Project Director SOS Children's Villages in Bangladesh
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
Treasure comes through hard work
Learning from personal life
I am Shahidul Islam, the eldest of the six children of my parents. I was not lucky enough to grow up in wealth and I faced poverty, which stood in the way of my education. Passing my secondary school leaving exams in 1981, I came to town from my village to continue my studies. As our family was in financial crisis, I went into a lodging house and was admitted to a Government Polytechnic Institute in Diploma Engineering. However, due to lack of money, the following year I switched to another technical institute run by an NGO where I got an opportunity of free food, free accommodation and completely free studentship. Suddenly my father became paralysed and, being the eldest son, I was tense about when and how I would have to shoulder the responsibility of my family and educate my younger brothers and sister. In 1985 I successfully completed my three year Technical Course. I then had to complete an Instructor Training Course at the same Institution for another year. In view of my results, performance and sincerity, the Institute authorities offered me the post of Instructor of their Training Centre. On the very day of the completion of my Training, I joined the Institution as an Instructor. Besides maintaining my family, I started contributing to educating my younger brothers and sister with the money I could get from my job. Despite being trained in Technical Education, I completed my Master’s Degree in Education.
My journey with SOS
It was 1988 when SOS Children’s Villages in Bangladesh took the initiative of setting up a Vocational Training Centre in Dhaka. The authority appointed me as the Principal to start a new vocational training centre. I took the challenge and started my journey with SOS on 1 June 1988. I dedicated myself to establishing a model vocational training centre and, within a few years, SOS VTC Dhaka stood as a model training centre in Bangladesh that has successfully delivered thousands of potential skilled employees to the nation. They became self-reliant through the training they received and succeeded in their lives. In 2006 the SOS authorities promoted me to Director of SOS Vocational Centres in Bangladesh to look after them. The SOS Vocational Centre Dhaka celebrated its 20 year anniversary in 2008. A get-together of ex-students was organised. Mr. Helmut Kutin, being very impressed and satisfied with my dedication and enthusiasm, said, “There are one thousand and one hundred students who have gone through his hands, who attended his training and who now have great success in their lives. The success has been achieved due to his persistence and insistence.” Later on, at its 25 Year Celebration, Helmut Kutin was so overwhelmed that he suddenly presented his own SOS Ring to me for a few minutes, although he presented me with the SOS Ring on another occasion.
Accepting a new challenge
In September 2013, the SOS Authorities transferred me to SOS Children’s Village Khulna, the largest Children’s Village in Bangladesh, to take over the responsibility of the location and I started my work there. I found a very undisciplined children’s village and tried to find out the root causes of the problems. I strongly felt that the children, mothers and co-workers needed a person to share their problems and to get better solutions for problems. I started listening to the children, mothers and co-workers, giving time to them, and prepared a priority-based work plan and took all possible initiatives to solve the problems and meet their listed expectations. The destructive activities of the village children have now been fully routed out. There were children who mischievously made a noise during study times during the day and in the evening; who got involved in destructive activities such as stealing coconuts, different scrap goods, electric lightbulbs etc. and selling them in neighbouring shops or the market; children who ran away, threw fire crackers, sat on top of the roof of the different buildings in the Children’s Village. Some of the boys and girls who were living in the different boarding houses thought that they had the right to get everything they demanded. If the authority failed to satisfy their demands immediately, they started misbehaving and putting on pressure. They never justify appreciated the reality. Now most of these things are under control. Most of the children are well-disciplined. In recognition of my activities, the SOS Authorities promoted me to Project Director on 1 January 2015.
From despair to inspiration
Sreya*, a girl from SOS Children’s Village Khulna, is now studying in the 2nd semester of a BSc degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. She passed her Secondary School Certificate Examination in 2013, gaining GPA -4.63. After passing the SSC Examination she was admitted to a college for general education. Although she was provided with adequate support, she did not concentrate on her studies but lost one year achieving nothing. She got involved with the Bangladesh National Cadet Core (BNCC) and would often spend days in the BNCC camps. She also fell in love with a young man and would spend time with friends from outside and her boyfriend. She enjoyed her time, leaving her books aside. She did not attend classes or tutorial examinations. She even failed to sit the Final Year Examination. Once she was caught by local police while on a date with her boyfriend. We managed to rescue her from the police station. After this incident, I personally called on her and asked to know about her career planning. She told me that she did not find studying interesting. I realised that she would find nothing of interest in general education. Then I suggested that she attends a technical training course and gets admitted to an engineering college. So she was admitted to an engineering college to study a 4-year Diploma Engineering Course. She happily took up the opportunity!
A path can have many turns
Unfortunately, she again fell in love and into the trap of a married person with children. She was at a loss and became desperate. When this information reached me, I personally talked to her. She confessed and made a commitment to return to normal life and concentrate on her studies. I supported her decision. We counselled her as per our capacity. She received our counselling and started to lead a normal life. “Uncle (me) received me after committing such an offence, in a way that only a father can do. It was an accident as well as a turning point for me. I got a great lesson and I was resurrected like a phoenix bird from a ruin,” said Sreya. However, she was kept under close monitoring and all kinds of mental support were provided. I personally counselled her to restart her studies and concentrate on building her career, and to forget the dark chapter in her life. My counselling really worked well! She made a sharp turn and, within a short time, positive changes in her behaviour started to be visible. She completed the Diploma Course in 2018 with CGPA-3.40 on a scale of 4.00. After completing the Diploma Course, she was afraid that she would not get a chance to study BSc Engineering. However, I called on her and asked her about her career planning. She expressed her desire to study a BSc Engineering. I supported her decision. As per her wish, she was admitted to a renowned University for a BSc in Electrical & Electronic Engineering. “Everything seems like a dream to me! I just can’t believe that my cherished dream of studying BSc Engineering has finally come true!! Thanks to God and Uncle for pulling me out from my hellish fall,” Sreya said, sharing her feelings after being admitted into the BSc Engineering. Now Sreya is dreaming of a new start in life with renewed hopes and dreams.
I am grateful to all my colleagues who were involved in my teamwork to achieve the goal, National Director and other line managers who supported me and finally the Honorary President, Mr. Helmut Kutin, by whom I was inspired to work for SOS Children’s Villages.
I am now also a father of two children. My brothers and sister are happily married and settled. I feel very proud of myself that my son is a successful University student and my daughter is a successful banker (by the by, she is married too and lives with her husband in the capital city). Finally, my wife is a housewife and her contribution helped me to surmount many challenges. I am very happy to work with SOS where I have been given the opportunity to help children in need.
Mohammad Shahidul Islam
joined SOS Children’s Villages Bangladesh when he was 22 years old. He established and nurtured the growth of a new Vocational Training Centre (VTC) and eventually became the Director. Currently, the SOS VTC stands as a model training centre in Bangladesh that has successfully delivered thousands of graduates to the nation. Mohammad is working as the Project Director in SOS Khulna at present. Mohammad is eager to learn new things in workshops and forums and to implement the idea in his workplace to ensure quality work. He believes that sharing is the best method of learning!
Mohammad has five siblings and, from an early age, took responsibility for his brothers and sister. For him, the essence of family begins with care and responsibility. He is now a father of two children – one, a successful university student, and the other, a successful banker. He lives happily with his wife in the SOS Children’s Village residence.
Khulna, where Mohammad lives, is the third largest city in Bangladesh. It is famous for the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, and its royal Bengal tigers. In his free time, Mohammad likes to play all kinds of sports: cricket, volleyball and table tennis. He also likes to spend time with the children in SOS or with his family.