Dr. Angela Gomes is a social worker and Founder Executive Director of Banchte Shekha (Learn How To Survive), a leading NGO working since 1976 with the long-term objective of improving the socio-economic condition of women and children in Bangladesh.
Born in Dhaka on July 16, 1952, Angela Gomes was raised in a small village near Dhaka. Resisting an early marriage, she became a teacher at Sacred Heart School in Jessore and was drawn to Catholic charity work in the city slums. In the early days, Angela Gomes would borrow a bicycle and pedal alone through the countryside in Jesssore. There she met a number of women who, abandoned and abused by their husbands, were suffering in silence. She would talk to the women in the villages, listening to their problems and offering what little help she could. Angry at this interference in their traditional ways, the men would sometimes hurl rocks at her as she passed. But nothing could stop her. She tried to communicate her vision of a respectful life for village women where they would be appreciated for their contributions, where they could earn their own living and take care of themselves and their children, and where they would not be victims of violence and oppression. She studied the Quran carefully and conducted herself in a manner that gradually earned her the support of the villagers as well as the open-minded Muslim clerics.
At first she started working with only a small group of women. Later, in 1976, she established Banchte Shekha which got its registration in 1981. Banchte Shekha has been providing its services through 18 offices of 44 upazilas of 18 Districts of 4 Divisions. It directly serves more than 10,00,000 women all over the country and indirectly benefits more than 50,00,000 people through its programmes. The organisation teaches rural women a vast range of income-generating skills, including handicrafts, raising crops, poultry and livestock, fish farming, beekeeping and silk making. The majority of field positions of Banchte Shekha are still held by experienced women members.
In 1987, she began to train a team of paralegals in Muslim law and relevant legal procedures. As a result, in many villages today, cases involving domestic violence, dowry abuses, child support, and other gender-related conflicts are deliberated in public by arbitration panels convened and trained by Banchte Shekha's paralegals, instead of by traditional all-male mediation councils. Through its gender awareness training and legal innovations, it is enabling women and men alike to carve out a new era of gender equality.
Angela Gomes has received many prestigious awards in recognition of her contribution. She was honoured with the "Best Social Worker” award by Bangladesh National Council for Social Worker in 1988, “Best Female Workers for Social Development” award by fortnightly magazine Anannaya In 1997, "Kirtimati Nari – Best Social Worker" by Square group in 2008, etc.
She received "Begum Rokeya Padak" in 1999. The same year she also received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Community Leadership category, in recognition of her contribution in 'helping rural Bangladeshi women assert their rights to better livelihoods and to gender equality, under the law and in everyday life. In 2014, she received an Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) from International KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.
Angela Gomes has written several books on social issues which include Learning through Works for Adults, Living with Rights, Easy Living of Children, How I Reached, etc.