© Sara Cameron Links | Terms and conditions
Originally produced for UNICEF
My mother found me a job as a domestic worker when I was 7 or 8 years old. She didn’t have any choice. There was nowhere for us to go. My father had died when I was one year old and the families had been arguing ever since about who would take care of us. My mother’s parents could do nothing because my uncles’ wives objected.
For a while my father’s family took us in. I started going to school with my cousins, but I didn’t live the same way as them. I had to wash their clothes and clean for them. When my cousins had puffed rice and milk for breakfast, I ate the leftovers of the meal from the night before. There was never enough to eat anyway. One of my cousins was about three years old and I wasn’t much older but I had to look after her. Once I was carrying her and fell. My aunts beat me for being careless, but I was just a child myself.
I used to say to my mother, “Why did my father have to die! Why did this have to happen to me! If my father was alive we would have food and clothes and our lives would be completely different!”
“It is our fate,” my mother would say, “don’t complain.” And then she would cry, so I stopped complaining because it made her so sad and life was hard enough anyway.
When I was about seven years old and we were almost starving my mother told me we were going to live in Dhaka city. “You will have to leave school,” she told me, “but we will have a better life.” I felt bad about not going to school anymore but I didn’t tell anyone.
In Dhaka, we went to stay with my mother’s sister but we still had to work for everything. My cousin was the same age as me but she was a city girl and went to the government primary school while I had to stay at home and clean. She looked down on me. My aunt couldn’t support both of us anyway so eventually my mother found me a job with an elderly couple. We stay together here in a small room but then she goes to work for her sister while I work here. I clean the apartment, wash clothes and work in the kitchen. I begin at dawn and work until night, seven days a week. They pay me Tk 500 (about $10) per month, which they give to my mother. They feed me three times a day and give me clothes that used to belong to my employer’s grandchildren.
They are not bad people. They don’t hit me but sometimes they shout if they don’t like my work. They call me, “you child of a pig!” and it makes me cry because why would they insult my father like that? He is dead and can do nothing. I do not argue with them though because if I did they might throw us out.
At first I had no time off. They would not let me set foot outside the house. I told them, “Look, you have to let me play sometimes.” They didn’t like it but eventually they let me go out and I made some friends like Sharmi who lives in the apartment downstairs. I have told her my whole life story and she said, “What can you do, it is your fate. I have a father and so my life is different.”
There were some children on the street that used to refuse to play with me because I didn’t go to school. I always wished I could go back. I’d only had one or two years of education and I had forgotten nearly everything. But one day some friends told me about the Hard to Reach school. They said this was a special school for working children because you only had to go for two hours a day. I went home and told my employer and asked her if I could go. She made some enquiries and finally she agreed.
I made all the arrangements myself. I went with my friends to meet the teacher. I told her I was a domestic worker. She gave me a test to see what I knew already. Then she agreed to admit me and wrote my name in the register. She explained that the school would run for two hours a day, six days a week for two years. I learned how to read, how to do some mathematics, about my country and about the Bangla language. I learned how to keep myself clean and I made many friends. My mother and employer both noticed that I became much happier because I was going to school. I wish I could continue but now the two years are almost finished and it seems impossible for me to go to the government school because that takes up too many hours. If I could enroll in another Hard to Reach school I would.
My mother has suffered very much in her life but I understand her pain so I think I can help her. My dream is to be able to tell her she doesn’t have to worry any more because I will look after her. If I could go to school it might help.
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