As the morning sun filters into her family’s one-room shack, Minara wakes up in the bed she shares with her mother, Rahima,* and 1-year-old sister, Sakehna.* She sits up and stretches, her reddish-tinted hair — a sign of malnutrition — askew from last night’s sleep. The rickety bed frame, about the size of a double bed, takes up nearly half of the family’s 8-by-8 house.
This is one of the city’s major slums, where ramshackle homes line either side of two parallel railroad tracks. Numerous trains barrel past each day, violently shaking the flimsy structures sitting just a few feet away. In between the passing of trains, adults and children loiter on the tracks — small children playing tag, women sitting and shucking beans, young boys playing board games and men playing cricket.
The poorest of the poor dwell here — the rickshaw drivers, day laborers, garment factory workers, beggars, single mothers, the unemployed and unemployable. The shacks are makeshift one-room structures of bamboo, wood and corrugated tin with dirt or concrete floors. Minara’s family pays about $15 rent each month to live here.
Minara’s “home” lies at the end of a row of six shacks, three on each side of a narrow, dirt alleyway. The houses share walls as well as a common bathroom area located at the end of the alley. A ragged cloth hangs as a privacy curtain for the enclosed area, which is divided into two small spaces: one for bathing and one for the “toilet” — a hole in the middle of a concrete slab ….
Rahima has been taking care of her children on her own for the past six years. … Six days a week, Rahima and her two daughters are on the street from 9 a.m. until early afternoon — or late at night depending on how much money they make or how they feel. Their daily goal is to earn between 100 and 150 taka (about $1.25 to $1.88).
This isn’t the life that Rahima wants for her children. … “My hope and dream is to give a better education and environment for my children — to help them to become a good woman,” Rahima says quietly. “I do not have any dream for myself. I only have dream and hope for my children.”
Last year, Rahima’s dream came true for Minara — she was able to attend the Light of Hope Learning Center. There, Minara learned to write her name, the Bengali alphabet and numbers; basic hygiene practices such as the importance of brushing teeth, taking regular showers, washing hands and wearing clean clothes; and stories from the Bible about Isa, Jesus. Though Minara and Rahima are Muslim by birth, Minara loves hearing Bible stories — her favorite is when Jesus brought a young girl back to life — and Rahima has “a good impression about Jesus.”
The center also helped support Minara’s family while she attended — Minara received a healthy meal each day, and the center provided the family with food, blankets, school uniforms and shoes.
But after one year, Minara was forced to quit — Light of Hope leadership had to suspend the program because of lack of funding, resources and staff.