A father, a mechanic, a trainer, an entrepreneur and disabled – in that order

Ask anyone in Tongi about Mosharrof Hossain and they’ll tell you he’s the man to fix your fridge. What they probably won’t tell you is that he will do it without hands.

Feature | Bangkok, Thailand | 11 February 2014
For more photos of Mosharrof and his apprentices at work, visit the ILO in Asia and the Pacific Flickr gallery
BANGKOK (ILO News) – Mosharrof is a man with twinkling brown eyes and a soft laugh who never seems to stop moving, whether he’s in his busy workshop surrounded by apprentices or at home with his smiling wife and three mischievous children.

Ten years ago he was just setting out on a career as a refrigeration mechanic in rural Bangladesh when both of his hands had to be amputated following an electrical fire. His friends and family convinced him that he would be unable to continue his trade.

Looking for other ways to make a living, Mosharrof learnt to use a microphone, taught himself to write and got a job selling mobile phone covers at a railway station. What he quickly realised though, was that “no matter what I tried to do, I needed assistance. If I could do all these things, I could also go back to my trade – and take on apprentices to help me. That way I could also pass on my skills to young people”.

“My apprentices say they are the luckiest, because they learn hands-on skills straight away – because I cannot do a lot of things. They learn twice as fast as other apprentices”.

Mechanic to master trainer

In 2012, Mosharrof was selected to be one of the master craftspeople passing on skills to young people as part of a new, structured apprenticeship scheme developed by the ILO with BRAC (an international NGO), UNICEF and the Government of Bangladesh. The scheme uses more effective, job-oriented methods of skills’ training (combining practical, workplace instruction with classroom-taught theory) and pairs young people with master crafts people for six-month attachments. So far the programme, which is part of the wider, European Union-funded TVET Reform Project, has successfully trained more than 2000 apprentices.
I am a father, a mechanic, a trainer, an entrepreneur and disabled – in that order.”
For tradespeople like Mosharrof who are already good at what they do, the programme teaches them to be better trainers. “With the skills I have learnt through the programme, I am able to train my apprentices in a more effective, structured way. They are learning skills even quicker because I am becoming a better trainer. I can also give them a bigger stipend, which means they can start saving to open their own shops,” he said.

“My apprentices usually have limited education and come from poor families, so my wife and I give them the option of living in our house. It is a win-win situation. I get the help that I need for my work and they get the skills they need to get jobs”.

According to Arthur Shears, Chief Technical Advisor of TVET, as well as giving young people jobs, structured apprenticeships are also reducing the mismatch between the supply and demand for skills in Bangladesh. “The need for skilled workers is growing fast and the inability to produce them through traditional training methods is a major obstacle to the country’s development. The TVET Reform Project is introducing structured, effective and quicker ways to learn skills which lead directly to jobs,” he said.

Mosharrof’s shop, Munia Refrigeration, named after his oldest daughter, is now one of the most popular service shops in the Tongi district. People who laughed at his ambition before now send him customers. Some of his apprentices have been disabled, but that hasn’t prevented them still topping their classes. One of his star students was a young man who had lost a leg and who now runs his own shop in Comilla, in eastern Bangladesh.

“Never think you are disabled”

Disability and poverty are closely linked in developing countries. In Bangladesh it is estimated that there are more than 15 million people with disabilities trapped in this cycle. One sustainable path out is through education and skill development.

“I have a message for disabled people,” Mosharrof says. “Never think that you are disabled. Think always that you can do everything and then you will find that you will be able to do it. Be confident, maybe you have to try harder than other people so you will be stronger. Prove people wrong through your work”.

And he practices what he preaches. When asked to describe himself his disability comes last on the list; “I am a father, a mechanic, a trainer, an entrepreneur and disabled – in that order” he says.

By Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific