A Girl Named Prishna

Last month, Family Life Radio hosts Stacey and Johnny Stone visited World Concern’s work in Bangladesh. The following post was written by Stacey, who was particularly touched by the life and dedication of one young girl she met.   

I’d traveled a long way to visit with young Prishna.

I had heard many amazing things about this girl and she now sat on an office chair in front of me. It was an exciting moment, and the room had filled with people all eager to hear her story.

The first thing I noticed about this precious girl was how thin she was. She was much smaller than other teenage girls, and I discovered afterwards that it was because Prishna had been severely malnourished growing up. This was my first introduction to how invasive poverty can really be.

As people mingled around her, Prishna’s head was down and her eyes fixed on the floor. But every once in a while she would look up and glance at me. Please God, make my face pleasing to this girl who needs to see your love and compassion through me.

Prishna escaped child marriage and now helps other teens do the same.
Prishna escaped child marriage and now helps other teens do the same.

That was my very quick prayer as we settled into the World Concern office in Bangladesh. To my amazement, it was within moments of my prayer that Prishna lifted her head and smiled at me. Thank you Jesus.

Some staff members began to sing, and while they were singing (albeit a little off key), I noticed Prishna start to giggle. Her smile was incredible, and it was an act of worship all of it’s own!

After the short service, Prishna continued to smile and laugh as the men served tea. Maybe it was a shared sense of humor toward awkward situations, but Prishna and I shared something special after that worship service. It was all unspoken but her smile, and determined attitude brought comfort to this weary traveler.

But when Prishna started to speak, and tell her story, I realized my life would never be the same again.

Prishna sat with another woman and started to tell us about her life, and why she was now sitting here with World Concern. Having grown up in a culture where girls as young as 10 become child-brides, Prishna had been one of the few that escaped this shocking cultural practice. Determined to now help other teenage girls, Prishna visits poverty-stricken neighborhoods with World Concern staff.

Since she was just a little girl, Prishna’s family had planned to marry her off on her 10th birthday.  It sounded unbelievable to me, but for girls in the poor villages of Bangladesh, becoming a child bride is a dark and frightening reality. Poverty forces families to do the unthinkable, but together with World Concern, Prishna was now showing them how to avoid child marriage altogether.

Prishna is now a familiar face in the villages, as she bravely shares her story of escaping child marriage with other girls at risk. Her encouragement is simple … to say “NO”.

She first rejected child marriage at the age of 10 … then 11 … and each year after that. By the time Prishna was 14, she was so determined to make something of her life that she was fully enrolled in school, safe from being married off, and helping other girls find their voice.

So, what gives girls like Prishna hope? You do.

Your support of World Concern gives girls like Prishna a chance to stay in school and avoid child marriage. Without you, families trapped in poverty have no other choice but to pull their daughters from school and marry them off to complete strangers.

Today, Prishna wants to finish her studies and become a doctor. Her dream is that she will return to this community and ensure the families here have access to good health care.

As I listened to Prishna speak, I become even more empowered to stop this terrible practice. Through her courage, and in the face of such poverty, I could see that she was just the beginning of generations of young women who will stand up, and say, “God made a way when there seem to be no way.”

As for me, I want to now share Prishna’s story with everyone I meet, and tell them that there is a way to bring child marriage to an end.

Smiling All The Way To School

The high-school scholarships are arriving in Bangladesh, and girls are grinning from ear to ear.

A small team of our staff recently visited a handful of Bangladeshi villages, and got to see first-hand how your gifts are not only making a difference, but bringing smiles to young faces.

We met some remarkable girls who, after bravely sharing their fears of becoming child brides, couldn’t stop thanking you for giving them a one-year scholarship to stay in school.

For many girls living here (some as young as 10), child marriage is a terrible reality, and one that won’t seem to go away. It’s a generational problem that’s fueled by warped cultural beliefs and choking poverty; the effects of which see desperate parents marry their daughters off to alleviate the financial burden of care. So when 16-year-old Happy learned that her father had plans to marry her off, she threw herself at his feet and begged him to change his mind. It’s heartbreaking to know that girls like Happy are losing their childhoods and being placed in danger, largely because their parents see no way out.

For Happy, a scholarship means she can stay in school and avoid child marriage.
For Happy, a $50 high-school scholarship means she can stay in school and avoid child marriage.

The solution is education, and girls like Happy rely on the generosity of people like you to help make it happen. The more time we spent with Happy, the more we realized what a scholarship gift really meant. She (like every other girl we met) cried tears of joy and relief knowing that she could now attend school and avoid child marriage.

“Without this scholarship, I would already be married,” shares 15-year-old Dipa, who wants to become a doctor when she’s older. Dipa has such a heart for learning that it’s hard to imagine her not in a classroom, let alone bound to a complete stranger. But like Happy, getting married was a fear that Dipa lived with daily until her sister did something unthinkable.

When Dipa was just 13, her sister volunteered herself to live as a stranger’s wife to save Dipa and give her the chance to stay in school. “I was sad and I felt lonely when my sister got married and left,” explains Dipa. “She didn’t want to get married, but she knew if she did it would take the pressure off me,”

But as Dipa grew older, the risk of her being married off returned, as did her fears. So when your one-year scholarship arrived, Dipa couldn’t stop smiling!

Dipa's mother was a child bride, and her sister, but this scholarship has broken the chains and given her hope.
Dipa’s mother was a child bride, and her sister, but this scholarship has broken the chains and given her (and others like her) a reason to smile.

She feels safe for the first time in years and now has the confidence to finish school and chase her dreams—maybe even one day marry the man that God has intended.

In the rural villages of Bangladesh, girls like Dipa and Happy are smiling once again thanks to you.

Living in fear of child marriage

I sat down on the steps of a small rural high school in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, expectantly waiting to talk with some of the girls who have received scholarships from World Concern. Dressed in her blue and white uniform, 16-year-old Rima sat down next to me. I started asking questions about school – what she enjoys studying and her future plans.

With her first words, tears spilled down her cheeks. Staring off into the distance and weeping, she told me that from the time she was 14, her father has been trying to marry her off.

Rima lives in constant fear of being married off to an older man.
Rima lives in constant fear of being married off to an older man.

“My father works as a guard at the hospital. He works all night, but only earns 4,000 taka ($52) per month,” Rima explained through her tears.

The oldest of four children, Rima carries an emotional burden for the constant struggle her family experiences living in such poverty.

“We don’t eat well,” she said.

“My father keeps telling my mom, ‘I am only earning so little, how can I afford to pay for education? I want to get Rima married,’ but my mom says, ‘No, no, no, she must go to school.’”

“My dad says, ‘There is no use of her studies because she is going to get married anyway and go to the house of her husband and she will end up washing dishes in the kitchen…’”

Rima’s mother was married to her father at just 13. She knows the reality of being a child bride and bearing children far too young. She wants Rima to have a better life than she’s had.

“My mom is preventing him from marrying me off,” Rima said. “I don’t want to get married, but my dad keeps telling me, ‘If you left, then I would be able to take care of my other children better.’”

In Bangladeshi culture—especially amongst the poorest people—it is common for girls as young as 10 or 12 years to be married off to men in their thirties or forties.

Rima is at such a tender age. She dreams of finishing high school, going to college, and becoming a teacher one day.

“I want to be a teacher and teach poor children in my area, free of cost,” she said.

Rima dreams of finishing school and becoming a teacher so she can teach children from poor families like hers.
Rima dreams of finishing school and becoming a teacher so she can teach children from poor families like hers.

But instead of dreaming about her future, she lives under the constant threat of being sent to live with a man she doesn’t even know. Some of her friends have already gotten married. And some already have babies.

“Please don’t cross my name off the [scholarship] list,” she pleaded. “If World Concern didn’t help us, I would have gotten married a long time ago, and my life would have been in the darkness.”

No adolescent girl should have to live in fear of being forced to get married. An educated girl is six times less likely to be married off during her teen years. You can provide a scholarship for a girl like Rima for an entire year for just $50 and change her future.

An Educated Way To Stop Child Marriage

When Karima was just 8 years-old, her father left. And she took it hard.

She had not lived a day without him by her side.  This man had protected her, and worked to keep her in school.  So when he abandoned her mother and two sisters, Karima’s world came crashing down. Nobody came to console her. Nobody was there to wipe away her tears.

Karima (right) stands with her mom outside their home.
Karima (right) stands with her mom outside their home.

And sadly things would only get worse.

Karima’s village is in Bangladesh, and while she was too young to know it, it’s a country where many young girls are married off as child brides.  Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, where 1 in every 5 girls is married before they turn 15.

Mired in poverty after her husband left, Karima’s mother managed to survive in a small dilapidated shack, no bigger than your average kitchen.  She fiercely protected Karima, and fought to keep her in school, knowing that an education was the only thing that would help her escape this life.

So she did what any mother would—she worked to find a way.

But with no money, and never having worked before, it was close to impossible.  She finally found a day laboring job but the wage was small, barely enough to pay for food.  There were days when the family would go without just so Karima could stay in school. It was an overwhelming sacrifice and money was quickly running out.

In Bangladesh, stories like this are far too common. In this article, a 15-year-old child bride sadly reflects on her situation saying, “We were very poor. Sometimes we would eat every two or three days,” she says. “Even though they [parents] really wanted all three of their daughter to study, it wasn’t possible –so they got me married.” Her older sisters married at 11 and 12.

Ratna (Karima) studying
With her scholarship, Karima hopes to finish school and become a teacher.

So for Karima’s mother, it was no surprise when a friend suggested her daughter be married off as a child bride.  This is the shocking reality for girls like Karima. They have no say, no choice.  Their only hope of avoiding this terrifying prospect is to stay in school.

At World Concern, we consider every child precious.  And for that reason we’re focusing our efforts on preventing girls like Karima from becoming child brides, by doing all we can to keep them in school.

We do this by providing scholarships for girls like Karima.  The scholarship gives them an education and keeps them from being married off too young.

And a scholarship only costs $50… for an entire year!

Please pray for girls like Karima, and for their brighter futures.