Every child is a promise of tomorrow, but all the kids are not born privileged enough to make that promise come true. And challenges are much bigger for those born in the shadows of Bangladesh’s brothels.
These kids face discrimination, neglect, and a life bereft of basic necessities like food, education, and healthcare. But with the courage and unwavering commitment of one woman, Hajera Begum, a beacon of hope shines bright for these children.
The former sex worker knew the perils of such kids much better than any other and she came up to help them out of the darkness with motherly love. With the support of the organisation “Give Bangladesh”, she created a safe haven for these children to grow, learn, and thrive.
This project, named “Project Pathchola”, is now more than just a roof over their heads, it’s a pathway to a brighter tomorrow. For eight years, the project has been dedicated to nurturing the mental and social development of children of sex workers and providing them with opportunities.
Executive Director of “Give Bangladesh” Khandkar Abir Hossain believes that the kids will be able to have a brighter future if they are provided with a little support and care.
Through their initiative, Project Pathchola, Abir says they are dedicated to providing these kids with the support to break free from the cycle of indecision and insecurity.
According to Abir, Project Pathchola is poised to give these children the chance to succeed and thrive in society with a commitment to relocating them from abusive environments and empowering them with guidance and opportunities.
No child should be defined by their circumstances, and this project is a testament to the fact that a little kindness can go a long way in changing lives. As Abir stated, “We believe that with proper support, these children can overcome the obstacles and biases faced by their mothers, and emerge as confident and capable individuals who can carve out their own path in life.”
Glories to all children
There are two sides to every coin, and such is the case with the world we live in. On one hand, a child can bask in the warm glow of love and happiness, but on the other, they may be dealt a harsh hand if they happen to be born in a so-called “sex village”.
Aiming at ensuring love and care to all children regardless of their identities, Project Pathchola was launched in 2014 under the umbrella of Give Bangladesh. Subsequently. Hajera Begum established the safe haven called “Shishuder Jonno Amra” (We are for the kids).
The shelter in Dhaka’s Adabar has 45 children. The children at the shelter receive food, shelter, education, and medical care.
Only those aged 5 to 18 are eligible to reside in this refuge, but after reaching the age of 18, they are provided with vocational education and training so that they can stand on their own feet.
Abir said they worked with Dhaka’s street sex workers during the pandemic. At that time, Give Bangladesh arranged food and other essentials to support the group as they lost income during the shutdown.
Kamrunnesa Foundation and Project Pathchola then jointly initiated a shelter for the children of sex workers in Dhaka’s Uttara. Currently, nine children are housed in a home named “Joy Sokol Shishur” (Glories to all children).
The organisation enters contracts with the mothers before taking in the children. According to the agreement, mothers cannot engage the kids in sex work or take them away from the shelter.
On top of this, Abir said they have arranged training for the mothers so that they can return to regular life. About 50 women sex workers have been trained in sewing and handicraft so far.
Spreading the joy of reading
Project Pathchola recently launched a social media campaign with the post “Donate your old, unused books”. The response has been overwhelming, with generous donations in both cash and over 2,000 books received.
Those donations have enabled the construction of a library in Shishupalli, Daulatdia – one of the largest brothels in South Asia, providing children with the opportunity to expand their knowledge and intellectual abilities at a young age.
According to Abir, most of Daulatdia’s children are struggling to survive and often lack access to books. But the initiative brings new hope to this group by providing them with books.
Besides, the project hosts various programmes each month to encourage children’s interest in the library and books.
Reading contests, art and craft and painting competitions are also held annually at Daulatdia to encourage the children to continue their reading habit. Two books are assigned and the quiz is taken on those books.
Some 80 children participated in the “Brainwashing 4.0” programme organised at Daulatdia on 17 December last year.
Under the project, 150 sessions have been conducted so far with 1,450 children of sex workers. In the sessions, children were given various psychological education along with textbook lessons.
Breaking the stigma
Society often turns a blind eye to the struggles and hardships faced by sex workers and their families. These women and their children are often left with no support and limited access to basic necessities such as education and healthcare. This is where Project Pathchola steps in to break the stigma and bring hope to these families.
While sharing the journey of how they are gaining the trust of mothers who are often wary of leaving their children in the care of strangers, Abir said that their approach is through the help of locals and people who have been in the same profession, allowing for a connection to be established with the mothers.
Despite the lack of government grants, he said Project Pathchola is determined to make a difference.
According to him, their main source of funding is through individual donations on a daily or monthly basis, and they also have volunteers who take responsibility for a single child at a time, covering all expenses and necessary services.
However, Abir shares that the journey is not without its challenges.
The negative perception of sex workers by society often makes it difficult for Project Pathchola to receive the necessary funding through traditional means.
Nevertheless, they continue to raise awareness and campaign through social media, hoping to bring changes to the forgotten families and make a positive impact in their lives eventually.