By Alheri Egor-Egbe ’17
Maimuna Ahmad ’09 found her life’s passion in education after working for two years as a secondary-school math teacher in Washington, D.C., as part of Teach for America, a rigorous program that places top graduates in low-income schools across the United States.
She returned to her home country of Bangladesh with an audacious dream—to address the disparity in educational opportunity for children—and in 2012, Ahmad founded Teach for Bangladesh.
“I have two main driving forces in my work today: the courage to pursue my convictions, and the importance of community. I believe very strongly in education, because having taught underprivileged children myself, I know the potential of an empowering education to transform a child’s life,” Ahmad told a group of students during a Lynk experience gathering at Mount Holyoke College April 14. “The tremendous support from my Mount Holyoke community allows me to feel now the same confidence I felt when I took the first leap.”
A day earlier, Ahmad was one of two alumnae to receive the Mary Lyon award at the College’s spring Celebration of Excellence. The honor is given to a young alumna who demonstrates “exceptional promise or sustained achievement in her life, profession, or community, and whose work embodies the humane values which Mary Lyon exemplified in her life and inspired in others.” See the full award citation.
Based in Dhaka, Teach for Bangladesh now employs 35 full-time teaching fellows in 12 public primary schools located in marginalized communities. Since its founding, the organization, which is modeled on Teach for America, has reached 4,000 schoolchildren.
When she began Teach for Bangladesh, Ahmad knew she would face significant challenges in recruiting. As Teach for America does, she targeted college graduates, and that has propelled the growth of the organization. Last year, Teach for Bangladesh received over 600 applicants for 23 spots. This year, the organization anticipates 800 applications for the 55 teaching opportunities.
Teach for Bangladesh strives to create a win-win situation for all involved, Ahmed told Mount Holyoke students. Upon completion of the two-year teaching program, fellows receive a master’s degree in education from a top university in Bangladesh.
While Teach for Bangladesh has been a success, there continue to be challenges with reaching the country's more than 30 million children. Ahmad said lasting change remains dependent on government leadership that could change the entire educational system including compensation and larger infrastructure challenges.
“Some of our children are from migrant populations and live in illegal slums, so they have to change schools very often,” she said. “This causes gaps in their education, health, and nutrition and affects the children in the long run.”
Nanjiba Nawaz, a first-year Mount Holyoke student from Bangladesh who is interested in social work, said Ahmad’s talk was inspiring.
“I learned that a strong community is very important, and that’s why I’m grateful to be at Mount Holyoke. I have women like Maimuna to look up to,” she said. “Like Maimuna, I now want to engage in activities where I will gain the most practical leadership I can, so when I leave school, I feel ready to follow my dreams.”
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