Team Spondon gathered near Sajeda Foundation at 3 p.m. We prepared our survey design the night before and were ready to interview several candidates ranged between the ages 12 to 18. We expected to fill out around 30 forms but by the end of the day we managed only 5. There were only a handful of suitable interviewees and our team members immediately engaged the first few that walked through the door. The authorities from Sajeda Foundation tried their best to gather young people for the survey but few could be found. I personally could not find anyone for a long time. At one point I grew tired of waiting and I realised I needed to pray Asr. I left the room but was distracted by commotion. This young girl in her late teens was clearly agitated and refused to stay for the interview. The personnel assured her repeatedly that the survey will not take much time. She kept refusing; she said that her feet were hurting so much she could barely stand. She was limping on her right leg and was very restless. I knew in my mind what I had to do. I took her to the foundation’s medical office and asked to see her injuries. I never had any medical training but I knew she needed to rest her feet. She was both modest and frazzled. She kept saying ‘Na Apa, boshte hobena, thik asi Apa.’ Little by little she grew used to me. I asked her if she’d like some water. She was hesitant but I insisted. When she saw that it was a newly bought sealed bottle of mineral water she retaliated, ‘Na apa, eta apnar botol, ami ekhane centre thekei pani nibo shomossha nai apa.’ Yet when I opened the seal and handed her the bottle, she almost snatched it from my hands and drank with a greed I’ve never seen before. It took me some time to realise that she probably very rarely had access to fresh water and this tiny bottle of mineral water was a luxury she could not afford. By now she was settled. I asked for her name, everyone calls her Golapi. She is 18 years old, her mother died when she was young, her step mother tortures her. She ran away from home and lives on the streets of Karwan Bazaar. At night she scavenges for vegetables and sells them for a living. She says that she earns a good amount of money, enough for her to save. Whether or not she has other means of earning money is something I had to deduce. She hates her job because of the sexual harassment. One of the first questions she asked me was ‘Apni kon dhormer’. I said I’m a Muslim. She said ‘Apa ami kintu Hindu’. I asked her why it mattered. She said that Muslims and Hindus are always against each other. I assured her that it didn’t matter to me. She was married once, even pregnant, but she was childless so I assumed she had it aborted. Her biggest problem was not having a roof over her head. She asked me why I was conducting this survey. When I told her my purpose she said ‘Apa apni jetai koren, amader jonno ekta raate thakar bebostha koira diyen, jekhane mohilara raat katate pare’. She almost begged me for it. I was very bad at my job, tactless almost. When she asked me for a solution, I asked her why she didn’t remarry just so that she’d have a roof over her head and a protector against her harassers. She bit her tongue and pulled her ears ‘Ami shob korte raaji asi kintu biya ekhon kormuna’. She wanted to wait till she was financially independent. She was painfully vivid about her harassers. How they touch her, swear at her, shame her. All she wanted was to escape them. She would gladly take a job as a domestic servant; at least she’d have a place to sleep and bathe and would be provided with food. Somewhere near the end of the interview, she touched my feet and begged me to help her. I didn’t know what to do or say. She had the upper hand during the conversation. I was the weak and vulnerable one, I was helpless.
The interview ended, we went our separate ways. As I saw her leave, I had this guilt building up on me. I’ve heard of desperation, seen desperation but never this close. Now I’m faced with the task of helping young girls like her. The challenge is overwhelming but I hold a responsibility. It’s time to see how far I can go.