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Pothoshishu – Kamlapur Station Platform 8

Posted by: on Jul 1, 2018 | No Comments

Pothoshishu, Kamlapur Station Platform 8

A beautiful young boy stood out to us, no more than 4 years old, he was casually walking ahead of us on his own kicking bottles he came across on the floor.

We caught up with him and asked him if he was attending the Potishishu session but he didn’t reply, I don’t think he understood our poor Bengali, so we asked his name which we thought he would definitely understand, but still nothing.

He just stared at us with a little twinkle in his eye and then shrugged and walked off in a real blazé manor. We named him Mowgli. He was so cute that we decided to follow him. Struggling to keep up with his casual stride we were distracted for less than a minute when he disappeared out of site.

We set off to find one of the Potishishu sessions (street schools) in Kamlapur railway station which was an unscheduled visit. We arrived over an hour early, giving us plenty of time to try and find the train station platform, the session would be held on. After a lot of asking, a lot of walking we had finally got a rough idea of where it will be held. So we sat in the very busy train station and just watched.

We noticed mothers intoxicated with drugs as their children sat beside them. A young boy collapsed on a seating area didn’t move an inch in the 2-3 hours we were there. Lots of single women and men asleep with nothing but what they were wearing, on the outskirts of the station pathway. The station staff did frequent rounds with a big stick to wake them and move them on.

Eventually across the platform we noticed mats being placed on the floor. An area was cordoned off with rope and cones and the Potashishu banner was put up on the wall. The volunteers and children began to gather as we made our way over.

The children who attend frequently could be distinguished by their excitement.

They make their best efforts to contain this by sitting cross legged and eagerly on the mats awaiting the session to commence. Slowly more and more children appeared. Some join in out of curiosity. The volunteers go out to collect others who are around. The games began, we sit on one of the three mats crowded with children and start a game of pairs, the excitement in their faces is indescribable.

Then suddenly out of nowhere Mowgli arrives and joins in!

These children are not like the usual children we know and meet in everyday life. The effects of their complete neglect from the adult world soon becomes apparent. Even amongst the older children, their speech and communication is not fully formed. They are also much more naive than would be expected of children who have been left to make their own way in the world.

I sit in on the games sessions, while Sofena is asked to help coordinate first aid.

At Potoshishu, an essential part of the work delivered aside from creating a safe space for the children to relax and play and receive some much needed adult interaction to help their development, is that their basic health and cleanliness is attended to. There is a system for this when the children are in their play group a volunteer will ask if they have any first aid requirements, tickets are issued to those who do and they are called up one at a time.

When handing out the cards I realise that a fair proportion of the children request a card. Each are quizzed on their injury and produce the cuts scraps and grazes that they are walking around with.

One child is slightly confused, but puts his hand up anyway. When asked, he shows us his elbow which has a minor scrap which has already healed.

The card is declined on this basis.

He then insists he still needs one and shows us another injury that has healed, when rejected again he points to his knee and insists he has muscle pain. We giggle and I think back to my childhood days at primary school when receiving a little TLC and from the school nurse made me feel so special and cared for and somehow a plaster could turn a child into a school celebrity for the day.

I wonder if a little affection is what he is really after.

When assisting the first aider I enjoy conversations with the children. Being involved with pruning them, cutting their finger and toes nails creates an automatic nurturing connection. I ask simple things, like their name, their age and how they received their injuries.

They seem taken back that I care to ask, and they smile excitedly and shyly when I try to talk to them. When the camera comes out they are comfortable with me taking a picture though a little surprised that I would want to.

They relax and smile beautifully for the camera.

Their injuries seem minor at first, but as the iodine is applied, puss and blood come gushing out. I’m horrified, but this continues for each child that is tended to. These minor injuries exposed to the dirt and grime of Dhaka’s streets, when the children are sleeping rough and have nowhere to clean and no clothes to change into become infected quickly. Untreated, I see now that these could easily result in catastrophe.

I ask one of the boys how he received his injury. He looks no more than 8 or 9 years old. He innocently tells me a familiar childhood story. Two days prior he was chased by a dog and whilst running he fell and injured his knee. I can see that his jeans are torn at the point of injury and the emotions of the event are relived while telling this story.

A boy with his foot in bandage was carried over by one of the volunteers. His name was Robin, he looked slightly dazed but answered all questions with a smile. He told us his foot was run over by a bus.

He was taken to hospital by the police two months ago where they bandaged it up and then dropped him back to the railway station. He has no Mum and no Dad so was probably given very little attention because he was ‘just a street kid’. The first aider started undoing his bandage which was covered in dirt.

Robin was covered in flies and once the bandage was unravelled…  we became quickly aware that his foot was rotting away.

It was explained to Robin he would have the bandage changed for now but he would have to go into hospital. We offered to take him there but we were told the hospital was closed on Friday. So they made an appointment to collect him at 8 o clock the next morning. We became even more concerned at this point. He needed somewhere to stay for the night as he was clearly scared and sleeping rough in this condition was unimaginable to us. We thought what if they didn’t find him the next day or he missed them for whatever reason. We asked if It was possible for him to go to a shelter-home that very night? The volunteers said they would try but it will most probably be after his hospital appointment. We were horrified by the condition of this boy.

We stocked up on medical supplies for the Potoshishu first aid box then headed back to the hotel. We spent the evening traumatised and trying to come to terms with what we had seen. The thought of this boy being out on the streets scared and so poorly was unbearable.

In the morning we called Brother Lucio, a catholic priest who is the founder of Potoshishu. He told us the boy spent the night in a shelter and was taken to hospital in the morning.

I cannot put into words the admiration I have for the work that this organisation and its volunteers do. They are able to make such great impact with such little resource. They reach out to these neglected and otherwise forgotten or invisible children.

By Mohima & Sofena

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