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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bangladesh: Nasty, Brutish, and Short - But Still a Child’s Life

Given the way homelessness affects people in North America, it’s difficult to imagine what the experience of street children in developing world countries could be like. In a place like Dhaka, Bangladesh, Hobbes’s vision of life as nasty, brutish, and short is still accurate.

These are pictures of children being sheltered, educated, doctored, and fed in a HOPE International Development Agency-supported center in the city. They are being taught reading, writing, and specific skills that will earn them a stable income and allow them to become self-reliant adults. As evidenced by the photographs, they are shockingly young. Despite this, the biggest challenge that Bengali HOPE workers encountered was in convincing the children to attend the center at all. They had, in their short lives, only encountered exploitation and abuse at the hands of any number of adults. The pimps, politicians, drug dealers have already reached these children before they come to HOPE.

Fortunately, the children have been making measurable gains since the programme was launched in December 2007. In this short time period, 60% of the formerly illiterate children have become capable of reading and 50% have learned basic accounting skills. All of the children are healthier. Many had never used toothpaste before coming to the center, and now all of them are regularly seeing dentists and doctors.

When asked, the children say that the greatest thing about the help they have been given is the opportunity to play games. In the recreation room and in the yard outside, they feel totally at home, safe and happy and at rest. A board game in a clean, warm room is a little bit of heaven on earth, a paradise they never thought would open up to them. Children are still children—even when they’ve seen things we wouldn’t want to imagine.

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