This one’s for ‘ammu’
"I started this centre to give these children a future. I don't know how successful I am, but I feel proud every time I see any of them achieving anything in life."
Eighteen-year-old Falguni (not her real name) is the eldest of 40 siblings. After passing her HSC exams with a GPA of 4.08, she has made her "ammu" immensely proud.
While not biological siblings, the 40 children who live under the supervision of Hazera Begum are tied to each other by the shelter that brings them together. Founded in 2010 by Hazera, the organisation is called "Shishuder Jonno Amra", which shelters children of sex workers.
All children there once struggled with their identities, given the social stigma associated with their biological mothers' profession.
"I started this centre to give these children a future. I don't know how successful I am, but I feel proud every time I see any of them achieving anything in life," Hazera said of Falguni's HSC success.
Hazera started the organisation with 25 children, some of them really young. "Falguni has been under my supervision since she was three. We are now planning to prepare her for university admission tests," Hazera said.
This is important not only for Hazera and Falguni, but everyone of Shishuder Jonno Amra's children. "My result brought about a jubilant and hopeful mood in the shelter. My self-esteem has also increased," Falguni told this correspondent.
"I have come a long way, and I hope I can go further. I also hope that my siblings will take inspiration from this and carve their own way through life."
Falguni said she never had a qualm with her biological mother's profession, but that it was society who discriminated against her for it. Her mother now lives abroad, away from the oppressive work she had to face in Bangladesh, and is in touch with her daughter.
Meanwhile, Hazera has stepped up to take care of Falguni's needs. From nurturing her to being her mother even in official papers, Hazera has been an "ammu" in the truest sense of the word.
She was once a sex worker herself, till the age of 23, when she started working with Durjoy Shishu Nibash, an organisation for sex workers' children run by CARE Bangladesh.
But the centre had to shutdown in 2008 due to funding crisis, which is when Hazera decided to start her own shelter with her life's savings and help from the better-off sections of society, along with various trusts and charity organisations. She first set up Shishuder Jonno Amra at Savar, which later relocated to Adabor in 2011.
This has been a good year for the shelter so far. On top of Falguni's HSC success, two other children passed their SSC exams. Hazera said she wants to provide her children with sufficient support so that they can pursue higher education or vocational training.