I wanted to change harmful attitudes around disabilities, and to do that, I had to look past my own disability and focus on what I can do better than others.
Trainer, Social Empowerment and Legal Protection, BRAC
Joychand Karmoker, a senior trainer at BRAC, had lost his vision as an infant, but it is easy to forget that as he strides into his classroom carrying flipcharts and markers, and greets his classroom of women and men of all ages. He begins to engage with his students, operating his recording device and writing on the board at the same time.
Joychand grew up in Rajshahi in northern Bangladesh. One of his earliest memories was trying to convince his father to take him out of the school for blind children. “ I did not understand why I needed to go to a separate school where all the children were like me.” His father persuaded the principal to allow his son to attend the government school, promising that he would be able to keep up. And the young Joychand did indeed.
“It was a constant fight to prove people wrong.”
Joychand was a young graduate when he got into his very first job in a disability rights organisation.
On his first day at work, Joychand knew it was the first time that he could have a direct impact on people’s lives. And so began the long years of advocacy on disability inclusion which took him to conferences in the UK, South Korea, Japan and Thailand.
On his travels to some of the most inclusive cities in the world, he was able to experience how the rights of citizens with disabilities were protected, and he dreams of that day when Bangladesh would be able to do the same. “It feels wonderful to see the Bangladeshi government on the right side of history when it comes to disability inclusion. Bangladesh was one of the first countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have a long way to go, of course.”
Joychand has driven changes in national-level policies – from job quotas for people with disabilities to disability allowance. He has contributed in key national acts like the Disability Welfare Act and Odhikar Shurokkha Ain. It has been a long fight and he is not stopping.
He moved to BRAC because the values of the organisation resonated strongly with his own. “BRAC’s work starts with communities, and that is where I wanted to be. I wanted to speak to people not just on disability but other kinds of challenges too.”
Joychand’s work today enables people in vulnerable situations to avail justice and other forms of social protection. As he paces around the classroom, he asks everyone to introduce themselves and throughout the session, responds to questions, remembering each of their names and backgrounds.
His classes are attended by women and men of all ages and backgrounds – from senior government officials, to BRAC’s own staff and clients, as well as students and representatives from different youth groups. Joychand designs and conducts modules on leadership development, gender, community building, rights and empowerment, to name a few.
“I have learned that when you listen and allow people to speak about the problems they are facing, the work gets easier. Everyone begins to pay attention!” There are hundreds of such learning techniques that Joychand has adopted during his career spanning over 30 years.