In the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, two young girls are growing up. They share the same surroundings, and the same dreams, but their lives couldn’t be more different. While one girl dresses her baby brother, the other puts on her school uniform. While one girl looks for litter on the streets to sell, the other learns English and maths. And while one girl is scared of the boys who shout at her on the street, the other plays with her friends in safety. I’d like to tell you the story of Halimoon and Jharna, and how you can transform a girl’s life through child sponsorship this Christmas.
For six-year-old Halimoon, every day presents dangers that no child should have to confront. Since her father died, her mother Rina has to work long hours to make sure that her children have enough to eat. Rina has no choice but to leave Halimoon alone to fend for herself, and to take care of her baby brother.
“When my mum is at work, I have to look after my brother and clean the house,” says Halimoon. “To make money we sell food like crisps and chocolate bars to people passing by. Sometimes I pick up litter to sell."
Girls are vulnerable to sexual harassment on the streets
With the money she earns selling litter, Halimoon buys a handful of food to give to her little brother. But the streets are a dangerous place. Like the millions of girls who are forced to work on the streets across the world, Halimoon is vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse. And without the money to go to school, Halimoon knows that the chances of building a better life for herself away from the streets are slim.
“I want to go to school. At school they read stories, play games and sing songs. When school finishes they eat rice,” she says. “If I ever get the chance to go to school I will learn lots of things and work so hard because when I’m a grown up I want to have a good job and do good things."
How child sponsorship keeps girls safe from harm
11-year-old Jharna used to share the same fears as Halimoon. In the slums, she was terrified of the men and boys who threatened her.
But Jharna’s life has been changed completely by child sponsorship. Now, she is the first member of her family to go to school, and spends her free time at her local ActionAid centre where she can play in safety with her friends.
“Every day I wake up excited to go to school,” Jharna says. “My favourite subject is English, I don’t like maths much but I’m getting better.
“At school I sing, dance, draw and play with my friends. We have a lot of fun! In the afternoon I go to the ActionAid centre. Before we had the centre, we used to roam around on the streets and men would say nasty things to us. Here we are able to play and do our homework and no-one can say anything bad to us.”
ActionAid’s centres support girls at risk from harassment and abuse
We know that millions of girls who live in the world’s poorest places are at risk of exploitation and abuse, all year round. In fact, one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. What’s worse is that this problem is often invisible. These young girls are marginalised by society, often surviving on next to nothing, and their plight goes unnoticed.
Before we had the centre, we used to roam around on the streets and men would say nasty things to us. Here we are able to play and do our homework and no-one can say anything bad to us.
That’s why we’re asking for your help this Christmas to keep girls safe from harm. We want to give them the chance to thrive, and to take control of their own future.
Child sponsorship helps to support community centres like the one Jharna attends, where girls learn about their rights, eat healthy, nutritious meals, have a secure place to do school work and can have a safe and happy childhood.
"Since going to the ActionAid centre I know that studying is really important. I know what I need to do to pass my exams,” Jharna says. “I’ve learnt about how to be healthy and avoid dangerous situations. And I know that I have rights: children have the right to eat, play, go to school and visit the clinic if they get sick. I am very grateful to my ActionAid sponsor for this centre.”
Give a girl a future through child sponsorship
Thanks to child sponsorship, Jharna has big ambitions for her future.
“When I’m older I want to be a teacher for people who never went to school. I want to tell all mothers to send their children to school – so they can be somebody important,” Jharna says.
I don’t doubt that, with the support of her sponsor, Jharna will grow up to be somebody important. Please sponsor a child this Christmas – either for yourself, or as a gift for a friend or loved one - and help keep more girls safe from harm, so that they too can look forward to a bright and happy future. Sponsor a child this Christmas