Our Voices

Commonwealth Wise Women Mentees

Life Changing Stories - GIRLS Inspire


Antora Akter has used the training she received from CMES and the Reaching the Unreached project to improve both her life and the life of other girls and women in her community.

Sixteen-year-old Antora lives in Tarutia, a village in north-central Bangladesh. She had to leave school earlier than she would have liked because of poverty and family circumstances, and she knew that without training or education, her employment opportunities would be limited. When she heard that CMES was offering free skills training in her area, she immediately went to the local Rural Technology Centre to find out more.

Antora spoke with a trainer and facilitator at the centre to discuss her options. Although she had only basic sewing skills and had never used a sewing machine, she was accepted into the fashion garments trade training. After three months of hard work, she had learned the skills she needed to work as a tailor. She completed an internship in a tailor shop and then started her own tailoring business. Her reputation has grown steadily, and so has the number of orders she regularly receives.

During Antora’s training period she also learned about topics such as child, early and forced marriage; sexual and reproductive health and rights; women’s empowerment; and HIV/AIDS. All these topics were relevant to her life, but she heard about them for the first time at the CMES skills training sessions. She used her new knowledge to help raise awareness of and help prevent child marriage in her community and to help women get good ante-natal care by taking them to the community clinic. She continues to give back to her community by helping other girls and women improve their sewing skills to earn money. Antora has big dreams for the future — and she appreciates everything that CMES and the RtU project has done to help her.


Kalpana Sachin Khude transformed herself into a successful entrepreneur after she completed training offered by Mann Deshi through the GIRLS Inspire programme.

Kalpana is twenty-five years old. She lives in Lonand, western India, with her husband, their two children and her husband’s parents. Life was hard for Kalpana and her family. Lonand is mainly an agricultural area, and the local economy was in a slump. Kalpana’s husband worked hard, but he only worked four days a week and his income was low. Kalpana wanted to work to help out but there were very few job opportunities, especially for a woman.

Things took a turn for the better when one of Kalpana’s friends told someone who worked for Mann Deshi about Kalpana and how much she wanted to work. Kalpana was enrolled in the digital literacy programme run by Mann Deshi as part of the GIRLS Inspire project. One of the things she learned about in the programme was how to start a business without having access to large sums of money. Kalpana certainly did not have much money to invest but thanks to her training she now had confidence and knowledge. She drew on that knowledge to open a business selling ladoo and salted peanuts. Her business thrived, and her husband began to help her when he was not working at his own job.

Kalpana did not simply sit back and enjoy her success, though. She had bigger plans. She took out a loan through Mann Deshi and used the money to invest further in her business. Her confident, relaxed smile is the smile of a woman who has made the most of the opportunities offered by Mann Deshi’s training programme and in so doing taken charge of her future.


If someone had told twenty-eight-year-old Lurdes Simão when she was a young girl that one day she would not only be able to read and write but would also be encouraging other women to learn to read and write, she would not have believed them.

Lurdes was born in Cuamba, in northwestern Mozambique. Her life looked set to be a difficult one. Lurdes’s family was never rich, but things became even harder when her father died. She knew then that her mother would never be able to afford to send her to school. Instead of learning to read and write, the young Lurdes had to embark on farm work alongside her mother so that the family would have enough to eat. Her situation was not unusual in Cuamba. Girls often miss out on educational opportunities in this area, and many of them are married off when they are still very young.

Lurdes had resigned herself to the prospect of never learning to read and write. That all changed when she learned about the Adult Education Literacy project run by Associação Progresso as part of the GIRLS Inspire programme. Lurdes decided to make the most of the opportunity to learn, even though she was now an adult. Her hard work, commitment and enthusiasm paid off. She can now read, write and count — which means, for example, she can find her way through clinics and hospitals without asking for help. And these days, Lurdes does more helping than asking for help. Her new skills and abilities mean she can help her children with their homework. She is so pleased with what she has accomplished and how it has empowered her that she actively encourages her friends to sign up for adult literacy classes so that they too can learn to read and write.

Sri Lanka

Ruwanthi (not her real name) left an abusive marriage and became a successful entrepreneur and role model for other girls and women who seek a life of dignity.

Like many other young women in Sri Lanka, Ruwanthi married a man of her choice when she was 18. Her parents did not approve.  Ruwanthi’s husband turned out to be physically and emotionally abusive, but Ruwanthi remained faithful to him and to her wedding vows. She sought comfort in work and launched a small dressmaking business to help keep her mind off her troubles. When her daughter was born, though, Ruwanthi faced the truth: her husband would never change. She left her husband and filed for divorce.

Ruwanthi’s brave decision to improve her life circumstances opened up a new set of problems for her, as she was mocked by her community for what she had done. Her future was looking very bleak when someone pointed her towards the Women’s Development Centre. The WDC offered her counselling, which helped her to regain some hope for the future and some joy of life.  It also offered her the chance to take part in self-employment training programmes. Her participation in those programmes led to her being invited to join the Kandy district women entrepreneurs association, which was established as part of the GIRLS Inspire project. Through the association, she learned new skills and regained her self-confidence and self-belief. She also learned that she was not alone. These days, Ruwanthi continues to take every opportunity to learn that comes her way, and she is also giving back by training girls and women to sew bags. If you ask her what her greatest achievement is, she is very likely to say that it is how proud her daughter feels about her accomplishments.