When I first saw the houses of Chalantika slum, my experience of more like seeing a human settlement at the foothills from the hilltop. I went down and reached at one of the entrances of the slum and found that,almost all the houses arebuilt on the swamp land with wooden frame and corrugated iron sheets. The bamboo poles hold the houses in filthy water. The bamboo and wood made walkways in some points are so narrow that I was scared to go further and went back and thought how the children, sick and elderly persons go through this passage?
A female resident informed us, the slum was gutted in fire eight months ago and the infrastructure is yet to be in its previous shape. Thefire incidents of Chalantika slum in March of this year (2020) caught attention of media for the devastation to slumdwellers at Mirpur (section-6) in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. According to the slumdwellers one fourth of the residents are now living here and the rest have left the slum following fire incidents and economic hardship during the lockdown.
We walked towards another side of the slum. The burned down bamboo poles still carry the mark of fire incidents. It was noon and a group of residents were passing their leisure times in front of a grocery shop. We joined with them to have their experiences about how they are passing pandemic days. Little boys and girls joined us with curiosity, many of them were carrying tiffin box. Where are you coming from?Kulsum Akhter (9), a little girl of class one replied, I went to ADRA school to study and to collect lunch. She studies in a govt. primary school which is closed now, but she has the opportunity to continue her study in a center run by ADRA (Adventist Development & Relief Agency), Bangladesh.
She likes study because she can find many friends in the school and more importantly, she wants to be a singer. Her father is engaged in masonry works and her mother is a domestic help by profession. Kulsum is youngest among nine siblings and she is now enjoying her studies. Like Kulsum, Eti Moni (8), Ismail (9) and Fatema (9) also study at the same center. Their stories are almost same. They want to be doctor, teacher, and many more. They have big family size with many siblings. Their guardians are engaged in daily wage-earning works but now they are passing difficult times with occupational crisis.
Kulsum's fatherFazluBayati (62) was sitting next to us. He was explaining the situation, "We are living here on khas lands (govt. property). Most of us are from Bhola and Barisal- the two southern coastal districts of Bangladesh. We have settled here after losing our lands and asset to river erosion.I lost my house and everything to fire worth around Tk. Ten lakhs (around USD 12,000). And the lockdown has turned the situation worst. I was jobless for around four months and still now I don't have any regular job. I am managing my family expenses with loan that I have collected from others. I am happy that my daughter has been able to continue her study in this difficult time." Parents are anxious about the study fee of their children. Nazmul, a street food seller (40) from this slum alleged that, "During lockdown the study of my daughter was stopped due to closure of the school but now the school authority is demanding fees which is a big burden for me. I couldn't run my business for almost four months and even now, if I cannot run my business a day it becomes difficult for me to manage our next day meals."
Women of the slum are anxious about the present situation and their children's future. Laili Begum (45) was narrating the situation, "Most of the children of the slum are now passing unproductive time and roaming on streets as the schools are closed now and if it continues for long then they would most likelybe spoiled."We met Nasima (30), a mother of three kids was busy for arranging lunch for her family. How are you passing these days? This question made her emotional, she replied, "We couldn't pay house rent for last four months. I used to work in different apartments as domestic help. But now I cannot continue it since my youngest child's age is only ten months. My husband is also jobless now."Her next-door neighbor joined the discussion and informed that, it is very difficult for them to arrange all the meals in a day.
Most of the time they eat rice with lentil and smashed potato. They cannot buy fish due to financial constraints let alone meat. Nasima Begum's son is a student of ADRA school. Isn't there any support from the concerned authorities? both of them replied, "After the fire incidents we got 40 kilograms of rice and other supports from the Mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation but after that we are yet to get any support from any authority. Many people come to us. They write down our name in the list but we don't get anything." I was curious to know about, why the family sizes in the slum are big? Nasima Begum spontaneously answered that, "I shouldn't be ashamed to answeryour question that, we take all available family planning methods and even we have to pay extra money to get these services. But we don't know what is wrong with us."
The miseries of slum people never end. A few organizations work for their betterment. ADRA, Bangladesh with the support of its global partners, ADRA Czech Republic, and ADLER has been implementing "Chalantika Slum Children Development Project (CSCDP)" since 2013. Reflecting on the project activities Shahinoor Begum, project manager of CSCDP mentions that, eighty (80) children from this slum are provided with pre-primary education, tutorial and material support, improved lunch and safe space for recreation in the CSCDP center. In addition to these, nineteen external students are provided with vocational training and higher education. The mothers of the students are also provided with literary and health sessions. Lucille Sircar, program director of ADRA, mentions that this project has good impact on the community and ADRA has a plan to scale-up the activities to reach out to more children in slums when possible.
Shekhar Kanti Ray is a development professional and researcher. He writes on issues related to development and marginalization.
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