The overly congested city of Dhaka, has much in its background. But amongst the congestion, commotion and pollution are the floating population.
There are over 400,000 street children in Bangladesh with over a third of them settled in Dhaka. Living in dense slums, squatter settlements or on the pavement makes them vulnerable to a dangerous concoction of dilemmas - from malnutrition to sexual abuse, force participation to petty theft to substance abuse.
Myself and fellow restless being Foreda, whilst working on another charity project in Sylhet, managed to battle through the crazy traffic jams of Dhaka to make our way to the Restless Beings Bangladesh Rehab Centre and Home in January this year. It was the first time in our two and half years of becoming restless beings, that we were able to go see the Rehab Centre and Home and the amazing team that have been working so tirelessly to bring hope to so many forgotten and marginalised children on the streets of Dhaka.
Having lived in Bangladesh for almost two months prior to our visit, we witnessed on a daily basis the struggle that befalls those on the streets; vulnerable and desperate futures are what lie ahead. The scenes put into context why such acts of young children abusing drugs; taking dandy to escape from the harsh and very gruesome realities of their ‘childhood,’ and relying on gangs and pimps for some sort of familial support and home are so apparent in the lives of street children.
When the street children of Dhaka were asked why they flock to the people who wear the "green hand" and the ones who call themselves “Wrestling Beans”, they all say the same thing – we trust them, they listen, they understand and they care.
On one such day, in early November, the team came across a teenage girl named Kolpona; her name meaning ‘fantasy’ or ‘imagination’. Tragically none of the team could imagine the challenges she has to face.
In the cool month of November the Restless Beings Bangladesh team sip tea with some of the street children. Through these moments the team have come to witness how the children go about their day. Despite facing events and deprivations that no child should experience they have an acute appreciation of the simple things in life.
The team have endeavoured to capture these fleeting moments, insignificant to passers-by but monumental to their make up.
A study reported last year noted that children, as young as 7 years old, make their earnings on the street only to get a total of 20-30 taka per day - not even enough to buy a packet of crisps in UK - with “…almost all of their income…usually spent for food with little or no savings”. Their situation dictates that they must make monetary contribute towards the income of their family, using whatever means possible, enivitably exposing them to an array of illnesses, dangerous and unhealthy conditions from a very young age.
But these are not just the findings of a study; the Restless Beings Bangladesh team have been keeping contact with the street children of Dhaka regularly; building and maintaining strong, healthy relationships. Collating the stories and journeys of the children we meet, we bring to you the tales of some of them.
Since the 100 kids campaign Restless Beings has been working behind the scenes to kick-start the Restless Beings Village.
With the recent implementation of an already “…overly cumbersome and intrusive regulatory process…complicated by delays and hurdles, including non-transparency in authorization of registration by the Home Ministry, the police, or the National Security Intelligence…” – Bangladesh is not an easy country to work with in order to move things along, no matter the urgency.
Nevertheless, our Bangladesh team has maintained contact with the street children of the area regularly; building and maintaining strong, healthy relationships.
We will bring to you some of the stories and journeys of the children we meet.
The street children of Dhaka, Bangladesh are amongst the toughest and most resilient; they ride out the elements, floods and pollution, eat things that would prove toxic of an average stomach as well as tackle mastans and molesters from abuse on a regular basis.
In their volatile world they have learnt to adopt and survive what the privileged will not stand to handle for even a day.
From the onset, data has been regularly collected on those that Restless Beings communicates with. Places like Kamlapur railway station, Tejgaon railway station and Sadarghat Launch Terminal were found to have large hubs of street population with slum dwellings in close vicinity filled with sooty faces and battered souls. Our field workers have managed to collect data on around 426 children, though with 87% of them being boys; this is primarily due to the fact that building trust with girls is a longer and more sensitive process. And yet it is no surprise since they tend to be on the receiving end of most adults illicit, rampant sexual inclinations or verbal and physical abuse. For this reason the Bangladesh team are even more determined to reach out to these children and enlighten them with an alternative route that would assist them in standing on their own two feet with dignity and confidence.
The Restless Beings Rehab Centre and Home (RBRCH) is located in Mohammedpur, one of the oldest districts within the city. Home to many of the city's oldest medical and educational institutes, it is also home to the largest Bihari camp outside of Pakistan or India.
In the fallout of the 1971 Liberation War, the Bangladesh Government allocated a large space within the district of Mohammedpur for the Bihari refugees. Biharis are an ethnic race originating from West Bengal and after the liberation war, the Indian and Pakistani government refused repatriation to the Biharis leaving them stranded in a country they did not regard as their home.
After the successful launch of 'The Big 10 Challenge' in October 2008, we managed to raise more £10,000 in the space of three weeks, to begin our initial renovations on the centre we have in Mohammadpur, Dhaka.