The Philippine-born Union Parishad member has been accepted as a local by Bangladeshis in just 10 years Jasmine Akhter is in the limelight again after her victory in the recent Union Parishad polls. She battled for the reserved seat for women in wards 1, 2 and 3 of Radhakanai union in Fulbaria upazila of Mymensingh.

Philippine-born Jasmine Akhter, originally named Katamin Petriaka, came to Bangladesh 10 years ago and married Julhash Uddin, a resident of Fulbaria upazila. Although she never aspired to run for elections, the trust and confidence of her family and locals encouraged her to take part in the polls.

Jasmine Akhter and her husband Julhash Uddin

Even though she knew of the local support for her, Akhter went to great lengths to strengthen her claim during her election campaign, going from door to door everyday to press her case.nAkhter’s efforts paid dividends as she garnered 4,496 votes, while her closest competitor followed with just 1,839 votes.

She said: “Winning the polls makes me happy because it lets me serve the people.” Pointing to the struggle of school goers in the area she lives in, Akhter said: “Children here have to walk around 1.5km on roads that are in poor condition. The roads become even worse during the rainy season and underprivileged people suffer the most.”

She is intent on bringing the issue to the attention of the authorities to alleviate the children’s sufferings. Akhter also wishes to help mothers with their education so that they can better help their children.

khter added

“I see other women nearby as sisters, daughters and friends. Mothers try their best to ensure a bright future for their children, but many fail in certain areas due to various limitations. One such area is in assisting with their children’s education,” she said.

“If these mothers can be provided with basic education, they will be able to support their children more. An educated mother is imperative to enlightening the next generation of the country,” Akhter added. Her husband Julhash and locals are equally overjoyed at her win.

“She always tries to help people in some way or the other. She has unique leadership qualities,” Julhash said. “We voted for her in the hope that she will work for public welfare, such as by stopping child marriage and helping in the overall development of the wards,” said Jahangir, a local resident.

Her journey to becoming a Bangladeshi

After completing her graduation in fisheries at Mindanao State University in the Philippines in 2008, Akhter went on to work for a company in Singapore where she met her future husband Julhash.

The couple tied the knot in 2010 and she has since then been living in Fulbaria, becoming a Bangladeshi citizen in the process. She was 28 years old when she came to this country. Now a mother of a boy and a girl, Akther said: “A lot of aspects of my life and my surroundings have changed in the last decade. Now the country is very close to my heart.

“Initially, I felt very lonely and often homesick, as I could hardly communicate with anyone properly because of the language barrier. With time my progress on understanding the language has helped me bond with people,” said Akhter, who still has some difficulty speaking Bangla but understands the language quite well.

One of Akhter’s favourite parts of Bangladeshi culture is the way locals call her bhabi, apa, or bubu. “The relational name I adore the most is bubu. It is mesmerizing to hear grandmothers call me bubu.”

Whenever she faces difficulty expressing her thoughts in Bangla, she pauses and waits after completing her less-than-structured sentence. The person she is speaking to tries to understand what she is trying to say and restructures the sentence, and Akhter nods when they get it right.

“It was beyond our imagination that someone coming from a foreign country would become one of our own within such a short period of time. There is something special about her that makes us love her and put our trust in her,” said Amina, one of Akhter’s neighbours.

Jasmine Akhter aspires to work for womens literacy

Although Akhter has not had the chance to visit the Philippines since 2010, she keeps in touch with her family in the Philippines through video calls. “They were so happy for me when I told them that I had won the election.”  With time she has fallen in love with the country and its people. “Cities have become polluted. I love living in the countryside. Here, we breathe less-contaminated air and eat fresh food,” she  said with a smile.