Going to school is a normal way of life for so many children around the world, but not in Bangladesh. Over four million children have had to grow up too fast and are forced to work to support their families from an early age. They are often put at risk of health issues and exploitation, but most importantly, they are missing out on their bright future and the right to be kids.
An award-winning photojournalist, GMB Akash, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, uses his voice to highlight the lives and stories of marginalized people of his homeland. He has been working on the child labor situation in Bangladesh for over 15 years and has been making small steps that bring huge change in the lives of kids who have had to give up their childhood. GMB Akash uses his own money to free children from grueling routines at work and send them to school. The photographer is on a mission to improve the lives of people he captures and takes full financial responsibility for it, so he contributes almost all his income, leaving out only his own minimal living expenses.
Here are some of his heartwarming pictures to illustrate how the lives of these children have transformed for the better.
Akash quotes Paul Shane Spear when talking about his humanitarian work: “As one person, you can’t change the world, but you can change the world of one person.” So far, GMB Akash has admitted 30 children to school and doesn’t plan to stop.
“By the grace of God, I have admitted a total of 30 working children to school and I am monitoring them very closely. I am regularly visiting their homes and schools to assess their situation. Hopefully, in a few months, I will be able to admit another 10 child laborers to school. Therefore, in just a few months, there will be a total of 40 working children going to school instead of to grueling jobs. I have taken the responsibility for their complete education for my entire life,he said.
“Like these 30 children, more than four million children are struggling in our country. Maybe it is difficult, but it is not impossible, to give hope to these 4 million children. If only every capable person would give a hand for one child, miracles would happen which could transform our society into a better-educated population who could better contribute to the development of our country, a benefit for all of us.”
Child labor in Bangladesh has been the accent of the photographer’s work for more than 15 years. Although the country is moving towards positive change to fight child labor and ensure a better future for children, the change is too slow. Therefore, Akash decided to give up his own comfort to support children and their families in poverty.
“From the beginning of my photography career, I wanted to change the situation and raise awareness of this suffering. However, I was not at all happy seeing these changes happening so very slowly in our society! Therefore, I decided to change people’s lives directly and I started with those people who I had photographed and those with whom I was already working. I started giving training and gifted businesses to people in need; especially the parents of child laborers. With these businesses, I arranged for each of the families so that they could earn more money and send their children to school instead of to factories. So far, I have given 150 different businesses to 150 families.”
GMB Akash uses his own money to help people in need while living on minimal personal expenses. He shares the income from paid photojournalism assignments from organizations and publications, fees from One to One photography and other workshops, sales of his book, and other remunerative activities.
“I am not sponsored nor paid by any organization of any kind. I am a freelance independent photojournalist and have no hired staff to help me with the multiple campaigns and projects that I organize all year round at my own initiative. I do everything myself and take full responsibility for it. This includes collecting stories, taking photos, filming videos, interviewing people, writing stories, organizing charity campaigns, managing and distributing donated goods to unprivileged people, and maintaining my own social media accounts, which I use only to find ways to help the people I encounter and to try to improve something in their lives.”
“Helping unprivileged people make positive changes in their lives is the mission of my life’s work,” says GMB Akash. “I try to focus on getting as many children as possible out of the factories and fields where they must work to survive and into the schools. I personally sponsor hundreds of children’s education with my own income because educated children are our only future.”
It might sound crazy to people who are privileged enough to have easy access to education, but convincing parents to let their children go to school was not an easy task for GMB Akash. Children bear the burden of supporting families on their shoulders by doing underpaid and often hazardous work.
“In order to get working children to school, I had to go door to door many times requesting that their parents send them to school. Finally, I have been able to convince some of the parents about the importance of education. I motivated them to send their children to school. It was not at all easy. For that, I had to take full financial responsibility for these kids with expenses such as their admission fees, tuition fees, daily food, books, clothes, and also to financially compensate their parents for the entire amount of money they would have earned each month if they had worked instead of going to school. I will also have to bear all the children’s expenses to ensure that they will continue to go to school!”
GMB Akash also personally gives out hundreds of scholarships to students every year.
“Up to 200 students have received my scholarships so far. Without this funding, it would have been almost impossible for them to take part in their SSC and HSC Exams and to continue with their education. Many of them are studying in recognized institutions like Notre Dame College and Dhaka University!”
GMB Akash has received more than 100 international photography awards and his work has been featured in over 100 international publications including National Geographic, Times, The Guardian, and The Economist, to name a few. In 2007, he became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the 30 Emerging Photographers, and in 2011, he was the first Bangladeshi to speak in a TED talk in Portugal.