We are delighted to introduce you to Rabeya Sultana, the brand new Country Director for Bangladesh, who joined the Muslim Aid family on 15 January 2020. She joins from HelpAge International Bangladesh, where she was the Country Director.
Rabeya has been working for over 24 years helping the marginalised and disadvantaged in Bangladesh. She has worked with ActionAid, Care, Save the Children, other local and international charities, government departments and civil society organisations.
On top of a very busy career, Rabeya is also a radio and TV presenter on Channel I, Bangla Vison and Radio Ekattor, using the media to change social attitudes and promote inclusion.
Rabeya lives with her husband and 15 year old son in Dhaka.
A few questions for Rabeya…
What motivated you to join Muslim Aid?
Muslim Aid has a glorious history of doing good works all around the globe and in Bangladesh. In particular in humanitarian emergencies, Muslim Aid always jumps on these situations and helps save lives. I have seen great humanity in their work.
Also, Muslim Aid has been doing fantastic work on technical and vocational training which fits in with the present government’s mission to grow the country economically. So, seeing how Muslim Aid is working to develop young people as a resource and place them in decent jobs, are the things that motivate me and areas which I feel I can add value to the existing brilliant work that Muslim Aid is doing.
Have you seen any of the work yet? What impressed you most?
I have visited the vocational educational training centres in Dhaka and have seen how Muslim Aid is working to help the urban, ultra-poor youth. I have seen them learning automobile mechanics, garment machine-operating and tailoring. And diploma courses in electronics and electrical work – it’s so amazing to see the youths spending time learning. I saw a lot of bright futures in the eyes and the faces of the students and saw how they will contribute to the job market and the economy. It has made me so proud to see this.
In some of Pirojpur’s hospitals Muslim Aid is supporting the poor and vulnerable who can’t afford medical treatment, particularly children and mothers. I’ve also seen some great counselling support given to mothers to help them take care of their babies and for the mothers on how to stay healthy, physically and mentally. It’s really amazing to see this work.
What do you see as the current challenges for Muslim Aid in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh is still growing very much and the rapid urbanisation is a real problem, not just for Muslim Aid but for all international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). There is a lot of displacement causing this, and where there is displacement or migration then poverty follows. This could be one of the challenges for Bangladesh because many of the current social development programmes have been designed for rural areas and not really for urban areas. Government knows that urban poverty must be addressed soon and the donor community need to be aware and respond to that challenge.
What programmatic areas are you hoping to focus on in the next year?
We want to build on the glorious history of Muslim Aid, but become more standardized, more advanced and modern. We will definitely focus on the educational sector and work to help place youths in decent work. And the new I am committed to bringing, is the lens of inclusion; girls and people with disabilities. So, if we can extend our vocational and educational training schemes to become more inclusive that will help us reach new heights over the next year.
I also want to focus on water and sanitation, particularly the menstrual hygiene management of young girls and women by brining women friendly toilets to our vocational training centre and hospitals and providing sanitary towels etc.
I’m also keen to work with external stakeholders so that we can maximise results, reduce the overlapping of resources and improve our services for the people we are trying to help.
How do you see the progress of girls and women in both rural and urban areas of Bangladesh at the moment?
The national government, especially the ruling party, has a lot of commitment for the development of women. In the last 15 years you can see how the Bangladeshi women are contributing to the workforce and the economy. So, I’m sure that in the coming days there will be more opportunities, as the government is willing to support female empowerment. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is championing this - she is in the list of world ranking Prime Ministers and she has spread the hopes and dreams amongst us.
It doesn’t matter whether a women is educated or not, from a rural or urban area, but women’s development is now revolutionised across the whole country….I think the dream is now coming from the parents who have small girls. They don’t see girls as a burden anymore, because the political will is there.
Are there any really important lessons you have learnt from previous development programmes you’ve worked on?
The major lesson that I’ve learned and reflect in my work is to treat men and women as human beings. Every individual must be treated as a resource, not as a vulnerable person, even in a humanitarian disaster. If we treat a woman in this context as vulnerable then that’s a great loss. So I say, change the lens - treat the woman as a resource in every context.
What would you like to see happen in Bangladesh in your career and lifetime?
Yes, 4 things…
These are the things I want to champion and work with others so that together we can help our culture to grow.