of the Lesser God
children start cavorting joyously as soon as they hear that
the Eid moon has been sighted. Of the 120 street children
of Aparajeyo Bangladesh (AB) in East Tejturi Bazar, 105
are to spend their Eid here. Mahbub Ur Raihan and Shahima
are the two staff members who will look after these children
during the Eid vacation. After a brief encounter with the
children who gathered to exchange Eid Mubarak with their
two official guardians, they set out to decorate the place
with balloons and festoons.
7.30 Mahbub and Shahima are preparing a backdrop for the
children's dormitory on the third floor. These two are working
away on a big white paper, where big Bangla letters are
announcing the greeting -- Eid Mubarak.
is the artisticaly-inclined teacher at Aparajeo Bangladesh.
Shahima is the Assistant Residential Social Worker; she
is here twenty-four hours a day to look after the children.
Children are dropping by in one or twos to see the work
in progress at the small room that is the office. They are
delighted. Some are helping out, some are happy just to
see that their bhaiya and apa are busy trying to make this
particular Eid as joyous as possible.
children's enthusiasm seems unending. Every time they see
someone older they respond spontaneously -- kemon aachhen
bhaiya/apa? (how are you brother/sister).
boy walks in to announce to his apa and bhaiya that he has
bought three sets of clothes for Eid. His appearance belies
his age, with which he is not bothered; his answer to the
question inquiring about his age is rather blunt. “This
is something that the office will determine,” he affirms.
The boy, about eight, is Jamil. He is small and a bit on
the frail side, yet his demeanour is lively. He reiterates
the fact that it was his sheer luck that while on a visit
to Shangshad Bhaban he spotted a five hundred Taka note.
This is the note, the windfall that he gave to the Residential
Caretaker, and “Right before Eid I asked for it so that
I could buy all my clothes,” adds Jamil. Jamil claims that
his parents are in Kaliganj, but he has been living here
since he was very little. He adds that he does not recall
visiting his parents ever. He is happy to have bought the
clothes for Eid. He has even fulfilled this plan to visit
the Dhaka zoo on Eid Day.
on Eid Day enjoying the food.
the last MP election Pinky's mother died of cancer. This
young girl was lucky to have been chosen for the embroidery
project. She has been receiving training at the Shegun Bagicha
UCEP para-trade centre for few months. She receives a monthly
stipend of Taka 150and a daily conveyance of Taka 10 from
UCEP and another 10 from AB. This applies to every trainee
attending courses at UCEP. For Pinky Eid Day is the day
she visits her three sisters living in Mirpur. As for Eid
special clothes she bought herself a set of salwar kameez
with the money she saved.
is distraught on the eve of Eid-Ul-Fitr. Her mother remains
incarcerated for the consecutive 3rd year. And it was heart-breaking
for her when one day prior to Eid, she went to see her mother
at the Dhaka central jail but the authority did not allow
her as she did not have the hundred Taka that they unlawfully
young girl grieves the fact that her mother was arrested
three years back from Tejkuni para, “where she used to deal
in phensidyl,”she frankly coughs out. Putly has been lucky,
and has been learning screen-printing at the UCEP para-trade
centre at Shegun Bagicha. On the night before Eid, her khala
(maternal aunt) promises to make her a new salwar overnight,
which she does and Putly is all smiles on the Eid Day in
her new green dress and fluffy hair-do.
are 20 Peer educators at the Aparajeo Bangladesh centre.
It is they who go out to scour the areas marked by their
authority to look for new recruits. Osmany Udyan, the mazaar
at Mirpur, Karwan Bazaar are the marked zones where these
children set out to rescue their peers and counsel them
to come to the centre. Once at the centre the small children
pay Taka 5 and the older ones pay Taka 7 to get lodging
and three daily meals.
authorities of Aparajeo employs the Peer Educators, Each
of them draws a salary of 2000 per month. One Peer Educator,
Shumi has been working here for 9 months in this post. It
was during her childhood that she got involved with AB.
“I was a little girl who used to play in around the Shangshad
Bhaban area, one day the teachers of the open street school
of AB approached me and I was with them since then,”says
Shumi. She hails from Gafargaon, Mymensing, where her stepmother
lives with her children -- three daughters and one son.
Peer Educators have reason to be in a good mood during this
Eid. They were given Eid bonuses that amounted to Taka 917.
Sonia, another Peer Educator, too had lost her real mother
but now is happy to buy her stepbrother a panjabi and a
pair of shoes for Eid. Her stepmother lives with her son
at Jigatala, and Sonia makes it a rule to pay a visit during
everyone at the AB centre has reason to smile on the day
before Eid. Abul Kashem, an older boy is unhappy, as he
could not manage to save money towards this occasion. He
picks rags along with his buddy Shahin. Their work-area
is vast, almost half of Dhaka, but their days income “is
only 30 to 40 Taka,” both of them confirm. These two have
been here for three months and the opportunity to get a
job still eludes them. “We don't want to pick rags. We want
to get into proper jobs,” says Kashem. “We often get beaten
up by people who take us for thieves, we hate to do something
that doesn't even pay much.” adds Shahin.
Aparajeyo Bangladesh Eid provides the children with an opportunity
to have fun.
is not in that kind of trouble. He is rather lucky to have
completed the six month long training as “banner writer”
at the UCEP para-trade centre at Shegun Bagicha. He saved
his money with the authority of the AB and was given some
of it back to buy himself a shirt and a pair of shoes. “I
did not have enough to buy a pair of trousers that would
have fulfilled my desire,” says Faruk. “I spent 200 Taka
on these,” he adds.
Shumon relates one of the most harrowing experiences in
his life. The day before Eid he talks about how he used
to constantly get beaten by his parents in Sylhet, his home
district. “They used to gag me before starting to beat me
up, they always wanted to see some money at the day's end,”
he says. For him “this is the best place to stay during
Eid. “I have friends and all the apas and bhaiyas
are caring,” he affirms.
last three years were lost from this wide-mouthed, eloquent
child with sunken eyes. Shumon, who looks not more that
10, was picked up by the police from the street while distributing
handouts and packed off with many others to the centre for
the vagrant at Betulla, Gazipur. “I could not even take
baths properly, as the water was dirty. And the caretakers
were cruel,” says Shumon. He was released one month back
and came back to AB. Shumon is lucky to get his old job
back. He made a little money and spent almost three hundred
taka on his complete set of Eid outfit that included a fotua,
a pair of trousers, a pair of shoes and lastly a belt that
he bought on the morning of the Eid Day.
for these children is all about good food, clothing and
outings. “They are too mobile, you cannot fully restrict
their movements as they are habituated to a kind of life
where restriction was never enforced,” says Mahbub who believes
that counseling is having an impact on their behaviour.
day the AB centre is altered, the children are in new clothes,
they almost belie their identity as underprivileged children.
Some of the young girls are bedecked in such fashionable
clothes and don such hair-dos that the visiting Project
Cordinator Amina Khatun can not help but inquire about their
style. “To acquire the fluffy look you need to tie up tiny
little plaits right after the bath,” informs Putli.
most amazing thing for one to discover is the alliance among
young girls. Although there are events of wrangling and
fighting, the fraternity among them is a thing that seemed
to have been the fruit of labour, both of the people who
run the place and the children. On Eid day a little girl
named Nasima proudly announces that her new salwar
is a gift of her apa -- Meethy. The generosity
of Meethy is just one example of the fellow feeling that
bound the inmates of the shelter together. A girl with a
checkered history, Meethy along with other girls were entrusted
with the flower Shop at Mirpur-1. They are paid a monthly
salary, this has proved to have deterred them from seeking
any detour to make money. “Our strategy has proved affirmative.
Though sale-wise we have not yet reached the target,” says
of the children made some quick bucks selling flowers this
Eid. The children were posted throughout the city with a
bucketful of flowers. The next day the little flower sellers
were keen on roaming about the city. After all they are
kids and they, though branded as underprivileged, have the
right to have fun. They continue to carry the burden of
their precarious past and Aparajeyo Bangladesh is only trying
to help them find their own niche in this world where making
a living is a war.