• Friday, Aug 07, 2020
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OP-ED: The untold stories of Bhola slum

  • Published at 04:10 pm July 4th, 2020
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Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

It is difficult to imagine just how difficult their lives are

It was a dizzy winter morning when I reached the Bhola slum. The area was very congested with nearly 500 families living inside. There is no space between the houses and they hardly ever see sunlight and feel the wind. 

Bhola is an island located on the southern coast of Bangladesh, and the area is very prone to the effects of riverbank erosion and frequent cyclones.  

Many people migrated to Dhaka for climate-induced factors but some moved due to social reasons, for better jobs and brighter futures. A few people moved to get a better education for their children. 

A 50-year-old woman shared her story of coming to a new life. She started from the very beginning: 

“I was a newly married bride. It was about 30 years ago. Life went so well. But, suddenly, everything changed with the blink of an eye. We witnessed how the river swallowed our little paradise from us. That was a nightmare. With empty hands, my husband and I came to this city. We were complete strangers here. We had no idea where to go, whom to go to.

“After a lot of struggle, we managed a room at Gabtoli slum. Fortunately, he got a job at a shop. After five years, we moved to Bhola slum. He started a small business and I used to help him. We started our life with new hope. 

“We forgot all our sorrows soon when our daughter came to the world. She was like a blessing to us. We were very happy with what we had. 

“But the happiness did not last for long. Suddenly, my husband became very sick and left us. We were so alone in this vast world. Even then, I tried to manage his business and educated my daughter. Now she is living with her husband and I am a lonely woman. This is how life is; it’s never easy.”

An old man drew my attention. He was sitting at the end corner of the slum. He took a deep breath and recalled a story from 20 years back: 

“I hate myself for making this decision to come to Dhaka. I just hate myself for this decision. There is nothing I like about this city and this doesn’t make any difference. If we get to manage food then we eat. Otherwise, we don’t. This is how life is here.

“Days and nights pass and I pray for death. But I have a desire to go back to my village and die there. A month ago, I had a dream regarding my village and was thinking of visiting my village one last time. I am dying to go there but it’s not possible.” 

These are just two examples but, here in the slums, there are thousands of untold stories of the people who lost their belongings due to climate change and were forced to migrate to Dhaka for a better life. But do they really get a better life?  

Their lives are not easy and simple. They have to face a lot of problems. They always have the fear of eviction and losing their new homes. 

Mosquitoes are another huge problem. Heavy rain and high temperature affect their everyday lives. Waterlogging has always been a problem here -- last year, the water rose up by five feet. 

They are struggling everyday with inadequate food and clean water. The medical treatment and education facilities are very expensive in Dhaka -- nearly impossible to afford for them. 

Some local and international NGOs work closely with this community. UNDP provided grants and training on small businesses to the local people. 

They have conducted some surveys here and, according to the data, they found the most vulnerable people and granted them financial aid. They are going to launch a new project on residence here and help people rebuild their damaged houses. 

PDAP was the very first organization that started working at Bhola slum. They work for children and teenage girls. They provide training on tailoring and crafting. They also help the people explore their leadership roles. 

Hairu Commision mainly works to build a network among various institutes. Through this commission, successful people work as motivators to others. 

World Vision particularly works for children. They are working on child nutrition, children’s education facilities, and providing accessories for newborn children. They also provide gifts to children during festivals. 

According to the slum people, this is not enough and everyone doesn’t have access to this aid. They are looking forward to support from the government and other organizations. 

While I was wrapping up my journey and was about to leave, I heard a woman whisper: “The life of the poor is itself a problem. Talking about these problems is just a waste of time. Our problems and sufferings are endless.”

Afsana Alam is a student of Mass Communication and Journalism at University of Dhaka.

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