It’s five years since TRAID began funding a project to support the children of garment workers in Bangladesh. Leigh McAlea, TRAID’s Head of Communications looks back at her visit to the project in 2014, and why small is still beautiful.

In their work to support street and working children, ChildHope UK and the Bangladeshi NGO Nagorik Uddyog noticed that many of the children they had contact with on the streets of Dhaka had at least one parent working in garment factories.

Young children were being left alone for extremely long hours and at high risk of accidents, trafficking and abuse, while older children worked to supplement their family’s meagre incomes were often involved in dangerous and illegal work. The answer? To set up four centres which now provide day-care, nutritious food and education for around 200 children.

In November 2014, I visited the project and spent time in the centres meeting with the teachers, carers and children. I also met Parvin, a 20-year old garment worker, and her 4-year old son Rasul. Before, when Parvin went to work in the garment factory, she would tie Rasul to the bed post, so he could move around but not leave the room, leaving food and water for him. She said,

“I wouldn’t let him outside, it is too dangerous, and while I was working I was so worried and scared all the time that something would happen to him, I couldn’t concentrate properly.”

Parvin had found out about the day-centre by word of mouth and she told me it had been so life changing that she wished there were more places like it in Dhaka.

Parvin dropping off Rasul at the centre
Parvin dropping off Rasul at the centre. ©Leigh McAlea / TRAID

The centres are located close to the factories where the women work, and are big, clean and light. It is not much of an exaggeration to say this place feels like a different planet compared to the room where Parvin and Rasul live which they share with two others.

The centres have a flushable toilet, clean drinking water, a kitchen where lunch of Mass E Bhat (fish and rice) is made in enormous stainless-steel pots, books, toys, blackboards, colourful pictures and a sleeping area. Hours are very long and flexible to fit with the mothers working hours with the centres usually opening around 6am. Day-care is provided for children aged 3 – 6 plus a drop-in for working children aged 6-16. I spent time with tiny tots as they learned the alphabet and played. I also talked a lot with the older children who spend a few hours in the centres to learn and improve their reading and numeracy.

Drawing ©Leigh McAlea / TRAID
Drawing ©Leigh McAlea / TRAID

The hours they spend learning have been hard fought from employers, and sometimes even their parents, and so there is an intensity and focus in the room as they try to soak up as much information as possible before going to work. As Joyeeta Hossain at Nagorik pointed out to me.

“It isn’t enough to provide the education, we have to make sure that they can attend in the first-place. We do a lot of community outreach work to get parents and employers to understand the long -term benefits of an education.”

I visited a local indoor market where three of the older children work. Two of the boys – Akash and Nazir sold shirts. Another boy called Tanay was in a badly lit section of the market with around 10 young men who were drilling holes into metal. None wore hand or eye protection.

Nazir is 14 and works in a local market selling clothes. He has never been to school but is now learning to read and write at the centre.
Nazir is 14 and works in a local market selling clothes. He has never been to school but is now learning to read and write at the centre. ©Leigh McAlea / TRAID

It was in the market, watching the boys at work folding and packing shirts, and making price calculations for customers on bits of paper, that I saw for myself that education is the single most important element to breaking the cycle of poverty. Without the centres, these children would be locked into a lifetime of poorly paid and dangerous work. With them, they have a chance.

This wonderful package of support includes care, education, food and some medicine, and eases the burden in unimaginable ways on the mothers working for long hours and little pay in garment factories.

Parvin, and millions like her, earn such a pittance, that they are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They cannot afford to send their children to school and they find it difficult to give them nutritious food. So, children work to supplement incomes and families become locked in inter-generational poverty.

This project is helping to break a cycle that will be felt through future generations. The risks and behavioural problems young children face when left without care are reduced. Older children get educated and vitally, in doing so they end up in safer and better paid jobs enabling them to provide for their own children.

Five years down the line, hundreds of children of garment workers have been, and continue to be cared for and educated. But is it enough? I think that Amit Arulanantham of ChildHope answered that best when he described the project as “small but beautiful” It is beautiful because the impact extends far beyond 200 children and their mothers, and is helping to break the cycle of poverty for future generations.

To date, TRAID has committed £325,203 to this project thanks to everyone who shops at TRAID, and donates the clothes you no longer need to us. This simple support from you, enables TRAID to support life-changing work like this. Thank you.