A rewarding journey from street to school
By Julhas Alam
Khulna, 24 July, 2013: The impact of their father’s death was profound. As little girls it meant that Chadni and Moyna passed many days and nights feeling destitute, hungry and dispirited.
Because their father was the only earner in the family, they ended up on the streets.
To make money, they were forced to collect vegetables in a kitchen market in the south-western city of Khulna.
The two girls can still remember how difficult it was for them and their two siblings to cope with hunger. For their jobless mother, it was a constant challenge to look after her son and three daughters.
“We passed many days without having proper meals,” Chadni Aktar, now 12, says. “I can still remember those days, it was terrible. Staying hungry is very difficult,” she continues.
Now a Grade-V student in a government primary school in Khulna, Chadni, 11, says that her life of unrelenting misery has now been transformed. She and Moyna are the top two pupils in their class of 84 students.
Both girls live with their family in a rented one-room, bamboo-and-tin home in the city. It may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal home, but it is tidy, well kept and above all a secure home for the children.
A new journey
The girls’ rehabilitation from children who used to live on the street to top school children clearly shows how the lives of seriously disadvantaged young people can be radically changed for the better in a country like Bangladesh.
But it has not been an easy journey and the girls still have some way to go.
Volunteers from a government-sponsored non-formal education programme spotted them collecting vegetables in the kitchen market, knowing it was not a safe place for them to work.
Realising that the pair were in danger of being physically violated, arrangements were made for them to be placed in a drop-in-centre for girls. Here, scores of children experiencing similar predicaments are taught basic non-formal education and life skills. The scheme is part of a government programme entitled “Protection of Children at Risk” supported by UNICEF.
“We stayed there for two years. We learnt many things there,” says Chadni.
The girls were taught how to sing songs – including the national anthem – musical instruments and acting.
“We also learnt how to protect ourselves and others from social evils like child trafficking, child marriages and torture,” Chadni says.
“We took part in interactive theatre and enjoyed participating in street theatre to spread awareness,” she says.
Social workers under the project Child Sensitive Social Protection in Bangladesh (CSPB) were able to find Chadni and Moyna’s mother and were reunited she was living in a slum and working as a domestic help.
The girls enrolled in a different government-run primary school in Grade-III.
Their mother received 1,500 Taka ($20) a month under the cash transfer initiative supported by UNICEF for 18 months on condition that she would find some form of income generation of her own and ensure the education of her children.
“It worked, and their mother can now pay for that and their home,” says Khadija Akhter Nupur, a social worker engaged with the CSPB project.
The two girls meanwhile look happy and relaxed, eager to demonstrate their singing talent to any willing audience.
But it is not just music that inspires them - both say they are determined to continue their studies. “I want to be a journalist. I want to talk about street children and work for them,” Chadni says.
Moyna says she wants to study at a university.