Sonu (pronounced Shonu) is already awaiting us as we arrive at the Sweeper Colony, which is centrally located, surrounded by tall buildings on all sides. Without much formal introduction, the highly energetic young lady of 19 takes us by the hand and pulls us into her friend’s house where we sit down on the bed and listen to her story.
Sonu inside her house
Like most residents of the Sweeper Colony, Sonu’s parents are employed as cleaners by the Pourashava. Growing up she has had a hard time explaining to them that she did not want to get married early like her friends, but rather continue studying and eventually work with her community. This was not a simple endeavor in a society where “a girl’s education is still considered a waste of money”, she tells us. She does not blame them for thinking this, saying, “My parents are not educated”. But in the end her brother was able to go to school, so why shouldn’t she? Determined to get an education, Sonu explained that she was willing to get a job in order to finance her education.
In 2006, Sonu successfully completed 10th grade and went to college where she specialized in commerce. After graduating in 2008 she was chosen to participate in a 6-month global exchange in Caithness, Scotland. This opportunity came after she was discovered in her community by the chief executive of a citizen’s initiative, who sent her to an assessment for the exchange where she was selected as one of nine Bangladeshi participants from a total of 9000 applicants worldwide. In Scotland she worked in a primary school with children and was involved in volunteer work such as tree planting and explaining her culture. As a result, she was able to improve her English. Her final project was a theater piece with the school children on the Hindu Diwali festival. From the group of Bangladeshi exchange volunteers, Sonu was elected by her peers to speak at the Scottish Parliament.
Sonu’s next plan is to go to university either in Dhaka or Narayanganj. She has already applied and is currently awaiting her results. Her greatest wish is to study sociology and acquire knowledge to understand her community better. Otherwise, she would like to build on her college background and continue studying commerce and management.
In her free time Sonu volunteers for an NGO. She likes it because it helps her to better understand how such organizations work and come to grips with community work. Apart from that she also provides after-school tutoring in English, Bangla and Math to children in her community.
Sonu tells us that today the community’s initial skepticism has given way to praise from many neighbours and friends. This has also led to her parent’s growing recognition of her achievements.