Orphantrust » Charity

The children of the sex workers

Posted by: on Jul 1, 2018 | No Comments

This afternoon we visited a shelter in Narayanganj, the owner of the shelter is Hazera Begum. We call her Hazera Afa (sister). Hazera was a sex worker in a Bangladeshi brothal.

She worked hard to earn money and buy herself out. She now provides shelter for street children and the children of sex workers in Dhaka. At the shelter we meet the 30 or so children for whom she cares and provides education. The children are loving and happy. They are able to interact as you would expect children to, a stark contrast to the street children we met at Kamlapur station.

The shelter consists of two tiny beds rooms with bunk beds and a small communal room. The rooms are no more than two and a half meters by two and a half meters in size. The shelter is essentially a small two bedroom flat on the first floor of an accommodation building.

On entering, the children gather, happy, smiling and waving at us. They say hello and welcome us. When we move away from the front door and into the small communal room a little boy who is very excited reaches out of me. He tries to hug me and tugs at my dress to get me to bend down towards him so he can kiss and touch my face. I am a little taken back as the boy looks very sick, but I can tell that he has a loving nature and cannot resist.

When I ask Hazera Afa about the boy, she says he has autism and is twelve years old. He looks more like 7 or 8. She tells me that she found him on the streets all alone and took him in. He has no mother or father or family in the world. She grabs him and holds him, and he touches and kisses her face as a baby would do with its mother. This is genuine love, I can see the connection.

I can also see that she shares this maternal connection with all of the children. It is apparent that the children are well nurtured.

She tells us that some of the children have mothers who visit them when they can. She runs the shelter by asking the mothers for a small payment for the maintenance and upkeep of the children. Many are unable to pay and some of the children are abandoned. I

this tiny flat the children are protected.

They know that they have mothers and that their mothers work, but they do not know that their mothers are sex workers.

 

The little boy living with autism is called Shojad. Hazera Afa tells us that he fell yesterday and injured his head. She is no longer able to care for him as the environment is unsafe. He will be moving to a special home for autistic children tomorrow. I worry about this as I know what these homes can be like. He is such a loving boy and out of this familiar environment I wonder what life holds in store for him.

There are also two girls at the shelter aged about 11. Hazera Afa has made arrangements for them to begin their secondary school education. They require fees uniform, books, pens and travel expenses.

Our visit today is to provide these children with a special lunch as a treat. As the food arrives the children congregate and sit in a circle on the floor of the hallway. They are excited and ready to eat. We leave with mixed feelings. This happy home filled with healthy children clearly has insufficient space. The home provided by Hazara Afa is filled with love, but resource is lacking.

Over the past ten days we have come to realise the realities of the stories we heard about the street children, the children of the untouchables and the children of sex workers.

We have experienced and participated in the work being undertaken, by organisations and people such as, Jaago, Bottomley House, Pothoshishu, Shudha and Hazera Afa to combat this poverty and provide care for these children. Each of these organisations approaches this issue differently and to differing degrees but all are essential in touching the lives of these children.

On our penultimate day in Dhaka, we sigh a tiny sigh of relief at the thought of flying home to England.

From the Bangladeshi people and children we have met, we have received love, care and warmth, but our realities are very different to theirs and we understand now how fortunate we are.

There is so much more that we can all do…

By Sofena Choudhury and Mohima Shamsuddin

Sister Act

Posted by: on Jul 1, 2018 | No Comments

Hustled by the nuns at our first meeting with them, today we set off to take the Sisters on a day out in Kawran Bazaar. When we first met Sister Bijoya she told us a story of when she once left the orphanage to go out to Old Dhaka to buy shoes for the girls.

This was when Christopher was here and Christopher took her out. But when Mina told her about the street children she described how she desperately wanted to meet them and maybe bring some back to the Orphanage, but she recalls Mina did not take her out. We know we have a busy schedule but on balance we also know we don’t want to end up on the list Mina’s on, so we agree to take the Sisters on an excursion.

There is no better way to describe Sister Bijoya and Sister Protiba than to draw parallels with the innocent sweet sister and the sharp adorable sister from Sister Act. We decided to take them to a Potoshishu Street session.

When we arrive at the session which is scheduled to start at four, ten minutes early, it appears that there is a full class of students excited and ready to get going. As we approach, a tiny girl aged 4 is so excited that she jumps up off the matt and comes running towards us and gives me a big cuddle.

My heart melts.

I have no idea what I could have done to deserve such affection from this gorgeous child. All the school children excitedly wave and say hello.

Today’s session is very different to yesterday’s. The children are all frequent visitors. They come here every week. They do not attend any other schools as they cannot afford to. Two of the girls, called Rubeena and Khadija are about 10 years’ old. They complete the entire session while carrying their baby siblings who are less than a year old. These children are already parents.

We play a game where we stand in a circle holding hands and everyone says their name and where they come from.

I say I’m from London.

The child next to me says she is from the railway station, she is only 4 years old.

After the introductions the lesson commences. The children are taught to identify good behaviour and bad behaviour by drawing around their hands on paper then writing five good things they have done and five bad things they have done, one for each finger. A number of the children are illiterate and require help when it comes to writing, but they are keen to ask for help and to complete the task.

At the end of the learning session the bad things are scrunched up and put in the bin and good things are read out for each child as they stand in front of everyone. Due to the big turn out today the leader of the session runs out of time. The children are offered a choice of either completing the lesson or getting on with the scheduled play time.

They choose to COMPLETE THE LESSON!!

Afterwards there is a little time to play. They have a great time on the space hoppers donated by the Orphan Trust.

When the session is over we head back to the Orphanage with the sisters. We treat the girls to night of takeaway. All the staff and children are involved.

By Sofena and Mohima

Day 4: Jaago Foundation

Posted by: on Jun 29, 2018 | No Comments

Today we visited Jaago Foundation who provide education for the poorest of children in Bangladesh whose families cannot afford to pay for schooling.

They have two schools in Dhaka and 10 schools in villages throughout Bangladesh. The schools in the villages are taught remotely from Dhaka where the teachers are better qualified. Teachers are also employed in the villages to overlook the students learning and development and provide assistance.

The Orphan Trust provide sponsorship for five of the Foundations’ teachers.

The school and its head office in Banani have a fresh and new age feel to them.There are children’s painting in bright colours all over the walls. They are tech savvy and encourage this amongst the children.

Outside the school there are PC work stations available for use by the street children who do not have access to computers. This is designed to encourage them to learn basic IT skills.

We meet with Korvi Rakshand, the founder to check in on how things are progressing. He explains that the first round of graduates from the school which started as a single class of 12 students are due to complete their studies at Jaago in the next month.

He shows us a spreadsheet which maps out the continued support that will be offered to the students through higher education and into university.

The students are split into ability categories, the less able will eventually attend technical collages while the more able will go on to university. Jaago will provide the sponsorship for their future education.

They have also arranged jobs and places at open universities for the two students whose grades did not quite meet the requirements for a technical college. One of the students who has consistently produced exemplary results in all subjects is also being considered for international schooling at a centre of excellence under a scholarship.

By Sofena Choudhury

Day 3 – The hunt for Evian and an impromptu drop in to Bottomley House Orphanage

Posted by: on Jun 28, 2018 | No Comments

While sipping tea on the roof terrace of the YWCA, Mohima’s eagle eye spots a bottle of Evian half empty and sitting on a desk in the classroom of the on site school.

She immediately begins to interrogate the first passer by. ‘Where, where can I buy this’ she asks with sheer desperation.

The young man is very pleasant. He explains that often these bottles are refilled and sold as originals.

‘Be weary’ he warns.

He then povides a low down of the bottled water available in Bangladesh and its quality.

This information is worrying. Non the less on our first day in Dhaka, left to our own devices to spend at our leisure, off we set on the mission to find Evian.

We are armed with the name of a Bangladeshi supermarket…

Out in Dhaka just Mohima and I now for the first time, I feel like a pro. We settle for no less than the local rate and somehow with it just being the two of us we are less prone to looking like lost tourists and being ripped off. Travelling here comes so naturally.

With the assistance of the lonely planet and the GPS map of local knowledge, provided by Christopher I begin to try and understand the layout of the city. With our busy schedule over the remaining stay this seems essential.

I discover that a Bangladeshi supermarket is much like a large ethnic grocery store in London. They have refrigerators, freezers a grocery section, a butchers and a savoury snack section. It quickly dawns on us that the search for Evian has failed. A member of staff at the store explains that the bottled refrigerated water sold at the store is indeed re-bottled tap water. We think back to the sleepy villages, the wells and the satisfaction of understanding the source of the drinking water.

We wonder out on to the streets, speaking to the locals and the shop owners as we walk, purchasing fizzy drinks and snacks at every corner. We quiz them on their knowledge of the city’s layout and modes of transport. We aim to eventually make our way over to Kawran Bazaar from Mohammadpur. In the end we decide to take a CNG (a motorised rickshaw).

We step out in to the road to stop one and immediately a man down the road begins to shout at me, indicating I should stand back. I think he is worried I could get run over, but the traffic on this main road is light (speaking relatively so this makes no sense). He continues to shout and points up. As my eyes follow I soon see a shower of red hot welding debris showering down from the building construction taking place over head.

I run!

There is no hoarding or warning signs, no official person allocated by the building contractor to warn people. The man is just a local who has noticed the activities. It occurs to me that Bangladesh is a dangerous place. Just walking down the road is hazardous. All day we have been climbing over paving slabs and jumping over broken drainage covers without a thought. Now I recall hearing once that people falling into manholes is common cause of death here. I wonder if this could be true…

After haggling with a few rickshaw drivers we establish the going rate and jump in. We are heading to Kawran Bazaar with the intension of locating Bottomley House and taking a leisurely walk back to the hotel to discover the local area.

On arrival we pull up next to a cart where a group of girls appear to be greatly enjoying a treat. We enquire what’s these are and decide it must be worth a go as the stand is so popular. The man serves us a plate of mini puri’s filled with daal and topped with onion and lime rind salad in dressing. They are delicious. We’ve never tried these before. When the treats are all gone, we look up to discover we are outside Bottomley House Orphanage and decide that we should casually drop in as we are there.

We knock on the big heavy metal gate of this compound. Sometime later a person arrives and let’s us in. They explain that the sisters are attending church.

We say we will wait.

The person disappears and we sit in the tranquil court yard which feels a million miles away from the world beyond. A group of young girls appear and curiously watch us as we wait. We can hear laughter and we watch as the older girls walk freely and happily through the corridors.

At our meeting with the nuns they explain that they are very thankful for our visit and have been eagerly awaiting our arrival. They express gratitude for the donation of the desks, tables, beds and bedding provided by The Orphan Trust. They say that they are now struggling to meet the running costs of the Orphanage and would be grateful for any support that we could offer to purchase basic items of food.

Later we meet the girls in their classroom. They welcome us warmly and show familiarity and excitement at the mention of Mina. Their happy carefree and polite nature becomes contagious and we are filled with a sense how lovely a sanctuary this orphanage is.

By Sofena Choudhury

Day 2 – The villages of Sirajganj and distribution of clothes

Posted by: on Jun 28, 2018 | No Comments

We have been in Bangladesh for less than 48hrs and so much has happened on very little sleep. We feel ill prepared for the long day ahead. The day starts in the usual Bengali fashion, a breakfast of daal and puri in a local cafe where there is bench style seating and we sit and eat with the locals. Already Mohima and I have assimilated well into the eating culture. Easy to do when the offerings are so good throughout the day.

We visit the sleepy villages of Shampur, Chilgacha, Kuraliya, in an 8 seater vehicle. We have a driver, the project manager in Sirajganj and our hosts from Shudha escorting us. The villages are set against a lush and vivid backdrop of rice paddies and lakes. Communities gather around the wells. These are as much a place of social chit chat for the villagers as they are a place for the children to play and wash and drink.

The wells are beautifully built and presented as a monument, and the people and children are proud and thankful for the gift. The wells cost only £150 to build and provide a source of fresh water that prevent the children from drinking from the lakes.

On route we distribute clothes to local traveller communities and the Hindu untouchable communities consisting of Sweepers, Dooms and Muchids. It is along day and at night we travel back to Dhaka on a bus. This is dangerous as the roads in Bangladesh are treacherous, this particular road is still under construction and accidents are frequent.

That night as I snuggled up in bed after taking a shower in our palatial room at the YWCA, the sheets which I treated as suspicious on our first night in Dhaka feel luxurious.

By Sofena Choudhury

The Room – Part 2

Posted by: on Jun 27, 2018 | No Comments

Whilst Saf and I walked upto our bedroom we decided after such a lovely evening with the villagers of Sirajganj, we could possibly stay the 2 nights as planned in room we had been given.

Before going to bed Bristi, Sofena and I decided to organise the clothes we wanted to distribute, into categories.

This would make it easier for us to hand out the following day.

Once completed we sat on our bed and instantly I saw an expression on Bristi’s face as if she had seen something she really didn’t want to see. (The frozen stance, big eyed stare and the noise you hear from someone who has seen something bad)

Whilst my heart skipped a beat both Sofena and I looked over to where Bristi was staring.

Three huge cockroaches about the length of more than half my face and 2cm wide were having a party on the cabinet in our room. (At the time it felt like they were moving at 100mph)

The next minute or so consisted of us all screaming pushing and running to get out the room.

This startled many of the neighbouring rooms who came out to see what the commotion was all about. Once they got to the  bottom of what was going on many laughed and re-entered their rooms. The owner of the hotel got us to clear our  belongings into Bristi’s room so he could spray pest killer around the room to exterminate the abnormally large creatures.

Surprisingly Sofena seemed more content than me at this point… I was twitching and jumping at everything because I thought it was one of them coming for me.

Some time later the man came to Bristi’s room and told us he had sprayed the room and they were all gone. We opened the room door with caution about an hour later and as we stepped in there was yet another huge cockroach running towards us. We ran back out screaming. Our host from Shuda told us to wait in his room whilst he would go to the shop and buy a big can of good quality pest spray. We told him he didn’t need to but he very kindly insisted anyhow.

Whilst we walked into his room Sofena closes his room door and yet again I see that oh so familiar look on Bristi’s face… before I could look Sofena begins screaming and running out the room.

Our host ran in and instantly killed it.

I am pretty sure they were trying to chase us out the building and they would have, had we had alternative accommodation. Being so late this was not the case. We eventually bravely returned to our room. We push our beds together and covered the crack between the mattresses with the travelling sheet that Christoper gave us incase of an emergency.

We created a den with a mosquito net and kept the light on all night and talked our way through to the morning. Our host knocked on our door at 7am and was surprised to learn we had not slept at all through the night.

He decided it would be best for us to squeeze everything into the next day and leave to return to back to Dhaka that evening…

By Mohima Shamsuddin

The Road to Sirajganj continued…

Posted by: on Jun 26, 2018 | No Comments

On the bus to Sirajganj we chat and laugh…

There are frequent stops for snacks. We share shingara’s (Bengali pyramid shaped vegetable samosa’s) and potato crackers (Bangladesh branded crisps). The journey takes 5 hours and we travel on a single main road that is still under construction so it is a bumpy ride.

On arrival we sit at a chai stand sipping on tea while our host arranges our return travel and transport to our hotel which is a short distance away on a Rickshaw.

We arrive at a tall building set back through an alley way off the main village street. There is confusion as without the address you would not know that there is a hotel at this location. Our host demands that the rickshaw walla takes a large suit case carrying 25kg of clothes we have taken to Sirajganj for distribution. The rickshaw walla tugs at the suitcase which causes is to wobble back and forth but doesn’t move.

I look at him more closely for the first time and notice how thin he is. It becomes obvious to me that any attempt on this man’s part to lift this suitcase would probably result in him snapping in half.

The girls step in.

Myself and Brishti take a trolley suitcase each and Mohima draws the short straw and gets the large suitcase. Inside there is more confusion. People who live in the building do not know of the hotel. Finally a guys comes downstairs and confirms we are at the right locations and leads the way.

Our expectations for this hotel are not high but i don’t think anything could have prepared us for what came next…

By Mohima Shamsuddin

Day 2 – Journey to Sirajganj

Posted by: on Jun 25, 2018 | No Comments

Breakfast was followed by a car journey to the bus stop, two rickshaw rides in the monsoon rain to organise and exchange our cash and a two hour wait for the bus to Sirajganj…

Finally we are on our way. As we drive out of the inner city area, the air and humidity seem to lift, although I maybe confusing this with the luxury of the air conditioned bus that I am not usually accustomed to travelling on when abroad.

During our wait at the bus station Khokon Bhai, our host and founder of Shudha and Smiling Rainbow Foundation talked about the hindu village communities in Sirajganj.

They were brought to Bangladesh by the British when the subcontinent was under colonial rule. They were used to undertake jobs that nobody else would do.

As I reflect on our conversation I feel eager and curious to meet the people. They are most familiarly referred to as the untouchable race.

By Sofena Choudhury

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