Amina Begum was a maid and used to work at three houses. She single handedly took care of everything - from her family to workplace duties. Still, she was struggling. Seeing her hardship, one of her employers decided to help her.
Amina's employer bought two rickshaws for Amina's rickshaw puller husband so that they could enjoy a little solvency in life. This made Amina happy and she expressed her utmost gratitude to the employer.
But a few months later, Amina came to the employer's house - blaming and accusing the employer of destroying her life. Baffled, her employer did not understand what had just happened within a few months - and how.
As far as the employer was concerned, she only tried to bring happiness into Amina's life. Little did she know that with financial solvency, another wife in Amina's husband's life had arrived.
According to Amina's logic, if there was no financial solvency, such a scenario would not have ensued and Amina held her employer responsible for her misfortune.
This incident had profoundly moved Saiful Islam Khan, a little boy at the time, whose mother was Amina's employer.
Since that incident, Saiful decided to help and educate people morally, instead of helping them financially.
"For me, this was a lesson for a lifetime. I learned that financial stability cannot bring happiness or peace of mind. To earn either, a person needs education. I intend to educate people as much as I can. With this thought, we started an initiative called 'The Sky is the Limit' for the children of RMG workers," said Saiful, the managing director of Essential Clothing Ltd.
"The Sky is the Limit", started in 2019, is an academic program for the children of 3,500 RMG workers at Essential Clothing Ltd. Under this program, children interested in pursuing higher education receive scholarships or funding, depending on their board examination results and current financial status.
Till now, 15 students have received scholarships and more are under the program's observation.
Saiful wants this program to be an educational model for all RMG factories and aims to grab the attention of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) to have the program added as a compulsory requirement in all the factories.
The RMG industry has around four million workers and one million children of school-going-age are involved as well, Saiful informed. He believes that the one million child labourers deserve a better life and that can only be achieved through quality education.
"I believe that managing such a program is very possible. It creates a healthy and positive environment among the workers and they feel valued. If we want to bring prosperity in this industry, we must take care of the next generation. That is why we encourage the children of RMG workers to pursue higher education and we are always with them in this journey," he added.
In the beginning, when Essential Clothing Ltd. introduced this initiative, they expected tons of applications. Surprisingly, even after three rounds of announcement, there were only a few applications.
"Our workers have self-respect and they want to make this journey by themselves, no matter how bumpy it is. This is only a little effort from us to make their path smoother," Saiful shared.
Children who perform the best in board examinations receive a scholarship, with the amount varying depending on the classes and results. Usually this scholarship is given to students from classes five to 12 and they receive an amount of Tk3,000 to Tk15,000 yearly. This program also takes care of special cases of financially insolvent parents and their children.
Last year, a first-year college student - Shipon Ahmed - received the scholarship for attaining GPA5.00 in his SSC examination. At first, Shipon and his parents agreed to save the scholarship money for higher studies.
However, the pandemic hit soon afterwards and everything took a back seat. Meanwhile, Shipon's online classes started and he missed a few classes initially as he did not own any smartphone.
As a result, Shipon ended up buying a second-hand computer with his scholarship money. Now, he is attending online classes regularly without any hassles.
"It is not only about the money. I have noticed that my son has become more attentive in his studies since he received the scholarship. This has motivated him," said Shipon's mother Selina Akter, an operator at Essential Clothing Ltd.
Saiful believes Shipon's motivation needs to be spread everywhere. Starting such programs can benefit other RMG factory owners as well as it will add extra points to their portfolios while representing the factories to buyers.
But the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has considerably interrupted the program's operation. Program officials hope that once the situation improves and the project brings itself to speed, more options will be introduced to further expand the project.
"We do not want the children of the workers to join our factory in their places. We would rather if they join as officials. Our goal is to make this program sustainable and act as a role model for others," a hopeful Saiful said.