An MCC partner in Mymensingh, Bangladesh called Pobitra is helping hundreds of women move out of sex work by offering a safe haven to learn job skills.

Barsha, whose real name isn’t being used to protect her identity, was 11 years old when her mother started forcing her to traffic drugs between India and Bangladesh. She was caught several times by police and was afraid of her mother, so she ran away from home and lived in a railway station. During that time she was forced into sex work and raped numerous times.

Barsha’s life seemed to take a happy turn when she got married, but her husband didn’t know about her past and was angry when he learned the truth. He became addicted to drugs and made Barsha’s life very difficult. When he left her, Barsha moved back to the railway station where she gave birth to their son. Out of options, shortly afterwards she went back to sex work in order to support her child.

“My life was very difficult before coming to Pobitra,” she said.

Through tears, Barsha explained that when she was 18 years old, she learned about Pobitra and made the decision to leave sex work.

Barsha, a recent graduate of Pobitra, washes cloth she's dyed.     MCC photo/Elizabeth Derstine

“When I looked at my son, I decided to leave my earlier life so that my past will not affect him and he can live a better life.”

In order to join Pobitra, Barsha, like all other participants, committed to stop sex work. From there, she was given $1.80 USD ($2.41 CAD) per day and a caring environment to learn to read and write Bangla and how to make handicrafts. Pobitra offers training in good family relationships and child protection, family planning, health and hygiene, human rights and professional communication, among other things. The organization also offers childcare so participants like Barsha don’t have to be separated from their children.

Pobitra offers training in handicrafts, including sewing and dyeing.     MCC photo/Elizabeth Derstine

Now 19, Barsha has a number of different job skills, but more importantly, she’s reclaimed her dignity and found a new family through Pobitra.

“By leaving that path, you will find everything here. You will receive love, care, and honour here,” she explains.

Chandni, whose real name isn’t being used to protect her identity, also benefitted from Pobitra after she left the sex trade. She lived in a train station and suffered from mental health problems before participating in the job training program.

Sultana Jahan is the project coordinator for Pobitra. She explained staff worked with Chandni to get her where she is now.

“When we found her at the railway station she didn’t have any clothing. She was only using a small top and a piece of cloth to wrap her. We took her to the program, but she was out of sense. She couldn’t talk properly, she couldn’t eat properly,” Jahan said.

The Pobitra staff and students took care of Chandni while she recovered and learned job skills.

“This is a place of support and respect for the people who come to work here,” Jahan explained.

Chandni and her husband have two children and own a roadside confectionery shop where they sell tea, biscuits, cigarettes and cold drinks.

Chandni (centre), sits with her daughters, who aren't being named for their safety, at the family's roadside business.MCC photo/Elizabeth Derstine

“I can dignify my life. The customers are respecting me which is helping me to running the business. All are these possible because of Pobitra. If I were not been to Pobitra it was not possible and I didn’t get respect from the people.”

Chandni is content with her life, but has high hopes for her two daughters.

“They will be educated and self-dependent. My future is my daughters. So, I am expecting them to be educated and will not do road side business like me, also they will have a happy family in future.”

With files from Elizabeth Derstine


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