Helping women We are the only project in Bangladesh offering a safe haven and livelihood training to destitute single mothers and their children, we are becoming increasingly well known throughout the country.
Arriving at Sreepur Village:
When a mother and her children first arrive, we check that their circumstances meet our admission criteria, and if necessary our social workers visit their village or relatives to ensure that they are truly in need. Once the family has been accepted, they spend a week or so in our clinic so that any illnesses or contagious skin problems such as scabies are diagnosed and cleared.
Immediately on admission, the mother meets with our occupational therapists and sets up an agreed rehabilitation plan, centred around where she wants to live when she leaves Sreepur Village and what she would like to do to earn a living, such as agriculture, tailoring, etc. This plan sets out the sections where the mother will work during her time with us, and the literacy, numeracy and hygiene training that she will receive.
The Sreepur Village is often the first place where each woman wakes up knowing that she will be safe, will receive nutritious meals, and will have the company and friendship of other women in similar circumstances.
Every month, the mothers hold a meeting where they discuss life at the Village, any problems and any suggestions for improvements. They also have singing and dancing sessions in smaller groups each week which have turned out to be extremely popular, and a great way for these women to build their confidence. Self-esteem is an important part of learning to manage independence and we provide group and individual counselling to lessen the impact of the abuse and loneliness that they have suffered in the past.
While they live with us, we pay them a small allowance each month plus a compulsory savings scheme where we put money in a bank account so that they have funds when they leave. Each year, the women vote to increase their savings rather than their monthly allowance – a welcome sign that they have started to appreciate that they need to plan for the future.
Most women have few parental skills so they attend training on child rights, managing behaviour, nutrition and health. After the first year, each woman will spend time working as a khala (auntie) responsible for the care of the children.
Length of stay
Each family lives with us for up to three years. For three months prior to discharge, each mother lives with her children in our Halfway House which sits on the perimeter of the village with a gate out into the local community. It has a tube well, water pump and village kitchen so that the families can learn to live together as a small unit before they leave us. We still have more work to do on our post-discharge monitoring, but we stay in touch with each family for a few months to make sure that they settle into community life and that they have sufficient income to live at a reasonable level.
Most of the children have mothers at the Sreepur Village, but we do still take abandoned and trafficked children if there is not a more suitable place for them with other NGOs.
The children have a wonderful life at the village. They have plenty of friends and space to play – both in the well equipped playground and in the sports field (despite the presence of cows and goats!) and on the basketball court.
Our school covers pre-school, kindergarten and primary classes, and older children attend the local village schools for secondary education. Academically bright children are supported through further education and university. However, most of our children will train in tailoring, auto-mechanics, and production work, and we have good contacts with ethical companies for apprenticeships and job placements.
In 2006, Pat realised that our older abandoned children were being institutionalised making it difficult for them to adjust to village life when they left us. In an innovative move, we started to pay local village families to foster boys over the age of 11. We based a social worker in the local village to oversee the placements which have been hugely successful.
The boys and girls love being part of a family, and the families have enjoyed parenting the children and receiving an income. The children still visit Sreepur Village regularly to play sport and to catch up with their friends, but they are also learning about village life, becoming independent, and being part of a small family unit.
Boys stay in our care until they have been employed for six months in long-term employment, and girls stay in our care until they have been successfully married for two years. Many children, married or unmarried, stay in touch and treat Sreepur Village as their home on holidays and festivals. We find well supervised community accommodation to enable them to attend training or job placements in Dhaka and nearby Gazipur. Often girls remain with their friends, sharing accommodation, and are in touch with Sreepur Village when they are in full time work.
Some of our older children have severe behavioural problems and some are severely emotionally disabled. We have a special care unit in our Shayo Kunjo building where these young adults will live with us for life in the care of specially trained khalas.
Disabled young adults
We also have a small number of physically disabled young adults, and they live in specially adapted quarters in the Halfway House which gives them a measure of independence whilst most acquire the skills to live in the outside world (usually with some support and supervision).
Overnight Shelter for Street Children in Tongi
We have recently completed the purchase of a plot of land by the Tongi railway station where we will construct a purpose built drop-in centre and overnight shelter for both boys and girls. The land has planning for a 6 storey building, and initially we will build foundations for six storeys and construct the ground and first floor. This will enable us to offer toilets, showers, a games room, and dining space for the children who visit us during the day, and separate overnight accommodation for boys and girls.
Emergency Helpline for Street Children in Tongi
We have also started a pilot programme offering an emergency helpline for any street child injured or in danger. The telephone number is given out to a group of the children and they can give it to an adult if any child on the streets needs help. Nevertheless, the program isn’t just about action. It’s about research for the future. The team involved will also record data on each incident. The idea is that by compiling a map and reports on where injuries have occurred and where and how treatment has been delivered, Sreepur will guide future support efforts.