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Bangladesh's Surf Girls Own The Beach

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    For most people, the beach brings to mind a pleasant vacation, sipping on a tropical juice in a hammock, or spending good times in the company of friends. However, for a group of eight young Bangladeshi girls between ages 11 and 14, the beach is the place where they were forced to work day and night selling goods in order to support their families.

    These girls are from poor villages near Cox's Bazar, a shabby tourist resort on the longest uninterrupted sea beach in the world, in Southeast Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country of more than 160 million people. They dropped out of school before ever learning how to read or write.

    But three years ago, their story started to change. In a country where women aren't encouraged to take up sports, these girls have done just that with the help of Rashed Alam, a local surf expert. Now, they are known as the "Bangladeshi surf girls" — and they're looking towards the future with a smile.

    The girls are able to continue surfing thanks to a crowdfunding initiative, launched in 2015, that ensures them enough money for food and transportation — so they are no longer forced to work constantly. They continue to sell cheap, handcrafted jewelry and food items to tourists on the beach to make a living, but now they actually find time to hit the waves.

    The initiative also gives these girls the resources to learn English and other useful skills. They may dream of becoming professional surfers and lifeguards one day, but what's more important is that they have been given the chance to regain part of their childhood and attain a basic education (a crucial factor in delaying the age at which they'll marry — after all, this society is one in which child marriage is all too common).

    Read on to learn more about the way these inspiring girls are taking back their local beach.

    It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach, here.



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    Cox's Bazar is Bangladesh's top honeymoon and beach destination. The government has ambitious plans for the coastal region, and large resorts are being developed quickly.

    The tradition of surfing in Bangladesh is linked to Cox's Bazar and dates to the mid-2000s. The American charity organization "Surfing The Nations" brought missionaries and surfboards to the country. Today, dozens of people surf here, including Shumi, Shobe, and Jahanara (pictured), three of the Surf Girls — and the beach now has a Lifesaving and Surfing Club.

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    The waters in this town of about 60,000 inhabitants are warm and safe: There are neither sharp rocks nor sharks that can attack the tourists and surfers. Here, Shobe smiles on her board.

    Bangladesh has the second-highest rate of child marriage in the world. In some rural areas, girls are married off as young as 9 years old because they are seen as a burden on their families. The widespread view is that men can earn a wage and women cannot.

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    "Surf is a very famous sport all over the world. It helps me soften my behavior and keep my life in balance. I meet new people and learn a lot from the rest of the surfing community. I never thought of doing this, but I have collected such wonderful experiences over these years, " says Shumi, 12. She is the only one of the eight surf girls who currently goes to school, and the only one who can fully read and write.

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    Jahanara (left), 11, is one of the youngest in the group, but the eldest of six siblings in her family. "I love surfing and I love learning English. This will help me to save people in the future," she says. Her father is a painter and has an unpredictable income, so she has been helping to earn money for the family since a very young age. In the picture, she lies on her board with Aisha.

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    Suma (left), 14, is the strongest in the team. Her mentor says she can carry two boards at the same time and swim like a fish.

    "After surfing, we rush to put makeup on. I love it. We look more beautiful, and it gives us a good feeling. I think it is very positive that people know more and more about the surf girls in Bangladesh. Hopefully there will be more girls like us one day," she says. Here, Suma poses with Jahanara and Shobe.