Friday, 19 February 2016
In the midst of the frenzy of a million individual pursuits, rickshaw drivers tersely negotiating fares and tired mothers washing clothes on the balconies of haphazard tenements, no one noticed the girl with the swollen stomach sitting on the side of the road. Naoreen* was now in her third trimester and no longer could she rely on a loose, over-sized sari to conceal her growing bump. She put her hand on her stomach as she marvelled at the new life growing inside of her. “Not long now till we meet, baby” she crooned. The moment was punctured by a sudden despair as she realised how alone she was in the fast-moving, wildly-spinning city of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
As Naoreen sat, it dawned on her that she had nowhere to go and no one to confide in. Her life had been one long trail littered with heartbreak and abandonment. The first person to have left was her father. He had his heart attack just before her first birthday. Try as she might, she could not muster up any memory of him.
The little family had been dependent on his income. When he died, Naoreen and her mother went from having little to having nothing at all. She remembered clinging to her mother’s leg as she spent the long days on the street begging for food. Her mother had tried to find domestic work as a home-helper but no one in Dhaka wanted to employ a young, unschooled girl with a small child attached to her ankle.
When Naoreen was a bit older, she remembered her mother spending a lot of time with a man. His name was Abdul and he was another beggar in their slum. He was helpful and often would visit them, whistling a tune and offering to share with them some of his Chapati bread. Months would pass and then her mother would marry the whistling Abdul. For a little while, it looked like perhaps life would get better. Abdul would provide for them and be the father figure that Naoreen ached for.
Naoreen shuddered as she remembered the fear she felt every time she heard his voice. She remembered him, his red cheeks flushed from drinking and his strong hands that would hit her. Those hands would also touch her body as she lay in bed, hating every fibre of his being. When she had built up the courage to tell him one night to stop abusing her, those same hands had grabbed her, pushing her violently against a wall.
When Naoreen could no longer take the ongoing beatings or his visits at night, she ran away from home. She’d found community and a sort of camaraderie with the other street children in Dhaka. They understood each other, with their common backgrounds of abandonment and abuse, and took care of each other like a family. They taught her how to steal and introduced her to the world of drug use. A few years later, one of the girls told Naoreen about a way that she could be paid for having sex with much older men. The prospect of earning an income was too enticing for her to resist.
One day, Naoreen bumped into her old friend called Leena at a market. They’d spent many hours gossiping together over a cigarette after their shifts had ended. She hardly recognised her old friend who she hadn’t seen in months. Her face radiated as she exclaimed “Naoreen, I’ve left sex work! I found out about a program called the Children’s Uplift Program that helps girls like us. They gave me somewhere safe to sleep and I’ve just finished my training as a tailor and I even have a job! Oh Naoreen,” her friend urged, “You should speak to someone from the program!”
Naoreen had appreciated her friend’s advice but she couldn’t leave sex work. She’d fallen in love with one of her customers who would give her lavish gifts and tell her how beautiful she was. She felt foolish as she remembered how smitten she had been by him and overjoyed when he had asked her to marry him. “Finally”, she had thought to herself, “my life will get easier!” Naoreen wiped a tear from her eye as she thought about the father of her baby. He had promised her the world but when she had fallen pregnant, he had disappeared.
Naoreen had been sitting on the side of the road opposite the Children’s Uplift Program’s office for almost an hour feeling conflicted about whether she could bring herself to talk to someone. “Surely no one would want to help a young girl with a baby on the way”, she told herself. But Naoreen could not shake the image of Leena and how she had radiated that day as she spoke with such hope about her future. She again looked down at her bump and with sudden resolve whispered, “Come on, baby! Let’s go knock on that door!”
Despite the difficulties Naoreen went through, she has now successfully completed her training at the Children’s Uplift Program (CUP)
in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She is in the transition period to a partner business organisation that will help her to provide an income for her and her child. She is also being provided additional support and counselling through the CUP
Your tax-deductible donation to CUP
gives girls like Naoreen in Bangladesh a hand up in finding care, support and the skills to find alternative employment to sex work. You can donate online
or call the office on 1300 746 580.
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