Bangladesh

Swedish singer and songwriter Laila Bagge visits children living in the slums of Bangladesh

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Bangladesh/2012/Sharmin
Swedish celebrity Laila Bagge meets the siblings of 9-year-old Jahanara, in the T&T slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

By Arifa S.Sharmin

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 3 May 2012 – For Laila Bagge, the Swedish singer and songwriter, visiting the residents of T&T colony, a slum in Dhaka, was a life-changing experience.

During her three-day trip, Ms. Bagge also visited a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space, a place for children to play and learn, and she spoke to children about their experiences growing up in urban poverty.

Living on the roadside

More than 100 families live in T&T; many have been here for over a decade. Most migrated to Dhaka in search of work after climate-change-related disasters in their villages – including cyclones and river erosion – destroyed their homes and livelihoods.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Bangladesh/2012/Sharmin
Swedish singer and songwriter Laila Bagge embraces 9-year-old Jahanara during a visit to the T&T slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Homes in T&T are just tents made of plastic sheets set atop a roadside expanse of pavement. As many as six people live in each of these crammed living spaces, which do not have any ventilation and lack water and sanitation facilities.

Nine-year-old Jahanara lives in one of these houses with her mother, twin siblings, grandmother and two uncles. Her mother, 25-year-old Minu, works as a cleaner in a private office and earns only 900 taka per month, or less than US$10 –  not enough to meet even the most basic needs of her children. Jahanara doesn’t go to school because she has to take care of her siblings.

“This roadside pavement is very risky. It is a busy road. I have to be careful to ensure safety of my siblings,” Jahanara told Ms. Bagge. “As my mum goes to work in [the] morning, I have to sacrifice my study to baby-sit my siblings.”

Ms. Bagge squeezed into tent, joining Jahanara as she fed her sick 11-month-old brother, Milon. When her mother returned, Jahanara prepared to leave for her job as a garbage picker. She sells the waste she finds to a ‘bhangari’, or recycle shop.

“I do not like the work, but I have to do it for my family. Every day, I work for two to three hours, earning 30 to 50 taka [US$0.30 to US$0.60] by selling the waste,” Jahanara told Ms. Bagge. “Collecting waste is a difficult and hazardous job. I often cut my leg or hand while collecting garbage as people throw pieces of broken glass, iron and other sharp objects in the garbage.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Bangladesh/2012/Sharmin
A child lies by himself in a tent in the T&T slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His parents are away at work.

Getting back her childhood

“I could not hold my emotion. Life is too harsh towards Jahanara,” Ms. Bagge said. “She has to behave like an adult at the age of 9. She is not only taking care of her siblings but sharing responsibility of her family just like grown up. Her life would have been very different if she were born in a country like Sweden.”

Ms. Bagge also visited a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. When she arrived, the children – including Jahanara – were practicing their weekly music lesson under the guidance of a teacher.

The child-friendly space is the only place in T&T colony where children can receive a basic education and life-skills training. Jahanara attends whenever she gets chance; there, she is eager to learn and play with her friends.

“I am amazed to see that this little girl gets back her childhood, at least for the time being, in this child-friendly space… playing with her friends, dancing and learning through fun,” Ms. Bagge said. “At the end of the day, she is a little girl again.”


 

 

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