Education has always been close to the hearts of Satwant and Doug Bridson and the 32 children they’ve sponsored through Plan International are living proof.
“I am the product of the wisdom and forward-thinking of my mother, my father and my grandfather.” We’re listening, captivated, as Satwant Bridson tells us about her family.
“My mother was the first Sikh girl to go to school in Malaya – now Malaysia – and the first Sikh girl to go to university there. She wanted an education. The alternative was staying at home, learning how to cook, becoming a good housewife and getting married – that was not her.”
“My grandfather was a very wise man. To him, women should be educated so they are not vulnerable to men and can support themselves in desperate situations. So my mother and my aunt both went to school. Many in the community disagreed with what my grandfather was doing – so he told my mother, ‘you’ve got to be a role model because the fate of other girls is on your shoulders. If you do well, other parents will start sending their daughters to school as well.”
“My father travelled from India to Malaya at the age of eight in order to go to school, because he had been told by his father that he couldn’t afford to send him to school, and he had to go to work instead. He knew he had an aunt in Penang so he decided to go look for her and ask her to help him get an education. She did, and my father worked every day after school for his uncle in his tailor shop to pay for his keep and schooling.”
With this exceptional backstory, it’s unsurprising that the couple are fierce advocates for education, particularly for girls. They currently sponsor ten children, all girls. “ I personally feel that so many of the world’s problems, and poverty especially, could be fixed if women were educated. So I like to be part of that work,” Satwant tells us.
And Doug? “He has always been a generous person, so he did not need much persuading,” She says
The two met in Gladstone. Satwant was in charge of the city library and Doug worked as an engineer in the mining industry. They’re now both retired and share a passion and deep understanding for issues affecting women and girls. We discuss the importance of tradition, communities and the role of boys in ending issues like female genital mutilation and child marriage.
Shortly after the couple started sponsoring with Plan International they went to visit one of their sponsored children in Nepal. They tell us about their trip, eagerly recounting experiences and prompting one another with memories
“When we first arrived, the whole village was there with lunch prepared by our sponsored child’s family,” Satwant recalls.
“No one else ate. We were sitting at the table with the family and the villagers standing all around us watching us eat,” Doug tells us with a laugh.
The couple also visited the local school where children sang for them and put on a drama about alcohol abuse and domestic violence, an interesting take on a serious issue that encourages children to engage with the issues in a safe, friendly setting. “It’s an education tool for the whole village,” Doug says. “The children enjoyed it, they were all laughing. They were also watching us to see our reaction.”
They visited a project where women were being supported to grow vegetables on unused government land. “They were growing vegetables, selling them at the markets and getting money for their families, especially for the kids’ education,” Satwant explains.
The couple also took the chance to visit some early childhood education centres developed with Plan International’s support. “Some of the children were just two or three years old. The alternative would have been that their mother would have had to take them to their work, which could be breaking stones on the roadside or working in the quarries, or the fields. So instead they have this safe place to come to and have fun and play and learn,” She says.
“You were asking why I got into sponsorship – because of my parents,” Satwant tells us. “We were very poor, what with eight of us children, but my father would give his last cent to anyone who needed it more. My mother was more careful with the family budget, but I can always remember that anyone who didn’t have a meal at home could eat in our house.”
People would sometimes come to the door for food or money and were never turned away, and once when she questioned her mother: “How do you know he’s not conning you?” Her mother’s response was, “I’d rather be cheated nine times than turn away the one who is genuine.”
“Just take what you need from what you have been given,” she says. “The rest belongs to someone else who hasn’t got, that was my parents’ example.”
Together as sponsors, the couple have impacted the lives of girls and their communities across the globe and are a huge inspiration to us at Plan International. We can’t think of better advocates for educating girls.
“Education and education and education, it’s as simple as that,” says Satwant, and Doug adds, “All the rest follows.”
When you sponsor a child through Plan International you’re supporting life-changing projects that are designed with children and their whole community. Learn more about sponsoring a child here.