If you had paid a visit to the world’s longest beach in Cox’s Bazar five years ago, you might have come across Sobe Meheraz and other young girls selling eggs. But if you go there now, you will be surprised to see that things have changed drastically. The same girls are surfing like professionals in a predominantly Muslim country and making history despite being frowned upon. What changed in just a few years? How are girls who should have been married by now owning the beach?
The answer lies with Rashed Alam, who, just like these girls, grew up selling eggs and chips on the beach, and picked up surfing along the way. So one day, when he came across a bunch of girls interested in the sport, he decided to teach them. But they all came from poor and conservative households and their families either wanted them married off or earning so that they could make ends meet.
Though it has been five years since they started surfing, villagers and their families still disapprove of them going to the beach and exposing themselves for hundreds of people to see.
Sobe, one of the finest surfers in the group, is a great disappointment to her mother, who bore six girls and got five of them married before they turned 15. Sobe, however, is neither married nor does she bring home money anymore. Her mother is too sick to work and they have no one else to support them.
But Sobe’s happiness lies in surfing. Every time she rides a big wave, it gives her a sense of accomplishment. And Rashid wants to make sure that these girls can have a future with surfing. His wife has been teaching them English and he gives them lifeguard training. In an interview with Independent, Allison Joyce, a photographer following these girls for the past few years, said,
“Surfing has just given them an outlet to be children. To be confident and to dream for more. When they’re out on the water, it’s a break from everything that happens up on land. They’re able to goof off. They’re all together out there.”
Initially, Rasheed had to knock on each girl’s door to make her parents send her for lessons. It wasn’t easy to convince them that it wasn’t something bad, or against Islam.
With a surfing competition conducted by Surfing the Nation, years of struggle and hard work have finally started bearing fruit for Rasheed and the girls, according to PBS News Hour. After losing for two years, Sobe recently won the title, also getting a used surfing boat and around $250 in the process. She donated the boat to Rasheed’s institute to help other girls like her have a shot at surfing. She gave the money, which is more than what she would have earned in four months had she been working, to her mother.
Her mother, who was a victim of child marriage herself, now realises that with her support, her daughter can reach great heights.