Helping children defy disability and deprivation
By Raffat Binte Rashid
Dhaka, 2 July 2013: It was a scorching summer day; the sort when one would think twice before venturing out and risking a heat stroke. However for the residents of Korail slum, which is located in the heart of the metropolis in Banani, Dhaka, they have no option but to brave the heat and go out to work or open up shops to meet their daily needs. Besides, the heat trapped inside their tin shed shanties is equally suffocating, if not more.
Shaila is a seven-year-old girl with disability whose right arm and leg has been feeble since birth. She has cropped hair that is nicely oiled and styled into tiny pig tails. She stood at the edge of her bed, wearing just shorts that are puffed with frills on the hem.
Shaila and her mother Ambia’s small hut have traces of poverty but unlike other residents of the slum, theirs is flooded with love and happiness. Ambia’s optimistic attitude rubbed off her daughter and in spite of her disability, she dreams to be a barrister-at-law one day. Both the mother and daughter’s smiling face lights up their home which also houses a small tailoring shop.
A tailoring shop: Hope for living
Shaila’s shanty is airy and sunny as it has a wide open window on the front, where Ambia has set up her sewing machine and a shelf and it works as her shop. The room is clean and tidy; they have trunks where their clothes are stored.
“Shaila was a premature baby, she was born on the seventh month, her twin brother died at birth and it took a miracle to save Shaila. Her eyes were closed like a bird and the doctor used electric pulses to open them,” Ambia explains in her own words how Shaila spent the first three months of her life in an incubator in Shishu (children’s) Hospital’s neo-natal ward.
“She started to walk when she was four. Doctors said her treatment would cost 40,000 taka ($ 500). I am a poor woman, my husband left for the village when Shaila was born and never provided any financial support. Seeing my plight with support from a local non-government organization, I bought a sewing machine and I started my tailoring shop. I worked very hard and earned 300 to 400 taka ($4-5) per day and with that it was barely possible to make ends meet; the lion’s share of the income was spent in treating Shaila,” Ambia recalls.
“Recently, the social worker apa (sister) from the government office contacted us and informed that Shaila has been selected as a recipient of the cash transfer programme. I have received 12000 taka ($150), the first of three instalments. With that I bought three-piece shalwar kameez sets and invested in more yardages, and now I do all sorts of ladies’ dresses, from blouses to shalwar kameez sets. I also stitch “lungis” for men.
“ I received the money three to four months ago and already I have bought a second-hand fan which provides respite from this scorching heat. Most importantly, I can now afford to send Shaila to school, which I could not do earlier,” Ambia continues.
“I go to school now – it is called Korail KG School. My grandmother picks me up and drops me off at school, and I have friends with whom I play and watch movies on television. When I grow up I will be a barrister like I see in the cinemas. I really like them,” says a shy Shaila while she sat down on her mother’s sewing table and tried to run the machine with her tiny hand.
“‘Objection! Overruled!’ are the things she likes to say. I hope we can overcome our poverty and achieve her dream,” a smiling Ambia says patting Shaila fondly.
Cash transfer project: A blessing
With UNICEF support, the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs (MoWCA) runs a cash transfer project in city slums as part of urban social protection initiative to reach the unreachable and invisible and ending child labour.
“A total amount of 36,000 taka ($450) is given to deserving families in three instalments of 12,000 ($150) every six months. The project provides support to working children, orphans, children with disabilities or displaced and street children and girls who may be forced into early marriages, with the sole intention of giving every child an opportunity to go to school,” informs Sabila Sultana, a MoWCA social worker stationed at Korail slum and in charge of Shaila’s case.
“The cash ensures that the parents are not only giving their children food and clothing but are also sending them to school. We do follow up every month and submit a monthly progress report to the authority about each child’s progress.
“ If any family fails to utilise the money for an income generating activity or does not send their children to school for three months and instead allows them to continue working, their cash transfer is cancelled or withdrawn and given to a more deserving family,” says Md. Sayedul Morshed, co-worker of Shaila.
The programme is aimed to address inequalities and enhance access to basic services through proactive social work and referral, mitigate child poverty by supporting families in building their resilience in taking child care role and special services to children out of parental care or alternative care and support.
The project has been initiated in an urban slum area (Korail) in late 2012 and will be expanded in 2014 in the other location (Mirpur) targeting slum dwellers, factory workers and families who are living in poor neighbourhoods.