Twenty-two-year-old Tanjin Afrin Barsha was born in a snake charmers' family in Porabari of Savar. Her seven-member family earns its livelihood by entertaining people with snakes and selling amulets.
Despite being from such an ultra-poor family, Barsha started to dream of becoming the speaker of the National Parliament one day after she got admitted to a university.
After passing the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations with good results from Savar Adharchandra High School and Savar College respectively, she got admitted to the Department of English Literature at City University.
Barsha, now a second-year student of the university, wants to work for bringing positive changes in the socio-economic condition of the nomadic community locally called Bede.
Like Barsha, 17-year-old Ohedina Akhter is the daughter of another poor Bede family. She is also dreaming of a bright career, brushing aside her classmates' and neighbours' neglect.
Among the students of the Bede community in Savar, Ohedina was the first to get A + in the Primary Education Completion Examination (PECE) and Junior School Certificate (JSC) examinations. She is now a student of business studies in class XII in Savar Model College. Her dream is to get a higher degree in economics from Jahangirnagar University. She wants to be the governor of the Bangladesh Bank.
The number of Bede people in the country is about 70.41 lakh, according to Uttoron Foundation. Overcoming the hardships of nomadic life, they have started to get involved in the mainstream education and economy. In this transition, education is playing a vital role.
Apart from the Bede community of Savar, snake charmers of other rural areas of the country have also started getting involved in mainstream formal education. Along with the change of their ancestral profession, there is also a change in their way of life. They are now running towards cities.
An NGO called Uttaran Foundation in Savar has been assisting the poor Bede community people in different ways. It is helping the children of the community in their schooling, working for their poverty eradication and providing female snake charmers with vocational training. The organistaion is getting cooperation from people from different walks of life in this regard.
Bedepalli, the snake charmers' neighbourhood, in Savar used to be a drug den. However, the situation is changing now as the light of education is spreading there. At the initiative of Uttaran Foundation, many women are working in various garment factories in Savar with good salaries after taking training on their work.
Bede youths, who were unemployed earlier, have started working in different sectors after taking training in computer and driving free of cost. Through the efforts of Uttaran Foundation, the government has built houses for 150 ultra-poor Bede families.
According to the Uttaran Foundation, before 2014, there were only six people in the Bede community of Savar who passed SSC. After five years, the number of SSC passed people in the community has increased to 155.
Nine people of the community are working in police and four in teaching
About 50 members of the community are now engaged in different respectable professions.
The education rate in the snake charmers' community here is more than 80 percent, according to the foundation.
Primary school attendance rate is 100 percent. Almost no female student is dropping out from schools. About 85 percent of the snake charmers have switched their profession to different other occupations.
Of the 20,000 snake charmers of the Bede community in Savar, only about 5,000 are still in their ancestral profession.
Abdur Sattar Khan, an advisor to the Uttaran Foundation and headmaster of Uttaran School, told The Business Standard that education has brought in major changes in the Bede community. But poverty is still a big problem. Due to this, child labour is not decreasing, he said.
He said with the cooperation of the government and people, the number of students in the Bede community, who dream like Barsha and Ahedina, will increase a lot.
SM Nayemul Hasan, a student at the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, undertook a programme called "Project 60" for the members of the Bede community during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He organised various events online and took Tk60 from each of the participants at the events. He spent more than two lakh taka from the collection for providing food aid to the snake charmers.
SM Nayemul Hasan told TBS, "Many of the snake charmers want to be educated. They want to be integrated into mainstream society. We should give them that opportunity by drawing them close with love and generosity."