Life is different for street children at Shishuder Jonno Amra, a shelter run by former sex worker Hazera Begum. Not only do they have a place to live, they have a chance at receiving an education, they have companionship and most importantly, they have a sense of identity.
In 2010, when the shelter was first established in Savar, it was home to 22 children. Subsequently, since moving to Adabar, Dhaka, there are 35 children at the shelter, many of whom are the children of sex workers.
When the boys reach 14 years of age, they are aided in setting up their lives outside of the shelter. For girls, the shelter can be home for as long as they need.
Moshiul Azam Minto, the vice-president of the organization, had only praises for Hazera and her efforts to be a mother to these orphaned or abandoned children.
“She is a very brave lady. We met while I was working on a research project with street based sex workers organization Durjoy Nari Sangha. When the Durjoy Child Care Centre was shut down, Hazera poured all of her savings into starting Shishuder Jonno Amra,” said Moshiul.
According to him, about 30 people help bear the cost of the shelter, which runs to around Tk125,000 per month. A lady provides five litres of milk daily for the children and other women come in to do the household chores.
A few non-profit organisations send volunteers to teach the children basic subjects like Arabic and Bangla.
Hazera and her team have also managed to get sponsors for many of the children to ensure that they can continue to pursue an education, should they want to. Currently, two of Hazera’s female wards are enrolled in one of the best boarding schools in the country.
Fatema, a fourth grade student, who came to the shelter in 2013, is especially fond of Hazera and seeks out opportunities to spend time with her.
“She is not just my mother, she is my best friend. I have a lot of fun with her and the others here. She might not be my biological mother, but I think my bond with her is stronger than that,” said Fatema.
Saiful Islam Sayed was only 3 and half years old when Hazera found him at Durjoy Child Care Centre. He is now 14-year-old and successfully enrolled in ninth grade at a nearby school. Though he now lives with his biological mother at her house, he prefers to spend his days at the shelter. Saiful’s dream is to join Hazera in her efforts toward helping street children.
“I know how difficult life is for street children. I am lucky my mother (Hazera) has saved me from that sort of life. She works to give us all a better life and I want to be a part of that,” he explained.
A joyous Hazera, surrounded by her children, is a very different person from the sex worker who went through some of the worst of life’s hardships.
Brought up in a poor family, she rarely received a proper meal to eat. Frequently abused by her stepmother, Hazera left home at eight years of age. Living with street children in Gulistan, she soon became a pickpocket. As she grew older, she was frequently sexually harassed on the streets and ultimately forced into prostitution.
In 2004, she started working with Durjoy Nari Sangha’s child care centre which was set up to help the children of sex workers. When the organisation lost funding in 2008, Hazera and a few others kept the organisation going for as long as they could. Eventually, with the help of a few Jahangirnagar University students, she started Shishuder Jonno Amra.
In her own words: “This is not about me. It is about the children. I want to be their friend, teacher and mother. Because they deserve it. I want them to have everything that I never did. I want them to have an identity. It is their right.”
Photography: Mahmud Hossain Opu