For most people, the beach brings to mind a pleasant vacation, sipping on a tropical juice in a hammock, or spending good times in the company of friends. However, for a group of eight young Bangladeshi girls between ages 11 and 14, the beach is the place where they were forced to work day and night selling goods in order to support their families.
These girls are from poor villages near Cox's Bazar, a shabby tourist resort on the longest uninterrupted sea beach in the world, in Southeast Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country of more than 160 million people. They dropped out of school before ever learning how to read or write.
But three years ago, their story started to change. In a country where women aren't encouraged to take up sports, these girls have done just that with the help of Rashed Alam, a local surf expert. Now, they are known as the "Bangladeshi surf girls" — and they're looking towards the future with a smile.
The girls are able to continue surfing thanks to a crowdfunding
initiative, launched in 2015, that ensures them enough money for food and transportation — so they are no longer forced to work constantly. They continue to sell cheap, handcrafted jewelry and food items to tourists on the beach to make a living, but now they actually find time to hit the waves.
The initiative also gives these girls the resources to learn English and other useful skills. They may dream of becoming professional surfers and lifeguards one day, but what's more important is that they have been given the chance to regain part of their childhood and attain a basic education (a crucial factor in delaying the age at which they'll marry — after all, this society is one in which child marriage is all too common).
Read on to learn more about the way these inspiring girls are taking back their local beach.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach, here.