30-Hour Famine

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Akhi, 17, was saved from child labour by a World Vision Project.
17-year-old Akhi from Khulna, Bangladesh has a smile that lights up her face. By all appearances she is a typical, everyday teenager. And she is! But there is more to her.

You may not know it by looking at her, but Akhi has survived much in her short life, and has become a hero to her community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Akhi lives with her parents and two siblings in a one-room house made of corrugated iron sheets in a slum area. Akhi’s father Masud, 47, used to work in a shrimp-processing factory, but had to stop when he became physically disabled. With few options, Akhi’s mother Anowara, 40, went to work at the same factory along with Akhi and her sister. Despite their efforts, their income couldn’t even cover three meals a day.

Akhi missed school for three years to work and support her family. With no education, her future seemed bleak.

Help would come to the family in the form of World Vision.

Frontline staff from World Vision’s Child Protection Project invited Akhi to a World Vision Centre and offered her life skills-based education and catch-up education. “We took Akhi to several schools, but they rejected her because she exceeded the school’s age thresholds for incoming students,” says Abeda, a project officer. 

Despite this setback, Akhi was not daunted. Taking up vocational training with World Vision’s support, Akhi learned sewing skills to start a tailoring business at home. “Then we donated [Akhi] a new sewing machine with a pile of fabrics,” Abeda adds.

“I kept receiving orders for tunics and children’s dresses from my community. From social media, I also learned to make handicrafts like flower vases, mats, and vanity bags with recycled paper and beads. With my extra income we had meat, fish, and fresh fruits,” says Akhi. However, these good times would not last.

“Everything came to a standstill when COVID-19 started spreading. My mother and sister could not go to work at the shrimp plant and I could not keep my store open,” says Akhi. The Government would close factories and ban public movement to prevent the spread, locking down the whole country. “My parents, siblings, and I stayed home for months. We were not allowed to go out. I kept my sewing work but received very limited orders. I could hardly make USD12 from my sewing work,” says Akhi.

But instead of focusing on her problems, Akhi saw the needs of others in her community.

“When COVID-19 started, there were no masks in the market and they were very expensive. Poor people in our community could not buy them. I decided to make masks myself and sell them for a low price so that poor people could afford them. I even give masks for free to those who have no money,” says Akhi.

“World Vision taught us to be good to our neighbours. We are financially poor; we cannot give money to them. So we offer a reduced price so that our neighbours can afford masks. Sometimes we donate masks if our neighbours do not have money to buy them,” adds mother Anowara. “As World Vision’s staff told us, we taught our neighbours to wash their hands with soap and water, wear masks when they go out and maintain social distancing.”

Using her ability, knowledge and resources, Akhi stepped up and made masks for her community when everyone was looking to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Akhi accepts her UNOCHA award alongside her proud family. She was recognised by the organisation as a Real Life Hero for making low-cost masks for people in her community.

Akhi’s efforts did not go unnoticed. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) recognised her as a Real Life Hero, presenting her an award for her achievements. Akhi isn’t resting on her laurels. She has big plans for the future. “There are many girls around who have no job. I want to start a garment factory for them.”

Even at a young age, Akhi is determined to live an extraordinary life. She made the most of the opportunity World Vision gave her and is now using her skills to bring better conditions to her community. The pandemic disrupted her life, but she chose not to be defeated. Instead, she saw the suffering of those around her and used what she had to fill their needs.

Akhi isn’t just a survivor, she’s a hero who can Fight for the Better!

By supporting the 30-Hour Famine, you can stand alongside children like Akhi as they continue the battle against COVID-19, helping them build back their lives and communities.

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