Of a mother of 40 children | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 14, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:56 AM, May 14, 2017

Of a mother of 40 children

A mother she is of 40 children. She has not given birth to them but that doesn't make any less satisfactory the motherhood she tastes when she prepares food for them, gets them ready for school, holds them with affection as they fall sick and tells them stories in bed before sleep. 

The children also reciprocate with love that is all Hazera Begum now preserves in life, having been through the cruellest form of familial and social injustices.

The 46-year-old's memory of her own mother is blurred as she lost her at a very early age. Tortured by the step mother, she left home, when she was only eight, and got lost. Street was her home where she begged to survive hunger.

And as she slipped into adolescence, she was forced to live life of a sex worker.

But Hazera's human spirit never died. At 23, she said goodbye to her bitter past and embarked upon realising her dream of transforming lives of street children and children of sex workers.

She runs a child development centre in the capital's Adabar named "Shishuder Jonno Aamra", with her savings from work as a sex worker and later an employee of a development organisation and with support of individual donors. 

Five of the children now reside in educational institutions while the rest stay at the home.

Hazera, whom the children call “amma”, wants to ensure all that she didn't get in her childhood for them. They live in a homely environment in a rented four-room flat, eat, study, play and attend nearby schools.

"These kids are my family. I am embracing my motherhood with these children," says Hazera with a drop of tears sparkling at a corner of her eyes. 

She came up with the idea of establishing the centre from her concerns over sex workers' children who, she says, have “no identity, no rights and no future.”  She also realises how vulnerable homeless children are to different vices, including the lure of easy money through sex.

Hazera established the centre in June 2010 and got it registered with the social welfare department two years later.

Hazera Begum among the children she takes care of at “Shishuder Jonno Amra” in Adabar in the capital. Photo: Anisur Rahman

When people ask her about the motive behind running the centre, "I reply that I learnt from harsh reality. I don't want to see a girl child grow up at a brothel and a boy watch her mother taking money from a pimp.”

As Hazera speaks to these correspondents, a boy called Rahat is coming to her again and again. 

"Go baba. Play with the kids," Hazera says. Sounds of children squealing and giggling fill the house.

Coming back to her struggle, she says she came across a development organisation in 2008.

She then worked on HIV/AIDS issue with sex workers. Her work created an opportunity to travel several countries like the USA, Canada, India and Bangkok.

After establishing the shelter, she began gathering street children. Most of the children of the centre go to nearby schools to attain formal education. She also provides them with treatment.

Some of these children are reluctant to return to their parents, in fear that they will engage them in child labour.  

"These children are more interested in going to school," Hazera says.

Though her love is equally shared among boys and girls, she expresses more concern for girls.

"The boys can do anything for a living when they are grown up, but what the girls would do.... When a girl becomes adolescent, I give extra care to her. Some of the girls' mothers, who are sex workers, come to take daughters back, but I firmly disagree [with them] because I know they will be put in a brothel.”

In Hazera's centre, a boy can stay until he reaches grade 10. A girl can stay as long as she wants.

“Girls are the most vulnerable.... I want to ensure that they better understand their basic rights and values of human life.”

Hazera is thankful to the kind-hearted people who support the centre by giving money, food or other necessary things.

With the world celebrating Mother's Day today, Hazera does cherish a dream: to establish a centre on a piece of land with all facilities. Children will get education there and decide what they want to become. In the end, the grown-ups will run the centre.

"I want these children to do something for the country one day and make everyone proud. People would cite their example. I would be the happiest mother ever that day," Hazera says with tears welling up in her eyes. 

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