“Project Pothchola — a program of Bondhu Foundation has taken the much needed strive and initiated an endeavour to ensure the basic rights and mental development of the children of sex workers”, Alik Bhowmik writes about this much needed initiative.
If you were roaming around Ekushey Boi Mela on the morning of 25th February this year, chances are you would have stumbled upon a bunch of gleeful kids roaming around, getting their hands on any book with pictures and you would probably be baffled to know that all of them were actually children of sex workers. Quite difficult to digest particularly because we are all familiar with a complete contrasting scenario in which two/three or less children are walking by holding their father or mothers hand.
Project Pothchola — a program of Bondhu Foundation has taken the much needed strive and initiated an endeavour to ensure the basic rights and mental development of the children of sex workers. Alik Bhowmik ventured out to find more about the organisation and their work.
It has been three years since Project Pothchola has collaborated with ‘Shishu der JonnoAmra’ — a child care centre run by Hazera Begum, everybody lovingly prefers to call her Hazera apa. Hazera apa is currently living with 38 children of different ages in a 4 room apartment in Adabor, Mohammadpur, Dhaka.
Project Pothchola conducts eight regular monthly sessions at the residence in Adabor.
The founder Saif Mithu, who is also the director of Bandhu Foundation, told me, ‘We are working to develop the mental growth for the children of sex workers to integrate them into our society. We are also trying to create awareness in our society so that they get the required acceptability.’
When I have visited the residence, I was overwhelmed at the sight of unbound smile stitched on the faces of every single one of the kids. The inadequate floor space had no shot at shooting down their enthusiasm. There were separate rooms for girls and boys, which were however crammed with 3-tiered beds.
When asked about their living experience in that 4 roomed apartment, the kids could not stop expressing how happy they were living there.
Sujon and Sumon, the two brothers coherently said, ‘Onek Bhallage aikhane, amra shobai bhai bon (we love it here, all of us here are siblings).’
‘We merely concentrate on the aspect of mental development of these kids through diverse activities, which include exposure to the outside world, arts, crafts and training on quintessential social norms,’ says Rashad M Mahbub, a Deputy Director and teacher for Project Pothchola.
‘Costs regarding shelter, education and food are maintained by the founding members and well-wishers of Shishu Der Jonno Amra,’ says Asma Akhter Sriti, another member of Shishu Der Jonno Amra who stays there with the kids and Hazare apa.
The major funding for Project Pothchola’s activities comes from Benetik Designs and there are other individual contributors who request for anonymity.
All these 38 children are getting a formal education in the nearby school and college, two of the girls have even went on to join Bharateshwari Holmes, according to Rashad M Mahbub, ‘It is good to see changes and a real life impact has been brought about in these kids, being the teacher myself there are occasions when I am reminded by the kids to wash my hands before taking a meal,’ says Rashad.
The parents of these kids often come to pay a visit to catch up, sometimes they are asked to leave according to Project Pothchola.
However, it was shocking to know, all of the kids present there have vague information about their past and what their mother’s profession were. In their school records the factual details of these kids have been hidden well. The landlord and neighbourhood people are also unaware. It is nevertheless a risky endeavour, since all of Project Pothchola’s events and promotional activities had revealed the true identities of these kids to the outside world.
‘We still believe it is too early for us to reveal the true identities of these kids, most of the kids here think their mothers work in garments or factories. Revelation of their identities and their mother’s profession may lead to bullying and harassment, which might be a bit too much for these youngsters to intake. The society is not yet equipped enough to think outside the stereotypical social believes about the children of the sex workers,’ says Rashad.
Hazare Apa, the members of Project Pothchola and other well-wishers have used their own names as the parents for the birth registration of these kids.
‘We had no other option, since we could not use the real identities or profession of their real parents. The country still refuses to recognise the children of the sex workers,’ says Rashad. May Project Pothchola and Shishuder Jonno Amra win in their struggle to secure a quality life for these wonderful children!
Alik Bhowmik is a student of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.