Letter from Saima

Saima Khatum* is one of 60 residents at the Tarango women’s shelter in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is a letter she wrote to Kohinoor Yeasmin, CEO of Tarango.

Date: Monday, September 6, 2021

Letter from Saima. Illustratration: Miho Watanabe
Illustratration: Miho Watanabe

Dear Kohinoor-apa,

Do you know how much my life has changed? I am unrecognizable, even to myself!

Ever since I was a child, I always lived in fear. When my father married me off, I was still underage. A local leader endorsed the marriage, modifying my age on the official document. Police came, but influential people in the village bribed them and sent them away. My husband was abusive, torturing me for dowry.[1] Still, people in my village didn't help me. You did.

I heard about Tarango from others, and that’s where I took refuge when I left my husband. Tarango saved my life. Since arriving at this shelter, I've been living in a safe place and receiving healthy meals and seeing doctors whenever I need. I was fortunate to receive psycho-social counselling with Sister Gloria. She is so wise, kind and compassionate. I'm also learning so many skills here, including self-defence, sewing and tailoring. I feel confident that I can protect myself, and find a job.

Thank you for the support you are providing to women like me who have nowhere else to go. You have given me the strength to realize that being born a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do what a boy can do. Girls can do anything when we put our minds to it.

Apa [Big Sister], when I move out of the shelter, I will rent a house. I will save enough money from my salary to give myself security. I will make sure my younger brother and sister complete their education so they can lead a good life. I want to show everyone in my village that I am independent.

If you can, take in more women. There are countless women out there who need your help. If you take them in and give them opportunities, they won't need to suffer from hopelessness anymore. They can be independent and powerful, just like me.

Please keep me in your prayers.

Sincerely,

Saima Khatum*

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.

* 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.

Contributors: Zefroon Afsary and Miho Watanabe