The plan was to work with street children. And the mazaar, the burial site of a Muslim Shia saint,was certainly the place to find street children. This public site, where no one is turned away, is always teeming with people…people coming to pay religious homage, yes, but also people who are down and out. Handouts are available, as well, they hope, is fresh favour from the gods and a change of fortune.
But that day changed everything. Yes, the children were there, bright dirty faces with eager hands reaching for alms. But that day the screams of a woman in distress broke through the usual din of the mazar. A teen girl was giving birth in the midst of the busy mazar grounds. People were pulling at her arms, at her legs, trying to help her but doing anything but. Hosneara Khatun, CUP’s Director, had worked previously in community birth, and she knew this girl needed a hospital… quickly. Her and another CUP founding staff member, Ruth Lipika Hira, helped her to a nearby hospital. With proper care she was able to give birth naturally and, within hours, was released from the hospital with her infant daughter. She still had nowhere to go except the mazar, finding some level of protection from others in the same merciless state.
All seemed to be fine for the first few days, in spite of the dire circumstances. But one night mother and baby went to sleep on the hard pavement, and the baby girl never woke up. Perhaps her mother had inadvertently smothered her. Perhaps something else. But the sadness of this short life served a greater purpose. From that day forward, the Children’s Uplift Programme (CUP) changed their focus from children to pregnant girls/women and mothers with young children. “We realized it was best to start nurturing the baby before she comes into the world,” Ruth says.
Both Hosneara and Ruth are quick to relate the story of the “first baby.” It was the event that helped them realize that, although people were helping with street children, with sex workers, with homeless, … no one was helping pregnant women. They were alone on the streets, their only option for food was to beg. They had only their bodies to shelter their babies from the night.
Hosneara taught the staff how to reach out to the pregnant girls. How to help them build a support system, how to access resources, how to eat properly, and how to care for her baby once she was born. Eventually CUP opened a night shelter to ensure women have a safe place to stay before and after giving birth. CUP has now supported 200 births- 100 who participated in their long term training and rehabilitation programme, and 100 who came in just for support during their pregnancy.
If you visit the building shared by CUP and Basha, you’ll see a room full of newborns- there are ten at the moment with two more on the way. You’ll see rooms teeming with energetic toddlers. You’ll see young students learning their letters or singing songs with gusto. Almost all of these childre were born at CUP. If their mom’s have not already received full time employment at Basha, they are preparing to one day.
These children have a lot of hurdles to overcome. At Basha we’re greatful that that ill fated birth on the grounds of the mazar, meant that so many babies had someone to nurture them before coming into the world.
Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers—strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” — Barbara Katz Rothman