A Home Away From Home
By Raffat Binte Rashid
Dhaka, 13 May 2013: The bantering, cries and laughter of children at the Day Care Centre in the Mirpur area of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka are not much different from any other child care facility found throughout the world.
But this facility is significantly different from similar centres elsewhere in the city. The working parents who drop off their children here are not office goers. Instead, they are garment workers, day labourers or house helps.
Nothing fancy but useful
The scene inside is truly heart-warming. Children in torn and dirty clothes jostle for space amid babies who are still to reach their first birthday.
Some toddlers try to take a nap, some are crying while some are fizzing with energy and in full gear. Although it is just like any other day care centre, a key difference is that this one is a little short of equipment. It has nothing fancy inside, with few decent toys.
The tiny space inside is sunlit and decorated with only the bare necessities - little wall paintings of ducks and fishes, a plastic rack to keep the brightly coloured but broken toys and a half-broken chest of drawers.
But despite these deprivations the place is clean, with two floor mattresses and a few pillows neatly laid down on purple coloured floral bedspread with a handful of brightly coloured plastic toys scattered around. Although the furniture may have seen better days, the cheerful noise of children at play soon dispels any sense of neglect.
The room’s occupants are mostly toddlers aged between 12 months to a maximum of four years old.
Shifat, clearly a favourite, is a cherubic child aged 18 months.
“My mother works over there,” he says pointing to the door in the direction of a garments factory while playing with his toy car.
The sole caretaker of the day centre, Lalmoti, explains that both of Shifat’s parents work - his father at a construction site and his mother in the garments factory.
“Shifat is their first-born and they have no-one to look after him. It is easier for them to drop him off here at the day care,” says Lalmoti.
The centre is housed inside a three-storied narrow building with a steep staircase and dark corridors.
Mothers keep food for children on a wooden table placed in a corner to have during lunch or their mid-day break.
The food is often simple - boiled rice and lentils or a small portion of an egg or fish curry. It is hardly the kind of sustenance that you expect for a one-year-old, but life for them does not revolve around what they are given to eat.
The reality for them is hard boiled rice that their working mother cooks at six in the morning before going to work.
Lalmoti: A caring granny
Lalmoti is called ‘Granny’ by the children. She is a kind-hearted woman with a loving face and all of them are attached to her.
She patiently addresses all their needs and demands throughout the day from 7:00am to 8:30pm.
“There are days when some mothers come in very late from work - around 10pm and they pay me a tip if they come way past closing time,” she says while busying herself with a quiet two-year-old child of latecomers.
Sakina, mother of a child, says that she wants her daughter to continue attending the centre even though she is currently without work.
“I had an accident and injured my hand, but I hope that I will resume work soon.
“I want my child to come here because I don’t want to disrupt her routine. I can vouch that I work with a lot less worries when I know my baby is in good care and not alone at home or roaming on the streets. It’s easier for me to concentrate at work if I know my child is secure and being taken care of,” says Sakina.
Shohan is the eldest among the 15 enrolled at the day care centre. He is four. “My mother used to work in a garments factory but now she works as a domestic help in people’s houses.
“I like coming here and playing with the toys. I don’t want to go to school now. But I think when I grow up I will go - but not now. I don’t like school now,” he says innocently.
His parents are from the low earning segment of the population and live in the slums where conditions are far from satisfactory.
A new hope
With the support of UNICEF, partner organizations run the day care centre to provide support to working parents and ensure the safety of their children while they are at work.
The centre itself began operating in April. There are five similar centres in Mirpur, mostly catering for the children of garment workers near the densely populated slums where many reside. The centre operates six days a week except Friday.
Tamanna stands quietly and obediently by the day care centre’s door, her innocence and unassuming personality could win over even the most hardened of hearts.
Visitors to the centre find that it is almost impossible to ignore the engaging personality of Tamanna or the other children. Their right to a better life also cannot be ignored.