized that this bright, hardworking young girl was at great risk of having to discontinue her education at such a young age. So the head teacher connected Swapna with World Concern in her village, and thank goodness, she received a scholarship to stay in school. Crisis averted. Swapna is now attending high school, I’m glad to report, and she is well on her way to fulfilling that dream of becoming a teacher. She avoided the horrible, dangerous conditions of a Dhaka garment factory. I’ve been to Dhaka City and it is such a crowded place. There are very few regulations or government oversight of these garment factories, that often use child labor as a way to make a profit.
And hundreds, if not thousands of people, cram into these hot, dangerous, often unstable buildings in the middle of an urban slum. And they work for long hours with very little pay. Some of those buildings, those garment factories, have actually collapsed. People may have heard this on the news, but they’ve collapsed or burned and there’s no way for the people inside to get out, and many people have lost their lives. So it’s no small amount of danger that Swapna was saved from. And because she’s in school, she won’t have to get married young either. Such a simple thing, education, but it’s something that we really tend to take for granted. So listen again to what Swapna had to say in her own words.
“I love reading different types of books. My current and future dream is to make myself a good and honest teacher. I want to ensure the education of neglected, poor and disadvantaged students in my community to spread the light of education and serve the country as a good citizen.” I mean, come on. This girl is going to impact her entire community and beyond with her dedication to her education.
Karess Linzer: Yes. Oh my goodness. And I love that her goal is to be a teacher. She wants to get a great education and become a teacher so that she can be a light in the lives of other children who are disadvantaged. And what I’m seeing as a common theme in the stories that we’ve shared is that just about every person has a goal to use the very thing that they went through to help someone else. And even if Swapna is only able to help a few children, she’s inevitably changing the trajectory of their lives, one child at a time. And it automatically makes me wonder if there’s something I’ve walked through that can help someone else.
Cathy Herholdt: Yeah, it’s a bit convicting, isn’t it? I have to ask myself if I’m using the gifts, the provision, the opportunities that God has given me to pass along to others, to help others, so they can enjoy the same blessings and hope for a better future.
Karess Linzer: Absolutely. And my takeaway from this story is that even when things seem to look impossible, there may be other opportunities to explore before giving up. If there’s something that I’m focused on or a goal that I’m striving to accomplish, maybe I should make sure I explore all of my options and even ask others for help. Also, it just brings me back to what I mentioned a little earlier about just allowing those things that I walk through to help someone else. What about you?
Cathy Herholdt: I agree that willingness to ask for help is really what saved Swapna. It’s important to be humble, to recognize when we’re struggling and to see who God places in our path that might be able to help us … Or who he places in our path that we might be able to help. Great lessons from this incredible story. So once again, a really great conversation today. We hope you’ve enjoyed joining us for this series. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to all five conversations, be sure to catch the full series right here on The End of the Road podcast. Thanks for listening and thank you, Karess, for being a part of these conversations. It’s been really great. I love having a partner in this.
I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope your mind has been expanded and your heart has been touched by what God is doing around the world. If you like what you’re hearing on The End of the Road, please give us a five star rating and review us on Apple Podcasts. Or hit the bell symbol on Spotify to be notified when there’s a new episode released. Stay in the know and never miss an episode by texting the word Podcast to: 34444. I want to thank CRISTA Ministry’s World Concern’s parent organization for making this podcast possible. And I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise, for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to more stories at The End of the Road next time.