This deeply moving story comes from our partner, Baptist Global Response:
BANGLADESH — The small, ramshackle “home” sits just feet from the edge of railroad tracks. The house made of corrugated tin, bamboo, plastic tarps and wood is one small room shared by a family of six. The roof leaks when it rains and looks in danger of collapsing.
But this home is all 10-year-old Farjana’s family can — barely — afford.
Farjana and her youngest brother, 8-year-old Shukor Ali, must beg to help their family survive. Nearly every day, the children can be found begging at a busy intersection in their city that’s surrounded by shops, restaurants and businesses.
“When I was very young, my father died,” Farjana says. “My mom was unable to manage our family by providing food and other needs for us. … The last six years I have been going to the [intersection] for begging and earning money for my family.”
Farjana’s family is doing what they can to make it. Farajana and her four siblings live with their mother, 50-year-old Khotija, in the one-room shack. Her eldest brother is 20 and divorced, living back home, and works in a garment factory — but doesn’t always share the money with his family. Her next brother is 17 and unemployed. Farjana’s 15-year-old sister works in a color factory and “sometimes she provides [money], and sometimes she does not,” her mother says. Khotija doesn’t have a job or beg because of her ill health.
Farjana and her sister are the breadwinners for this family — but it’s not enough.
Farjana isn’t able to attend school because of her family’s lack of resources and her role as breadwinner. She cannot read or write. But she wants to go to school someday because “without education, there is no significance in life,” she says.
Farjana is just one of Bangladesh’s estimated 700,000 beggars. Girls from low-income families like Farjana face many obstacles and dangers in their life — including potentially being trafficked and exploited, says Christian worker Geri Hennerman.*
“They are seen as nobodies and only good for cleaning, cooking, sex and child-bearing,” Hennerman says. “They are often beaten verbally and physically. They have little — if any — encouragement, love, correct discipline or teaching. They do not have good female role models to follow. Many are given for marriage at extremely young ages.
“They are seen as objects instead of real people.”
But impoverished girls can have the chance to avoid this dark future through the Light of Hope Learning Center, which Geri and another Christian worker started more than six years ago.
The center — a day shelter that gives girls education, nutrition, health care, moral training, life skills and the love of Jesus — empowers girls to have a brighter future. They are taught they are special and created by God, and have great potential for living a transformed life. Locals call it “the shelter” — a place of peace, refuge and safety — but the Light of Hope Learning Center is much more than a place of protection. It is a place where underprivileged girls can find a way out of the poverty cycle.
For many girls at the Light of Hope, life was once very similar to Farjana’s. They were begging or working every day to support their families, so they couldn’t afford to attend school. They live in one-room shacks in the slums, typically with just one parent, usually their mother. Many families have moved from the villages to the city looking for a better life, only to find a worse situation and become trapped in the cycle of poverty.
“[The girls] spend their days learning and growing in all areas — intellectually, morally, spiritually, physically, emotionally and socially — instead of spending their days (and nights) out in their very dangerous and open areas, learning the ways of the world and getting into dangerous and trouble-type situations,” Hennerman says.
LEARNING AND GROWING
At 7:45 am, Light of Hope Learning Center is already a flurry of activity. Fourteen girls file in through the apartment’s front door, and proceed to take showers and practice proper hygiene to prepare for the day. After showering, they change into clean, dry uniforms while the Light of Hope staff wash their dirty ones from the previous day.
These 14 girls, all between the ages of 13 and 18, come to the Light of Hope five days a week between 8 am to 4:30 pm. Geri and her husband, Mickey,* act as Light of Hope’s directors, while a group of national women run the center’s daily operations, assisted by volunteers.
The girls receive nutritious snacks and two meals a day provided by Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund), a Southern Baptist initiative that directs 100 percent of each donation to meet hunger needs worldwide. The center also provides food like lentils, rice and oil to help supplement family nutrition. This year, BGR channeled more than $14,000 to help provide the center with food, classroom materials, teachers’ salaries, training materials, medical supplies, rent and electricity.
The girls attend classes and learn the basics of math, reading and writing, science, English and social sciences. Since many of the girls had no education before attending the center, the goal is to bring the girls to a fifth grade-level education — which in Bangladesh is a requirement to get any kind of respectable job.
“The Light of Hope Center girls, they’re getting an education they wouldn’t get otherwise,” says Cassie Blanchet,* a short-term volunteer at the center. “If they had brothers, they’re more likely to get it anyways. … Women are going to take second to their brothers or fathers or husbands.”
But the center teaches these young women they do have worth and value through the love of Jesus. The girls are taught moral lessons, Bible stories and godly principles by the staff and volunteers. Most of the girls come from Muslim families.
“Allah has 99 names, but none of which are love,” says Maggie Caley,* a Christian worker who teaches at the center. “It’s just hard for [the girls] to comprehend love, and I think that has to do a lot with their joy and passion — because they’re seeing what love is and feeling cared for and provided for, as well as learning real life practical things.”
Many of the girls have found life transformation through the love of Jesus, and that has made a “big change” in their behavior, says Esther,* one of the Bangladeshi teachers at the center.
“I like to teach Bible class to them [and] to share my life also to them,” Esther says, because when she shares her life the girls can ask questions and she can encourage them in their faith.
But Light of Hope does not just help the girls, it also reaches out to their families. The center provides the girls and their families with basic medical care, and assists the families when they have medical emergencies.
At school, the girls are taught to embroider handicrafts, which gives them a valuable job skill, as well as an income they can use to help support their families instead of resorting to begging. The girls’ mothers and sisters are also invited to the center during the afternoons, when they can learn basic sewing and embroidery skills, as well as attend a basic literacy class once a week.
Before she attended Light of Hope, 14-year-old Fatema* used to collect recyclables off the street to sell in the market — her father has passed away and she lives with her mother and three siblings. They could not make ends meet, though, and her family was starving.
“By coming to the Light of Hope Center, my life has been changed,” Fatema says. “… Here I am getting food, I am getting opportunity to take shower … They are also providing different kinds of relief goods for our family. When I got sick, they provided me with medicine and they even took me to the doctor for treatment.”
Like Fatema, 13-year-old Jahanara’s * life has been dramatically changed, too. She used to beg and sell firewood to help her family scrape by.
“My life was full of sorrows and painful,” Jahanara says.
Through the center, however, Jahanara’s life is better — “I have listened to many good teaching … What I needed they provided me everything.” She says she is especially thankful for “the opportunity to have the education.”
The Light of Hope girls — like Farjana — once faced a dark future, but now have hope for a brighter one, through the love and care of godly women and the support, prayers and donations of people who care.
“God, through the Light of Hope Center, takes the girls in daily and educates them,” director Geri says. “They are taught from young ages about how special God has created them, and that He has great plans for their lives. … They learn they are beautiful and full of potential for living Christ-centered lives.
“They become jewels in our King’s crown.”
YOU CAN HELP
• Pray for the directors, staff and volunteers of the Light of Hope Learning Center as they minister to the girls, teach them valuable skills and demonstrate the love of Jesus.
• Pray the center would be able to help even more impoverished girls, like Farjana and the Light of Hope students, have a brighter future.
• Pray that Light of Hope students would continue to learn and grow, and realize their potential for a brighter future.
• Learn more about how you can help, volunteer and get involved in the Light of Hope Learning Center, email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Give to the Light of Hope Learning Center through Baptist Global Response’s “Widows and Orphans Fund,” which provides education materials and/or opportunities to children and youth in need, at http://www.baptistglobalresponse.com/donate/view/widows_orphans_and_vulnerable_children
• Give through Global Hunger Relief, which helps alleviate hunger needs worldwide, at http://www.globalhungerrelief.com