Empowering Women in Bangladesh

Photo courtesy of Mahmuda Koli

Mahmuda Koli ’07 (left) with a student at the Access Academy in Bangladesh.

For most alumni of Montclair State, a trip to Bangladesh would be a journey to the unknown, but for Mahmuda Koli ’07, it is a homecoming. Born and raised in Bangladesh, Koli moved to New Jersey with her family in 1997 when she was in middle school. She progressed through the public school system graduating from John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson before earning a BS in Business Administration from Montclair State.

Now she is back in Chittagong, Bangladesh, as a volunteer with WorldTeach, teaching at the Access Academy, a pre-collegiate bridge program of the Asian University for Women (AUW), a pioneering, donation-supported institution for underprivileged women. She taught English and computers, and now teaches quantitative reasoning to young women from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, many of them from poor, rural, or refugee families.

“The program offers great benefits to the students,” Koli explains. “It empowers and helps disadvantaged female students by preparing them for success at AUW while reinforcing the personal values of integrity, responsibility, compassion, and respect for diversity.”

Although she admits her work is not easy, she says it is very rewarding, and Koli has no regrets about leaving her first job as a staff accountant at a New Jersey company. “I began to find myself unsatisfied with my work,” she says tactfully. “So when I learned about the WorldTeach program, I was very excited—I have always liked the idea of helping others.”

The students at Access Academy have varying levels of English competency, but Koli is impressed that all of them are motivated, receptive, energetic—and have good manners. “They have a lot of respect for teachers,” she says of her students. “There is no problem with discipline, period.”

All is not work, of course, and Koli has time to socialize with fellow teachers at the academy, sometimes going shopping or eating out. She also runs the Cultural Club which has organized events such as a talent show and a food festival, which features dishes from every country represented at the Academy. “It was tons of hard work,” she recalls, “but twice as much fun!”

With her contract ending in July, Koli will likely return to the United States, but the good memories of her year in Bangladesh will remain. She remembers how on one occasion a group of students from one of her computer classes gave her a gift of appreciation. They told her it was a picture of a beautiful person. When she opened it, it was a little wood-framed mirror. “It was such a touching moment,” she recalls, “that it will stay with me for the rest of my life.”