Apart from achieving economic freedom for themselves, the nine young men have created employment for 230 others in their village
Only a few years ago, Shashibadani village under Bogura Sadar upazila was grappling with poverty and various types of criminal activities. Frustrated with unemployment, many youths including educated ones resorted to drug abuse and other vices.
But the scenario has changed completely in a span of just five years. Now the entire village is abuzz with economic activities, and the criminal activities and social offences have come down almost to zero.
This apparently unimaginable change has been brought about by nine youths from the village. These enterprising young men have set an example by not only achieving economic freedom for themselves, but also by creating employment opportunities for many other unemployed youths in the village.
"Apart from attaining economic independence for ourselves, eight of my friends and I have created employment opportunities for some 230 village youths including many graduates," says Ashraful Islam Rasel.
Rasel is a co-founder of the "Shashibadani Juba Atmakarmasangsthan Sangstha", a five-year-old organisation that has been a changemaker for the poverty-ridden Bogura village. The organisation has nearly eradicated poverty, crime and drug abuse in the village in its short history.
The organsiation manufactures fabrics and packaging items. It provides jobs paying Tk15,000 per month on average to the needy and unemployed youths of the village. It also gives vocational training.
A good number of the recruits of the organisation hold higher education degrees, but were plagued with unemployment.
Though the organisation has not yet managed to employ all of the unemployed young men of the village for productive activities, it has prevented almost all of them from being wayward.
SM Bodiuzzaman, the officer-in-charge of Bogura Sadar Police Station, said that even in 2014, Shashibadani was known for narcotics and criminal activities. But he says these have now almost disappeared, thanks to Ashraful and his friends.
The other eight members of Ashraful's team are Uzzal Hossain, Jafrul Hassan Shabuj, Mamunur Rashid, Abdus Salam, Liton Das, Mahfuzur Rahman, Abdur Rauf, and Abdul Majid.
Ashraful started the voluntary organisation on the advice of his father Amjad Hossain, a retired land survey officer of the Bogura Zonal Settlement Office.
At that time, Ashraful was unemployed with a debt of Tk1.5 lakhs, which had piled up while he was looking for a job after completing graduation.
Seeing Ashraful and his other unemployed friends wandering in the village depressed and clueless, Amjad Hossain gave Ashraful certain guidelines for opening a business with his friends to boost their morale.
Seeing a ray of hope, they accumulated an initial investment of Tk40,000 with support from their families and enrolled them for training under the Department of Youth Development on small and cottage industries.
Soon after completing the training, they started making fabrics and packaging material.
They sold their woven items and paper packages in the village stores and bazars in Bogura town. Now they supply their products to almost all the districts of Bangladesh.
However, a year into their business activities, Amjad Hossain being inspired by their courage and teamwork wished for more important and daring roles for the youths.
He asked them to raise awareness against drug abuse and other social offences being carried out by wayward youths in the village.
Initially, the team found some response in their campaigns, although some errant young men paid little heed, giving the excuse that they were not "ruthless criminals".
Shortly afterwards Ashraful and his friends met with harsher and threatening responses.
But the proverb "fortune favours the brave" proved true for them, as the local law enforcers and district officials attended the campaigns and felt the need to cooperate with the campaigners to make the village a better place.
Bogura Deputy Commissioner Faiz Ahmed has provided the campaigners with Tk1.5 lakh from government funds, and has been consistently supporting the organisation through various means.
Consequently, the errant youths of the village saw sense and decided to give up harmful activities such as drug peddling, eve-teasing, extortion, mugging, burglary and others.
The support from the Department of Youth Development and some other welfare organisations for the organisation continues to this day because it now trains and employs both men and women of the village.
Ranu Khatun, head of the handicraft department of the organisation told The Business Standard that she now earns Tk13,000 every month as opposed to the Tk1,500 she used to get by tutoring after completing graduation.
Ranu who is now awaiting the final result of her master's course has decided to settle down in her present job and not look for opportunities elsewhere.
Ariful Islam, another proud employee under Ashraful and his friends, is not ready to explore other options either after completing his master's degree. Currently he earns Tk17,000 per month from the organisation.
He says a graduate can earn more from entrepreneurship than from other alternatives.
Ashraful, on his part, says he is done with searching for jobs. He will expand the economic and social contributions of his organisation as soon as he gets the final result of his master's course.