The sisters indomitable
Who would have thought the four sisters would be where they are today?
Visually impaired since birth, they grew up seeing their parents endure frequent taunts from neighbours and gossip-mongers who labelled them as "ill-omened". The only other response they elicited from people was that of pity as everyone had thought they would end up being a burden to the family.
But what the sisters from Patia of Chittagong have achieved with their unswerving determination is an awe-inspiring story of refusing to give in to disability and of realising their goals.
In a country where facilities for visually impaired people are scant, Umme Habiba Chowdhury completed her master's in law and Umme Taslima Chowdhury in political science, and both Umme Tanzila Chowdhury and Umme Salima Chowdhury are currently doing their master's in sociology. All of them have studied at Chittagong University.
What is more, three of them have already embarked upon a teaching career at primary schools in Patia, and they are doing their job with reputation.
Their parents deserve special mention as they left no stone unturned to see their children established in society.
"Perhaps the proverb 'Where there is a will, there is a way' applies to us. A person with disability can be established in society if they are determined and motivated," said Taslima, a teacher of South Gobinderhill Government Primary School in Patia upazila.
The Daily Star recently had the opportunity to talk to three of them when they along with 22 other visually impaired teachers were attending a 14-day training course at the capital's Teachers' Training College (TTC) on digital content development.
The training, first of its kind in Bangladesh, started on January 4 and was jointly organised by Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI-II) -- a project under the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education -- and Access to Information (a2i) Programme of the Prime Minister's Office. The TTC facilitated the training sessions while Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) and Bangladesh Visually Impaired People's Society provided technical support.
Hailing from Azimpur village in Patia, the four sisters with their lone brother were raised in Chittagong city.
Their father Nasiruddin Chowdhury and mother Shamima Akter Chowdhury are cousins. When the first child, Habiba, was born, their neighbours started jeering at them. Then the second child, their brother, came and he had vision. But after the birth of Salima, the third child, the family moved to Chittagong city to get rid of gossip-mongers and find ways to ensure their children's education.
"Our parents were determined to ensure good education for us so that we can be established in society," said Taslima.
She said their father had struggled a lot to find the best educational institutes for them.
They all completed their primary education from the Government School for the Blind and the Deaf in Muradpur of Chittagong.
Tanzila, who teaches at Mohsina Model Government Primary School, said she had studied at Rahmania High School while the other three had their secondary education from a school at Bangladesh Forest Research Institute. After completing their HSC, they all got enrolled at Chittagong University.
Apart from formal education, they also had training on computer and information technology, a sector where a huge number of teachers are still needed.
"Our parents tried their best so that we can have our own identity in the midst of sighted people," said Taslima.
But the challenges were too many.
When their parents had taken them to schools for admission, the school authorities did not want to enrol them. They had to make efforts to convince them.
The next challenge was availability of books.
"It was one of the biggest challenges. Books for our studies were not available," said Taslima.
They got Braille textbooks only during their primary education. At the secondary, higher secondary and tertiary levels, they had to study without any Braille books. So they had to rely solely on class lectures or turned a few courses into Braille books on their own.
She said they had to record the class lectures or seek help from peers for their studies. "We continued our studies amid a lot of hurdles."
Habiba even faced problems getting jobs initially. She was not allowed initially to sit for the recruitment test for primary school teachers around six years ago. The problem was solved later.
Taslima and Tanzila, however, did not face such difficulties.
They said that there was one more problem they faced at work. Initially their colleagues did not accept them warmly. But things started to change when the other teachers saw them giving classes like sighted people and realised they were also competent and qualified for the job.
Taslima, who joined the school in December 2013, said she had become a popular teacher in her school.
"Now whenever I need any assistance, many of my students come forward to help," she said.
Suman Das, a teacher of her school, said, "Though she [Taslima] is visually impaired, she knows more than us about many things, especially about using computer."
Sumon also praised her for her ability to discuss a topic nicely and thoroughly. She mostly gives classes on narrative subjects like Bangla and environment. "She is doing very well," Suman told The Daily Star recently.
All three of them were also very active at the digital content development training.
Their trainer Mirza Mohammad Didarul Anam said the sisters were very keen to learn how to develop digital content for their students and their progress was very impressive.