Born and brought up in Dhaka, Nilima Akhter Ridhi (13 years) considers Dhaka as her hometown. Why won’t she? Her parents migrated to Dhaka from Noakhali around 17 years back in search of good fortune. Her parents got marries around 18 years back and right after they started their conjugal life, poverty joined them too. They tried small business and farming, back at Noakhali but couldn’t get a good luck in those. On the other hand, Dhaka was a major city of Bangladesh with flourishing job opportunities. Little did they know, migration couldn’t much change their lives.
At Present, Ridhi’s parents work heart and soul to make a living for their family of three children – two daughter and a son, among whom Ridhi is the middle one. She was a student of Educo’s ODHIKAR Pathshala, where she studied from class 03 to 05. When asked, how she got enrolled at ODHIKAR Pathshala Ridhi said,
‘Few years back, some teachers of Educo’s ODHIKAR Pathshala came into our community and talked to us and our parents. They described us the importance of education and encouraged us to take a step towards education. I was awestricken after talking to them and wanted to enroll myself into their school.’ Ridhi further continued,
‘However, I faced difficulties matching time of my daily schedule with the school’s timing. At that time, for almost 03 years I have been working as a house help and babysitter. I had to take permission from my employer to join the school. I didn’t want to lose my job which salaried me 3,000tk monthly. Only once she permitted, I enrolled myself in ODHIKAR Pathshala’.
Ridhi was asked that how easy it was for her to convince her employer to adjust the timing and start studying. She replied that it wasn’t easy at all. She had to go through several phases of discussions with her parents and employer just to get the permission. Ridhi clarified,
‘My parents were not that much affirmative after I showed my interest to join ODHIKAR Pathshala but they agreed to my wish. I was given a condition to convince my employer so that I can study and continue my work, but my employer didn’t agree. My parents talked to her but couldn’t convince. Then teachers from ODHIKAR pathshala came into my rescue. They had meetings with her and repeatedly tried to convince her allow me to join the school. Finally, she agreed upon one condition that her household chores will not be compromised’.
After joining ODHIKAR pathshala, Ridhi’s daily routine were even more hectic. She went to work in the morning and came back to home for lunch then rushed to her school. She had some relaxed time after the school though. During that time she loved playing with her friends and neighbors. Hopscotch was her most favorite game. Ridhi says,
‘I can never get tired of playing hopscotch. Whenever we had 2-side matches of hopscotch, I or my team always won’.
After COVID-19 hit in the year 2020, Ridhi’s regular life got immensely hampered. School closed, her employer discontinued her job, she had to stay back home all day long. Ridhi described the situation as follows,
‘Suddenly my life changed after March 2020. I did know what COVID-19 as my teachers in my school informed me but couldn’t realize how tough it could be to deal with it. I lost my job, my school closed, and my father also was unemployed for several months. I and my father were the only breadwinners in our family. Whatever savings we had, all got vanished last year, during lockdown’. How did you and your family overcome the situation afterwards? – when asked this question Ridhi replied,
‘My mother had to start working as house help to run our family. We could at least get to eat something with her limited income during that time’.
When she was asked that how is the current lockdown situation in regard to COVID-19 this year, she described,
‘COVID-19 is only intensifying our troubles day by day. Only if COVID-19 gradually reduces, all our sorrows could be minimized but unfortunately, it’s going to the opposite direction. I feel scared of the situation. If government helps us in current situation with food or financial aid, we would have been grateful. But we got no help. I have heard that government has given support to many families in other communities’.
Ridhi has no work now. Her movement is highly restricted, along with her siblings due to the lockdown. Ridhi’s father is once again jobless for the past month as the internal transportation has been called off by the government. They are having a challenging time to ensure their daily needs.
‘I had pulses fry, mashed potato, and boiled rice today. For the last few days, we are having the same menu. I am sitting idle at home, watching television all through the day. I and my siblings don’t go our much. I wish I could rejoin my school soon. I miss my school genuinely, but everything has stopped now’ – Ridhi expresses her grief. She further continues saying,
‘I am very scared of COVID-19. Only Almighty can save us. It’s been more than a month that her father is idle. He frequently loses his calm in such situation and becomes often upset. Even last year as well, we were unemployed due to lockdown and rejoined after it. This year too, we are expecting something similar’.
When asked about her future and aim in life, Ridhi described that she wants to become a doctor. She further added,
‘I want to become a famous doctor and support the underprivileged of the society but due to COVID-19 my school has been closed for an uncertain time. Running my family has been a major challenge for us. In current situation, any age specific work for me to support my family will be a life savior because I must work to support my family, there is no other option left. For me, my life very hard’.
Finally, when she was asked that ‘Do you think child labor should be there?’ she put in her statement saying, ‘I often ask myself questions that what will we eat next day? How will we earn money to buy that? I don’t support eradicating child labor because my work is one of the major earning sources of my family. If its eradicated, additional supports should be given for that’.
Ridhi believes that studying is very important, it help our brain to imagination, open ways to move ahead and build a career. She wants to be independent and be a doctor. She concluded saying that – I will never leave a single scope to get back to studies after the COVID-19 era ends.