Ever had a hankering to volunteer somewhere overseas but not sure what you could offer an organisation? As it turns out, the skills you already have are the ones most in demand. As a writer, I recently packed my bags and headed to Daulatdia in Bangladesh – home to one of the largest brothels in the world, and a cluster of Save the Children NZ (SCNZ)-supported schools that are second to none. My brief: to spread the word about what it takes to save a generation!
Daulatdia brothel hugs the edge of the 3.5 km wide Padma River one hundred kilometres north-west of Dhaka. A purpose-built township that has been in operation for decades, its two thousand sex workers service hundreds of clients each day amidst the most appalling conditions. Trafficked and coerced, beaten and enslaved, these women exist in a living hell of violence, drug addiction and disease. But what is even more distressing is that, living with them, are 1000 desperately vulnerable children.
Left to their own devices, these children roam freely throughout the brothel, while some even remain in their mother’s bedrooms as clients are attended to. Amidst the mayhem of drug-taking, drinking and gambling, the brothel’s children quickly fall prey to unwanted sexual advances, or are pressed into service running errands for the men who flock to Daulatdia to buy sex. As girls mature into young adults, their fate is even more precarious. With mothers whose sexual attractiveness (and thus earning capacity) wanes in their early 30s, daughters are often viewed as the next earners, and are forced to take over where their mums have left off. Boys frequently become pimps or enter the drug trade. Without outside intervention, the fate of Daulatdia’s children would be sealed – which is where SCNZ comes to the rescue.
Just metres from the brothel exists an education hub that is changing the lives of sex worker’s children – not only their futures but also their present safety and well-being. The work begins with the mums themselves. Seldom educated, they are offered mother and baby classes where they learn how to care for their little ones and to act as ‘first educators’, preparing the tots for entry into the enriching environment of the SCNZ-supported early childhood centre right next door. These pre-school classes are hives of activity where highly skilled local staff engage youngsters with books, games, music and dance. Think of the best pre-schools in New Zealand, and this is the quality of education being delivered. And it doesn’t stop there.
SCNZ also supports the local primary school established especially for the children of Daulatdia. Donations from generous Kiwis fund uniforms, books, stationery, and professional development for staff. The school is a haven for the children of the brothel who are either not registered to attend state schools or would quickly be ostracised by parents and students from the outside community. When school finishes for the day, after-school club takes over with stimulating board games, recreational reading and outdoor activities on tap.
Young adults also thrive under the direction of SCNZ with their very own meeting space where they not only get to enjoy leisure time in a safe environment, but also learn how to protect themselves and one another from the ever-present dangers of the brothel. So skilled have these young people become at knowing their rights and insisting on them, that they regularly prevent child ‘marriages’ that might otherwise take place in the brothel’s lethal environment.
Despite the grim and confronting memories I have of my time in Bangladesh, I’m back home in New Zealand with a notebook brimming over with praise for what Save the Children New Zealand is doing in Daulatdia. Kiwi donors really are changing the lives of some of the most at-risk children in the world.
Save the Children is committed to working with the children of Daulatdia for years to come but we need the ongoing support of generous New Zealanders like you. If you would like to help to secure a bright future for these children and the many other vulnerable children with whom we work, please consider leaving a gift in your will to Save the Children. For further information go to: giftsinwills.savethechildren.org.nz