Abhilash Medhi

Abhilash Medhi (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO): Abhilash was born Assam, India. He earned a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur, India and then worked as an Assistant Systems Engineer with Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, India. Abhilash also volunteered for Child Rights and You in Mumbai, India where he specialized in child labour laws, helped build alliances against child labour, and developed micro-credit schemes for poor women. Abhilash volunteered at the 2nd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2007). At the time of his fellowship Abhilash was pursuing a Master’s degree in Development Studies at The London School of Economics and Political Science.

“I feel complete”

25 Jul

Laxity at the workplace is both a bane and a boon in Bangladesh. While it may mean that a day at the office is intermittently punctuated by prolonged cigarette breaks and that employees frequently get together in a huddle for fresh gossip, the flexibility that is axiomatic also means that working hours can be long and that things that workers in more legally conscious societies would take you to court for making them do are consummated as routine jobs.

Firoza Khatun is a worker bee who lies closer to the second extremity than anyone else at BERDO. She comes to office at 9am in the morning, acts as the Executive Director’s human interface to the computer, reads out mails, takes notes, drafts letters, churns out photocopies, scans the internet for funding opportunities, and occasionally fills in as the makeshift cook. And this she says she does because of her love for her work and not because other people take her for granted all the time.

Firoza is from Shahidnagar, a village in Dhaka division. One day, at the age of three when she was playing with her siblings, she fainted. The nearest doctor was three villages away and her parents wished her illness away as common cold. Three days later, it turned out that the fever was not that common after all. She had contracted polio and has been walking with the aid a stick ever since.  Attending primary school was not much of an ordeal, she says. High School was more difficult, especially in the monsoons. She had to walk 6 km everyday over rickety bamboo bridges and wade through knee-deep waters to accomplish the simple task of attending classes. In the school, where girls were supposed to follow the teacher and mill around him/her, her atrophied leg slowed her down, meaning that she was often left behind. University was when her difficulties began to take insurmountable proportions. Balancing her studies in the face of a memory problem and having to walk 8 km everyday proved to be too much for her to handle and she failed to complete her graduation. 

Firoza found work instead, at a pre-primary school run by BRAC in Shahidnagar. She worked at the school for eighteen months. In September, 2005 she joined BERDO. The eldest of six children and the only girl in the family, Firoza says that she has never been discriminated against by her parents. She does not blame her parents for her illness, but rues the fact that she could not complete her graduation. She believes that things would have been different without polio. Firoza has not married. She has not thought about life after BERDO. She says that living her life alone in Dhaka is a fulfilling experience and that she feels complete. That having to prove that she can do things on her own everyday, unaided fills her with joy unrestrained.

Twenty-five minutes into the conversation I could sense that the coyness had been penetrated, that words were now beginning to flow from her mouth. Just then, an employee called out to her. The students at The School of Happy World below had woken up from their afternoon slumber. There were mangoes to be had but no one to cut and serve them. Firoza excused herself. There was an unfinished task at hand, yet another opportunity to prove her worth to the world.

Watch the video below where she tells us about her unfulfilled dreams and her unresolved anguish:


Posted By Abhilash Medhi

Posted Jul 25th, 2009

1 Comment

  • Owen

    July 29, 2009


    Getting a formal degree is certainly a key to the door of advancement and privilege, but real education is what we find in the world around us. There is nothing to stop someone determined like Ms Firoza Khatun from acquiring and using knowledge that will enable her to help change the world. Paper means nothing, real achievement is honoured by – excuse the cliche – “the University of Life”.

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