Basha. Meaning ‘house’ in Bangla, our name incorporates another Bangla word, ‘asha’, which means ‘hope’. Our focus is not the exploitation and evil our artisans have experienced, although we deal with the repercussions of that in women’s lives every day. Our focus is the hope we see in people’s eyes as they build new futures for themselves and their children. This is why we are reeling this week with grief that our sweet Sonia ended her own life last Thursday afternoon.
We thought Sonia had been spared the worst that could happen. Her sister had worked with Basha for a few years and brought 14 year old Sonia to Dhaka to escape early marriage in 2014. We tried to find a programme that helped children like Sonia, but she didn’t meet anyone’s criteria. It wasn’t safe for her to be home alone while her sister was at work. So she started daily tutoring with our day care staff (she had never been to school) and began working in Basha’s jewellery department the rest of the day.
She was young but she worked hard and didn’t seem to have the issues the other women had. She was quiet, obedient, diligent, and sweet.
In January, her sister moved with her to another town to work at a leather factory. Now 16 years old, she should not have been working full time. In an ideal world, she should have been a carefree teenager, going to school, playing with friends, leaving adulthood for later. But this is not an option for so many girls in Bangladesh.
Suicide, on the other hand, is shockingly common. According to the local newspaper, the Dhaka Tribune, there are 28 suicides per day in Bangladesh, and most of them are young women between the ages of 15 through 29 years old. Those interviewed suggest that family relationships are the primary cause of suicide. What seems most clear in seeking information about suicide in Bangladesh is that there is not much solid data.
Our first reaction to Sonia’s suicide was shock. It still seems like a bad dream we’ll wake up from, and see her demure smile again. We assumed something had happened upon her departure from Basha that had devastated her. Perhaps the biggest heartbreak at all is to discover that as long as six months ago, Sonia had made comments to her colleagues, asking how you hang yourself, speculating what it would be like. They didn’t report this to Basha staff. Suicidal statements are quick to the lips of many Bangladeshi women, and they’ve all come through such hardship. They didn’t understand how much pain Sonia was really in.
On Monday, Sonia’s sister came to the office, and we all joined to mourn together, to share our memories of Sonia, and to pray for those who will always experience Sonia-shaped pain. Several staff who were most involved with her are now receiving counselling. We are raising awareness in all of our offices of warning signs to look and listen for. We have arranged more in depth training for our staff next month. All the women will begin a new chapter of values training on how valuable each one is and how to find hope in the midst of hopelessness.
I wish we could go back in time and do things differently, to look beyond the surface, to see what Sonia was going through. I wish Sonia had seen the hope and dreams we saw for her and the hole she’s left at Basha. And so we mourn, as we turn to those who are still with us, and pray that each one will come to see the hopes and dreams for their lives that we see for them.
“The sun shall always rise upon a new day and there shall always be a rose garden within me. Yes, there is a part of me that is broken, but my broken soil gives way to my wild roses.” – C. JoyBell C.
“One should . . . be able to see things as hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Redemption is something you have to fight for in a very personal, down-dirty way. Some of our characters lose that, some stray from that, and some regain it.” – Joss Whedon