He is on a mission to give the child laborers of Bangladesh a shot at a better life by ensuring that they spend their days in school instead of factories.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 18, 2020. It has since been updated.
GMB Akash, a humanitarian photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, knows that one individual alone cannot change the world. However, he is also aware that it doesn't take much to change one individual's world. Holding this credo close to his heart, he has dedicated the last 24 years of his life to making a difference in the lives of marginalized and poverty-stricken people in his country through his work. A cause particularly important to the self-taught photographer is giving the child laborers of Bangladesh a shot at a better life by ensuring that they spend their days in school instead of factories.
"The education of children is a high priority for me knowing that they are the hope and drivers to get child laborers out of fields and factories and into schools. Three years ago, I set up a school for unprivileged children under a large tree with 30 students in a rural area for eight villages of day laborers and small craft makers, none of whom had any education at all," Akash explained in an interview with World Photographers Club. "I built a school building and I am now building an extension for it as we currently have 160 students. We have hired teachers and provide the children with free education up to class 5. These students will be the first generation ever to be educated in this region."
Akash, who has won numerous photography awards over the years and been featured in some of the most prestigious international publications, is currently working on a heartwarming series where he documents how the lives of former child laborers change after he enrolls them in school.
Working on the series — which depicts how the kids' lives change for the better upon receiving a helping hand — has been no walk in the park as Akash often has to work hard to convince the childrens' parents to let them go to school instead of factories.
"By the grace of God, in the last two months I have admitted a total of 22 working children to school and I am monitoring them very closely. I am regularly visiting their home and school 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 32 working children going to school instead of grueling jobs. I have taken the responsibility for their complete education for my entire life. For more than 15 years, I have been working on the child labor situation in Bangladesh," he told Upworthy.
"From the beginning of my photography career, I wanted to change the situation and raise awareness of this [issue]. However, I was not at all happy seeing these changes happening so very slowly in our society! Therefore, I decided to change peoples' 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 [helped set up] businesses for people in need; especially the parents of child laborers. With these businesses I arranged for each of the families, they could earn more money and send their children to school instead of factories. So far, I have given 150 different businesses to 100 families," Akash explained.
"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," he said.
"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!"
"I am [also] giving scholarships to many students every year. [About] 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. I have personally contributed all of my income from the sales of my book, Survivors, [and] my One to One Photography workshops as well as from my photography assignments," said Akash.
"Like these 22 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."
If you'd like to help Akash in his mission by sponsoring a child's education for a year or even for a few months, kindly reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or send him a direct message via his Facebook page here or support him through Patreon here.