Listen to your heart, it will guide you on the right path – It is an adage that seems to be uniquely befitting for Petriaca.
With a graduation in fisheries from Mindanao State University in the Philippines, the Filipino girl left her home to start a family with Julhas Uddin in a remote Bangladeshi village. Her journey towards love now makes her a local union parishad councillor at Fulbaria upazila in Mymensingh.
After her graduation, Petriaca started working as an executive director in a Singaporean company where Julhas used to work as a labourer. They came across by chance in 2008 and fell in love.
Petriaca informed her family about the relationship and with the consent of her family she moved to Bangladesh and married Julhas. She became Muslim and changed her name to Jesmin Akhter Julhas. However, she has participated in the election with her previous name due to some administrative complexities.
In the recent union parishad election, she got 8,496 votes whereas her nearest candidate got only 1,837 votes.
“I have worked very hard. I did not have enough money required for the election campaign. I have not given any money to any voter, rather tried to win their heart with love. They have returned the love by electing me a councillor,” Petriaca told TBS in a very emotional voice.
“I cannot speak Bengali and cannot express myself to the villagers but my tears conveyed my emotion to them. I am a graduate and understand the significance of education. Here, children do not have the privileges of education. I would like to do something for them,” she added.
She further said, “The roads are dilapidated here and farmers suffer a lot to carry their crops to the market. I know I cannot solve all the problems alone but I can request the government. I will fight for the people to establish their rights.”
“I did not have any plan to participate in the election. People request me to participate as they love me. At present, I am happy because I will have the opportunity to help them. I express my sincere gratitude to all,” she said further.
Her husband Julhas, who owns a local workshop, said he is excited that Petriaca has become a local government representative. She left her motherland out of her love. The people have loved her and elected her for her honesty and simplicity.
“I believe she will be beside the people in need,” he added.
Petriaca’s mother-in-law Rahima Khatun said, “I am happy to have her as my daughter-in-law. I cannot communicate with her as she does not speak Bengali. Although people do not understand her language, they love her as she never tells a lie or harms anyone rather helps people in any problem.”
Everyone in the area is happy that the preferred candidate has been elected in the Radhakanai union. Besides coming home and exchanging greetings, they also held a joyous procession.
A neighbour Asma Akhter said, “I trust her [Petriaca]. She left her country out of love for Julhas. Why shouldn’t we trust her? I believe she will be by our side and work for us.”
Local farmer Shafiqul Islam said, “We have elected many leaders but none has worked for our betterment. This time, I have cast my vote for a foreigner hoping that something positive will happen.”
At present, Petriaca is a mother of two kids and has coped with the rural atmosphere. She has started her journey as a leader. Time will say how the journey goes.