Dangerous and dirty, the streets are no place for a young girl to call home. But that is the reality in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where thousands of homeless children live, work and sleep on the streets - at constant risk of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation. Jesmin, 10, was one of those children, caring for her younger brother while her mother searched for work to support them after her father left. But Jesmin's life was changed for good when ActionAid gave her a place in a Happy Homes centre. Here, Jesmin tells her story.
Hungry, lonely and excluded
My name is Jesmin. I am 10 years old, and I have been living at Happy Home since 2011. I used to live in another part of Dhaka with my family, on the streets. We didn’t have any home; we spent day and night on the streets. My mother searched for work desperately.
At that time we couldn’t even eat rice; we ate pressed rice and puffed rice [a cheap substitute for boiled white rice]. I can remember one day I asked my mother, “Mum, why can’t we ever eat rice and curry?”
Finally my mother got a job as a domestic helper and took a room on rent. She went to work, leaving us alone at home. Due to lack of money I could not study.
When my brother and I played in the road people used bad language against us. They didn’t want us to play.
Then my mother found a house for me to work in. I started to live in the house and did their household work. But I didn’t like doing the work. The people of the house were always beating me and scolding me.
I felt bad when I thought about the fact that I couldn’t study. I couldn’t eat properly. My friends used to study. I also wanted to study.
ActionAid's Happy Home gives girls skills - and hope
There is a girl named Hafiza who lived in Happy Homes. My mother heard about Happy Homes from Hafiza’s grandfather. He suggested to my mother to send me here.
Now I love to live in Happy Homes. I learn dancing and singing. I can eat healthy food regularly. I’ve learnt to make necklaces, bracelets, anklets and I can do embroidery. All this work I have learned from Happy Homes.
Now I can study. I am in class 5. My favourite subjects are Social Science and English.
My best friend is Lamiya and she also lives in this home. We write our diaries together; on our life, our stories. We listen to music and draw pictures.
Studying and planning for the future
It’s bad for girls to live on the street. People use bad language towards them. When I used to live on the street, boys used bad words against me and they beat me. Girls are not safe on the streets. Girls are raped at any time and they are the victim of trafficking.
When I used to live on the street, boys used bad words against me and they beat me. Girls are not safe on the streets. Girls are raped at any time and they are the victim of trafficking.
When we lived on the streets I kept thinking ‘When will we have a home and when will we get good food to eat?'
Employees at Happy Homes take care of us so well, they give us a lot of knowledge about life, encouraging us to study- these things I love most about Happy Homes.
Now I can think about and plan my future. When I grow up I want to be a dance teacher and I want to work for underprivileged children. I will teach them dance. I will look after my mother and brother. I wish I would have a home where I can live with my family.
Through funding from child sponsorship ActionAid has so far supported 17,000 girls in five Happy Homes in Dhaka, getting them off the streets and giving them the chance to learn and thrive, in safety.
With help from you this Christmas, we can support more girls and help them take control of their futures.
Please sponsor a child now – either for yourself, or as a gift - and help keep girls like Jesmin safe from harm.Sponsor a child this Christmas
Photos: G.M.B. Akash/Panos/ActionAid