Letter from Ma: “I realized that I had stopped dreaming a long ago”

Date: Monday, September 13, 2021

Illustration: Miho Watanabe
Illustration: Miho Watanabe

Dear son,

Just like you, ma had a dream when she was a little girl. I wanted to go to school and become an educated woman. But I fell in love too young and dived into a relationship too soon. By the time I realized that I had made a big mistake, it was too late. Marriage meant the end of my school, and the love I found came with many struggles.

Baba [your father] was not very good at finding work. Sometimes he found work and worked for a day. And then he stayed at home for the next three days. Some days, I cooked one meal a day. Other days, I had nothing to cook. Baba was also becoming very mean to me. Covering bruises with clothing, I felt empty in my stomach and my heart. I realized that I had stopped dreaming a long ago.

Many women stay with their husbands even if the husbands give them more problems than good things. I also stayed with baba. I had no job, no money and no house without him.

One day, a neighbour told me about people who help women like me. When I met them, they welcomed me and showed me a place called Tarango’s shelter house. Inside, many women had problems similar to mine, and they were all busy learning skills – to get jobs, earn money, and become independent. I joined them.

I learned tailoring to become a professional tailor so I can make money even if baba struggles to find work. Learning – whether it's in school or outside of schools - opens many doors for each of us. Through my training I learned not only skills but also to make decisions that matter to me, and live a life that is mine. At Tarango’s shelter house, I started to dream again.

I started karate training to protect myself. In between kicks and punches, I felt like I was breaking the wall of silence I trapped myself inside for so long. During counselling sessions, I learned how to cope with stress and ways to protest things I doesn’t approve of, even to baba. I was ready to stand up against baba’s behaviour. One day, when baba was nasty to me, I showed my karate techniques that I had been learning for three months! Baba was surprised, but he also realized I was changing. From that day, baba started changing slowly.

I told you that at Tarango’s house, I started to dream again. My biggest dream is to send you to school for as long as possible. I can do that now that I continued to learn and gained new skills to pay for your tuition fee. And I know that I can make all my dreams come true.

With love,

Ma

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarango, in partnership with UN Women and funded by the Government of Japan, expanded its integrated shelter house model, which 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.

*Name changed to protect her identity

Contributors: Miho Watanabe and Nazlee Nipa