When Leky Chakma first started playing cricket, she kept it a secret from her family. She had to walk a few kilometres to reach Rangamati Cricket Academy for practice every day. And when she got caught, she would get beaten by family members. There were hardly any facilities or proper cricket equipment either.
But giving up on her dreams was never an option for her. And she eventually made a name for herself by booking a spot in Bangladesh women's U-19 team last year.
"Leky is a fearless cricketer. She has worked hard from the beginning, she even played with boys whenever she got the chance. And against all the odds she has reached the national level, this is only the start for her," Leky's local trainer Telent Chakma told The Business Standard (TBS).
Her journey is inspirational and in most cases quite similar to what the majority of ethnic minorities go through when they take sports as a passion and profession: finding success despite numerous struggles.
A large number of athletes from ethnic minorities have represented Bangladesh over the years. They've bagged national awards and international trophies in various sports. But the question remains - has it been enough? Could there be more notable figures from the community to enlighten our national sports had they been provided with the proper opportunity to flourish?
From Barun Bikash to Sura Krishna Chakma - The shining stars
Currently one of the most hyped sporting figures in Bangladesh is Sura Krishna Chakma, the international trophy-winning boxer.
Sura grew up in a sporting family in Rangamati. His father and uncle used to play various sports during their days.
"Sports was in my blood, it started in me in my very early days. I first gave a trial in football in Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan (BKSP), but I was dropped because of my height. Then I started my journey in boxing," Sura told TBS.
Another notable figure from the ethnic minorities is Barun Bikash Dewan. Hailing from Rangamati, Barun represented the Bangladesh football team 21 times from 1988 to 1997. He was a part of the 1990 Asian Games team.
His elder brother, Arun Bikash also played for the Bangladesh football team.
Barun won the National Sports Award last month. He was awarded for his glorious contribution to football and his community during his days in the early 1990s.
"It was a proud moment for myself and the people of Chattogram hill tracts. I believe I got the proper recognition for what I've done for football and Bangladesh."
Sushanto Tripura is one of the brightest young talents in Bangladesh football. The boy from Cox's Bazar has already made eight appearances for Bangladesh national team. He currently wears the sky blue of Abahani Limited, having previously played for Bashundhara Kings in the Bangladesh Premier League.
But the hill tracts have probably given more to the women's football team in the recent past.
Bangladesh recently won the Saff Under-19 Women's Football Championship in December last year. And several players were there in the team from the community. Monika Chakma, Ritu Porna Chakma, Anai Mogini, Anuching Mogini and Maria Manda were among them.
Anai and Anuching Mogini were two of the most celebrated names since Anai's goal seal the championship for the girls in Red and Green.
And if you're wondering whether it's just players, no, the community has given birth to the first-ever Fifa licensed female referee from Bangladesh, Jaya Chakma.
Compared to football, the number of national cricketers coming up from the community is negligible. We already talked about Leky Chakma, an all-rounder of the U-19 cricket team. The only national cricketer to represent Bangladesh internationally is Champa Chakma from Rangamati.
The flag bearer of tribal cricket, Champa played for Bangladesh nine times between 2007 and 2011, before the side was granted full international status. She was a member of the silver-winning squad at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
Apart from them, Phoolapati Chakma won several international trophies in weightlifting including her silver in the 2016 SA Games.
The local scene - Then and now
Sports have developed over the years, facilities-wise, in the ethnic minorities. But there is a cry for regular local tournaments among the players and coaches.
Football is a more popular sport locally. Badminton is popular too, but that's a seasonal sport. Most young people are interested in football. It is changing slowly, but football still dominates.
Inter-school football tournaments used to take place regularly in the 1980s and 90s. Even in the early 2000s, there were some local tournaments for the players. But the number of tournaments has decreased over the years.
"We played inter-school tournaments regularly, also Gold Cup tournaments. There was more competitive football than now. Plus, local tournaments have become irregular these days," Barun Bikash, who later worked as an organiser and coach, said.
David Chakma, who played both cricket and football locally and is currently a licensed referee of Khagrachari Zilla Krira Sangstha, said the lack of local tournaments is a reason the ethnic minority community hasn't been able to produce more national-level players despite being a more popular game.
Cricket in the hill tracts gained popularity in the mid-2000s. There was always a lack of proper facilities for this game, and thus players weren't interested to play the game spending money from their own pockets.
Also, there is only one Zilla stadium for both cricket and football.
"Local league takes place after three-four years, there is no regularity and of course, the lack of support. It's even worse now, there was a cricket tournament that took place a few months back after a six-year hiatus"
"There is a lack of local tournaments, so people are not that interested. Instead, they play football or badminton mostly. One or two tournaments are held in winter, but that's not enough. There are a few academies, but they are not regular," David Chakma said.
"Local league takes place after three-four years, there is no regularity and of course, the lack of support. It's even worse now, there was a cricket tournament that took place a few months back after a six-year hiatus," another local coach Telent Chakma said.
But the increasing number of girls from ethnic minorities shows a ray of hope. Girls have been more active in sports since 2016, especially cricket. Eight girls from Rangamati played in the recently concluded Women's Dhaka Premier League.
The problems going forward
Financial problem is a big obstacle in the way of local players making it big. They are not well-paid in the local tournaments, also they are wary of their career and future.
"There is no match fee in local football and it's a regular thing. Players seek career safety," David Chakma mentioned.
"Players here don't get 500 taka playing a match. Even a day labourer earns more than that working for an hour," he added.
"Players here don't get 500 taka playing a match. Even a day labourer earns more than that working for an hour."
"Like local football, local cricketers don't get paid as well. The BCB gives money to the organisers but players don't get that," Telent Chakma stated.
Shovon Tripura and Jibon Tripura, two brothers from Bandarban, used to play football together from their early days. But after passing the HSC examination, Jibon left football for higher studies and in search of a job, despite being the more talented of the two. Shovon now studying at the University of Rajshahi and a part of the inter-varsity football team thinks he will have to leave football as well when he graduates.
"I'll probably do the same (laughs), Since I'm from a middle-class family, I have to earn my livelihood and take care of my family. There is no surety that I will get any proper chance to play at the national level if I continue."
Players in the local tournaments are only provided with breakfast and hotel fare. In the recent DC Gold cup, players were given 2000 tk each for a match, this is a very new thing, said David.
The quota system is another blow to the hopes of local players. In the DC Gold Cup, there was a quota of three players being allowed from outside. But now teams are bringing more outside players and even foreigners. Local players are not getting the chance to showcase their talent.
"There's a lack of nurturing among the young players. There are hardly any local academies nurturing these young talents for the national stage. Especially in Rangamati. There are huge talents though."
Boxer Sura Krishna Chakma believes the lack of proper academies is also an issue.
"There's a lack of nurturing among the young players. There are hardly any local academies nurturing these young talents for the national stage. Especially in Rangamati. There are huge talents though," said Sura.
Sura Krishna, Sushanto Tripura or Maria Manda, they do not think of their ethnic minority status when they represent the country. They have that one identity, Bangladeshi. Leky Chakma said - "It doesn't matter whether I'm from Rangamati, Bandarban or somewhere else, I'm here to represent Bangladesh. That's what matters,". This goldmine of raw talents better be assessed properly, or it'll be a shame if they go wasted.