Shayan Barua, a first-year student of Accounting and Information Systems of Dhaka University, has just woken up, and it is not yet six in the morning. In a hurry, he shakes his little brother to try and wake him up. If he does not wake up on time, they will be late again in removing weeds from their neighbour's field. Since the pandemic started, he has been removing weeds from other people's fields to financially support his family while continuing his online classes.
Luckily, his education cost is not an extra burden on his family as he receives a monthly scholarship of Tk3,000 from Brac Bank, under their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) budget. In total, the educational expenses of 250 students – 99 female and 151 male – of different departments of the Faculty of Business Studies of Dhaka University are covered by this project.
"Using this monthly scholarship, I buy my mobile internet package for online classes and also source my pen and paper to study. Sometimes, I also support my family with this money, if the situation demands it. When back at home, I do almost everything to support my family," shared a shy Shayan.
This monthly scholarship project has been running for the last three years. Every year, Brac Bank renews its agreement with Dhaka University. Per month, Tk750,000 is allocated for these students. Earlier, the amount was Tk5,000, and 150 students were involved in this programme, but the amount has been decreased recently to help out more students. It was not possible to bring more students under the same umbrella without shrinking the amount, so they chose an alternative.
The program actually started when previous Dean Prof. Shibli Rubayat Ul Islam, current Chairman of Bangladesh Securities & Exchange Commission, shared his students' sufferings with Selim R F Hussain, MD and CEO of Brac Bank Limited.
"Brac Bank believes in leaving no one behind and we are committed to see every citizen prosper. The students are the future drivers of the nation. When we came to know that their dreams could be shattered due to financial constraints, we wanted to stand by them. The scholarship is a humble contribution of our bank for them. We believe one day these students will lead the change in our country," Selim stated.
When this scholarship is announced, thousands of applications hit the box. The scholarship committee goes through the applications a number of times to identify the neediest of students and later calls them for an interview. After the interview, they shortlist students based on their family income and academic results. Usually, they pick the students outside Dhaka as it is challenging for them to manage an extra income source here.
About the selection process, Professor Dr Hasina Sheykh, director, Master of Professional Banking (MPB) Programme and Student Advisor from the Department of Banking and Insurance, University of Dhaka, said, "Such an emotionally exhausting process it was. We met students who go to university from Mohammadpur and Mirpur on foot just to save the transport cost."
They can pick only 250 students for the scholarship when thousands of brilliant students stand in queue with hope. It is like deciding someone's future for them.
"Tk3,000 per month means Tk100 per day. Surviving on this in Dhaka seems next to impossible and yet, our students are somehow making this happen," Hasina added.
Interestingly, these students are pretty cooperative throughout the process, and sometimes they voluntarily take a step back for their friends, informed Hasina. "This is the true humanity, I believe," she voiced. Once the students are selected, they receive the monthly scholarship through Bkash.
However, this year-long pandemic has affected the students in many ways, as their freelance income sources are also closed.
Eti Rani, a third-year student from the Department of Banking and Insurance, explained her situation, "Once in a while my relatives used to financially help me, but due to the pandemic now, they are also in a difficult situation. And I am living totally on this scholarship. I am thankful that they did not abandon us in this tough moment."
The situation is pretty similar for Shayan too. He had tuitions in Dhaka before the pandemic. Using that money, he managed to buy a smartphone. Now, that device is being used both by him and his siblings to attend online classes. Sadly, that device is now acting up, and he does not have any other income source to buy another. He does not have other options than using it because he has a year final exam in just one month.
"My phone does not support a lot of technical things, such as creating excel sheets. To complete my tasks, I need a laptop. But at this moment, I cannot even think of it," said a perplexed Shayan.
Yet, he is glad that he can attend the online classes and continue his studies. "It is always better to do something than nothing," Shayan said.
Brac Bank has plans to continue this programme to help thousands of students like Shayan and Eti achieve their goals by taking little steps.