It was when Akhi began to sob that I knew—this was the first she’d heard of her mother’s brutal childhood.
I didn’t expect the 15-year-old to cry. She was so composed, so sure of herself, and so beautiful.
We were chatting in a World Vision center in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The living conditions in these Dhaka slums are harsh. The 5-square-mile-area is densely populated with 357,000 people—about the same population as New Orleans. A cooking fire in a kitchen can set an entire block on fire. The majority of workers here earn a living as daily wage laborers, rickshaw pullers, and small- business workers.
World Vision’s Campaign For Every Child (of which Strong Women, Strong World is a part) works to protect children in Bangladesh, building on our flagship sponsorship program which, in laying the groundwork for our efforts, has paved the way for entirely new achievements such as our work with children who live in brothels in Jessore.
World Vision has been working in capital city Dhaka Shishu since 1997 and will continue to work until 2017 with more than 32,000 people in the area, many of them children like Akhi.
Akhi wants to be a teacher when she grows up. She spends her afternoons soaking up life at the center. Here are services galore for all ages—dance, music, and art for the children and skills training for their parents, especially their mothers.
Akhi runs the library, encouraging other girls and boys to read. She likes the heavy stuff—books on Bangladesh’s harrowing past, but she likes rhymes as well.
On one morning, she joined her mother Jesmin Rahmin, 27, at the center, watching as Jesmin learned the skill of embroidery—a skill which could help her create beautiful, high-value dresses.
“I want to earn some money for my family. We are poor,” she says. Jesmin’s husband is a driver. In Dhaka, many people are drivers, rickshaw pullers, or perform menial tasks for a few dollars a day. Jesmin’s husband earns 6,000 taka per month, about $2.50 per day.
Akhi has been sponsored for 10 years. “Akhi is in school now. If World Vision didn’t help us through sponsoring my daughter, we could not afford her education,” says Jesmin. “It is a great help. If we couldn’t send her to school, she would have to work as a house cleaner or in a garment factory.”
The garment industry is frightening to many in Bangladesh. Last year, more than 1,100 people perished in a factory fire that collapsed a building.
“Her life would take a different turn,” says Jesmin. “I’ve heard many garment workers die in fires. When they work in the factors, they get TB and have heart disease. It is not good to work in the garment factory.”
Jesmin says that education keeps her daughter from becoming a house girl as well. “The girls who are house cleaners are not treated well either,” she says.
Akhi listens with interest to her mother and then jumps into the conversation with a confidence you don’t always see in Bangladeshi girls.
“In school, I learned about early marriage,” says Akhi. “We learned how it happens, especially to poor parents. When parents can’t afford a girl they plan an early marriage’” she says. “They always want boys,” she adds.
“Mothers believe,” she goes on, “If I give birth to a girl, I am a bad wife. Sometimes there is a dowry. If the family can’t afford to pay it, then the husband’s family tortures the girl. Sometimes girls commit suicide.”
This will not happen for Akhi. Because of child sponsorship, she has choices.
“I want to be a teacher,” she says. “I want to teach the poor children who cannot afford an education.”
Akhi has characteristics picked for her future husband: “He must be honest and willing to help the poor.”
Akhi’s mother, Jesmin, gazes at her daughter with pride in her eyes.
“Hearing this makes me feel so good. Her life will certainly be different than mine. I don’t have an education, but I am still able to do so much for her.”
It is then that Jesmin’s own story comes tumbling out. How she was married at 11 and how she had Akhi when she was only 12.
She did menial labor to try to make ends meet, living in constant fear of beatings from her employer.
“I worked as a house cleaner,” says Jesmin. “The house lord would beat me if I broke a glass or during ironing I made a small mistake.”
At this, Akhi loses her composure and begins to weep. She has learned so much in school about the issues of early marriage and how education is the answer. But until this moment, she didn’t know that her own mother was a victim.
Mother and daughter hold each other, both wiping tears from their eyes. It is a moment of revelation for Akhi and a special moment for me, witnessing such a beautiful bond between mother and daughter who both have such hope though World Vision’s work in Bangladesh.
This story originally posted at World Vision on February 07, 2014.