Shewly Akter

Shewly (17) moved to Dubai 6 years ago with the help of Maria Cristina Foundation. She is studying in one of the best schools in the UAE and is full of passion and fire to make her country a better place. She does not take her luck for granted. She knows she is one of the few lucky ones to escape poverty with someone’s help.

“When you are a young person in Dubai, grown-ups care about your opinion. In Dhaka they don’t. But they care about my opinion now. My parents are proud of me. But my favourite thing in Dhaka – easiest answer ever – spending time with my angels. I have pillow fights, go for walks and have fun with my brothers Tushar (14) and Mehedi (10).”

She is very upset when talking about the struggles she sees Maria and the Foundation go through to raise funds to support her friends and family, who still live in the slums of Dhaka.

“When you are a kid, you are not afraid. You can do whatever. If you fail, you will try again. As an adult, people are scared to even try, because they know they might fail. Maria is not like that. She will never give up on us. I love her.

Maria was the first white woman I saw. She wore Bangladeshi dress, but without the scarf. I had never seen a woman like that in my life. Me and my friends were so curious, so we just went to touch her face, her nose. We thought she was a doll. It was strange for us to see a human like that.

She brought me where I never thought I could be and made me someone I never would have been. She is my angel.”

“Life would be easier if I was a boy. If I was a boy in Dhaka I could be out till 10pm, go anywhere I want and spend time in public spaces, no questions asked. I wouldn’t have to deal with gender stereotypes. I did want to be a boy when I was younger. In Bangladesh, girls don’t ride bikes, it is just not something girls are supposed to do. I can ride a bike now.

Now I fight for my rights and the boys in my community get shocked. I love it. I love girls, who are not afraid to speak their mind – like Malala. I don’t like the way girls are underestimated; it makes my blood go crazy!

I was doing a project on Girl Rising in my school and was terrified to find out what girls are going through in different parts of the world. I am incredibly lucky to be from an underprivileged Bangladeshi background, 17 years old, not married and studying in one of the most amazing cities in the world.

I miss Bangladesh and I want to change the fate of my family. My family is lower class. Classes don’t mix with each other. I don’t know what the reason is – this is just the way it is. Maybe people are afraid to break the rules. One day, when I am the prime minister, all Bangladeshi girls will be riding bicycles.”

The little girl saving his brother from a flood in the slum has become a young lady with relentless spirit and grand dreams.