Mother’s Day has become a big enough event in Dhaka to merit corporate campaigns, special packaged deals, advertisements and of course, a whole lot of social media spotlight. The cynical are quick to point out that the occasion has become an excuse to monetize sentiments, and the socially conscious are just as quick to point out that these “Hallmark card” occasions are good opportunities to raise awareness. And yet, for a large number of working mothers in the city, there are far bigger concerns than Mothers Day deals.
SAJIDA Foundation, a value-driven philanthropic NGO, has amongst its other projects, Pavement Dweller Centres (PDC) around the city, which provide daycare services for mothers living on the streets. This week, we meet some women whose lives have been impacted by these facilities.
Sayeeda is currently working as a domestic help. Married off in her teens, she became a mother at a very young age, and had three children before becoming widowed. After her in-laws seized her husband’s properties, she came to Dhaka in search of a better life. She spent three years sleeping on pavements, rebuffing marriage proposals from rickshaw pullers, tying her children up to protect them from road accidents. Work was hard to come by because of her preoccupation with her children. Life turned for the better when she was approached by a Program Officer from SAJIDA’s Amrao Manush Program, who told her about the Pavement Dweller Centre.
Sayeeda is now able to focus on work while her children spend their days in the safety of a day-care centre, getting proper food, education and a place to play and sleep, while their mother goes to work. Her eldest son Sayeem is now ten and studies in Grade 2, while her second son Nayeem is 7 and studying in Kindergarten. Her youngest Aleem is three and spends his days at the day care of SAJIDA’s Pavement Dweller Centre in Mouchak.
“I don’t need anything else. I just want my children to finish their education and have a better life. And I hope that soon I will be able to save enough money to move into a slum and then ultimately go back home,” says Sayeeda
Momtaj was born blind, to extreme poverty. Her family moved to Dhaka, and survived by begging in the streets, using Momtaj’s blindness as a prop. She was married off to another slum dweller, who abused her, and then abandoned her after she gave birth to their son Morsalin. She lived in abject poverty and constant fear of losing her child, until she, too was discovered through the Amrao Manush Program.
Morsalin was 2 years old when he was enrolled in the day care centre of SAJIDA’s Pavement Dweller Centre in Maniknagar. He is now almost 3 and in daily care of the program staff, getting proper food, water, sanitation, education, healthcare and shelter. Momtaj no longer has to worry that her child will be stolen. She avails all essential services from the Pavement Dweller Centre, and has also started saving money there for her son, so that he doesn’t have to face the kind of difficulties she did.
“He is my whole world. He is all I have,” saysMomtaj. “I feel so much joy when I hear his voice, and hear him speaking politely with others. He is learning so much. I hope that someday he will be a big officer and take care of me.”
Monowara was born Mitali Rani, but converted from Hinduism to Islam to marry her Muslim husband. The man disappeared when she was six months pregnant, leaving her to undergo a painful C-section alone.
Discharged from the PG hospital three days after the surgery, she found herself out on the streets with no help. Amrao Manush officers found her when baby son was 45 days old. The child had contracted pneumonia, and had to be rushed to the hospital. Mother and son were later transferred to the PDC, where the boy was named Deep.
With support from the program, Monowara started her own business. She can be found sitting on the streets of Kawran Bazar everyday with a weight machine, where she earns a monthly income of Taka 8000. Deep is now a healthy one-year-old boy getting child care services from day care centre at SAJIDA’s Pavement Dweller Centre.
“My father had once dreamt that I would become an Agriculture Officer,” says Monowara. “I could not fulfill his dream. But I want my son Deep to be an Agriculture Officer someday. He is my only reason for living.”
Shathi paid the price for eloping with a boy when she was 19, when he abandoned her two years after they had a child together. Like the others in this story, she was forced to live in the streets, and found it hard to find work because she had a small child, so she subsisted on begging.
Hearing about the PDC from a fellow beggar, she took her child there, and spoke to the Centre about becoming a member.
“My son Saif is now 4 years old and I leave him here at the day care centre and go to work at a garments factory,” Shathi informs us. “I am raising my son in such a way that he never leaves his wife the way his father left me. I want him to understand the pain that a woman goes through.”
Shathi has also started saving at the Centre for her child. She dreams of a bright future for Saif when he grows up.
Tania’s story differs a little from the others, in that she came to Dhaka to escape abuse from her stepfather, and was swindled into entering the sex industry.
Motherhood came as the expected outcome of her line of work, but the birth of her son Billal made her even more desperate to exit her way of life. She found her way out when she met the Amrao Manush officer near Komlapur station.
“I had been corrupted by the dirty business of sex work. But I wanted my child to be far away from it,” says Tania. She started keeping Billal at the Maniknagar PDC and with help from the AmraoManush Program, found productive work at Komlapur Station.
Billal is now 4 years old with eyes like his mother – big and full of dreams. He loves to play with other kids at the PDC and is always full of energy and joy. Tania spends time with Billal when she is not working, playing with him, giving him a bath where Billal loves to play with soap and water.
Case studies provided by SAJIDA Foundation, founded in 1993 as a social enterprize reaching out to marginalized and disadvantaged communities with comprehensive development programs including microfinance, health and others. The foundation has 178 Branches, covering 20 districts.