Letter from Farzana Begum: “I carried nothing but a broken heart”

In her letter to Nazlee Nipa, Farzana Begum* takes us on a journey, right out of her abuse and into caring and more empowering days at the Tarango’s women shelter.

Date: Monday, September 13, 2021

Illustration: Miho Watanabe
Illustration: Miho Watanabe

Dear Nazlee-apa,

You are my inspiration. You taught me that there is another way of living this life. A whole lot better, a new life of mine.

When you saw me walking into Tarango’s shelter for the first time, I carried nothing but a broken heart. I was lost, I was hurt, and I was terrified. But where else could I have gone to?

It frustrates me even now. How could my husband have stayed silent when his father was insulting me for dowry?[1] The level of torture was unbearable, but his silence cut the wounds deeper. Every time I endured abuse, I gave away pieces of self-confidence I had in me until I had none left.

Do you remember when I told you that I didn’t have the confidence to complete the three months’ garments machine operation training? You said you had no doubt that I would complete, encouraging me to give it a go. Your reassurance removed all my fear. I’m glad I joined the training. I met many women there who had stories similar to mine but their eyes were fixed on the future. I made a vow to myself, then, that I would gain more skills and stand on my own feet. No one would ever control me.

That’s how I signed up for another three months’ self-defence class. Discovering my physical strength and ability to complete both training, I was slowly regaining my self-confidence back. Then came the drama performance on International Women’s Day this year! You promised us that if we completed the play, Tarango would arrange a trip for us. Nazlee-apa, you were in the audience when I took part in the play. I had no idea I could act! And we had so much fun visiting Nuhash Polly for the first time.

You know it took some time for me to overcome depression. During the psychological counselling sessions, I poured out negative emotions and mental exhaustion to [counsellor] Sister Gloria. She taught me how to cope with stress, heal the pain of my heart, and reflect on the meaning of life. After these sessions, I felt like I finally overcame my past and move on with my life.

I started to dream about working for Tarango. I liked the working environment here, and I wanted to be just like you, Apa [Big Sister]: A hard worker who encourage other women to find a new way of living life. I put in a lot of effort to make my dream come true, and you were always there to support me along the way. Just recently, my dream came true. I got a job at Tarango as a skilled worker to develop new products for our buyers .

With backing from you and everyone here, I was able to break down the mental barriers I had created and build self-confidence. And I am not the only one. I’ve seen many abused and vulnerable women who found their safety and dreams under the roof of this shelter.

Thank you for believing in me.

Sincerely,

Farzana Begum*

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarango, in partnership with UN Women and funded by the Government of Japan, expanded its integrated shelter house model that provides essential services and economic empowerment to women and girls who have experienced violence.

As part of UN Women’s work on Essential Services: Ending Violence Against Women, and based on the success and lessons learned at Tarango women’s shelter aligned with UN’s Essential Services Packages for women and girls subject to violence, UN Women is currently developing a toolkit about the integrated shelter model to roll out across Bangladesh.

Contributors: Miho Watanabe and Nazlee Nipa

* Name changed to protect her identity
[1] Some men and their families continue to make dowry demands throughout the marriage. Women who are unable to satisfy those demands suffer threats of violence and oppression in their husbands’ houses.