A Little Girl’s Big Dream

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A Little Girl’s Big Dream
by Laura Reinhardt

A couple of years ago, Sonali and her family visited the hospital where her grandmother was undergoing surgery. The flurry of activities and machines was a new world for the young girl.

But something else caught little Sonali’s attention. There, the wide-eyed girl saw women working as doctors.

“It was surprising,” Sonali, now 8, says. “It encouraged me to want to be a doctor. I would like to perform surgeries and handout medicines.”

In a country where less than half the children attend high school, Sonali’s experience had given birth to a seemingly impossible dream.

Hard times

A medical career, however, felt like a long shot. The family’s poverty was so deep that they were the laughingstock of their small community near Mymensingh, a city about 70 miles north of Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka.

Sonali’s father, Shohel, was only able to get work for about half the month as a day labourer. Earning only 200 takas—about HK$19a day, the 30-year-old father struggled to support his family of four. People would ridicule him for not being “man enough” to support his family. “As I was poor and not earning a lot, people avoided me,” he says.

Sonali’s mom, Mahfuza, 26, hoped for a change too. Her children went hungry. She knew farm animals would supply eggs and milk, but the chickens and goats she raised would often fall sick and die.

A poor diet was affecting her daughter. “Sonali could not talk well,” Mahfuza says. “She was a slow learner and had a speech problem.”

When Sonali and her brother, Maruf, now 4, would ask for things like clothes or school supplies, Mahfuza could not afford them.

The young mother felt helpless and frustrated, knowing there were things her children needed which she was powerless to provide. “I felt I was a bad mom,” she says. “I was sad about that, and I thought if I could get them what they were asking for, I would be the happiest mom in the world.”

Ridicule from neighbours and others in the community compounded her distress.

Sonali could sense her parents’ struggles. Mahfuza remembers that her daughter would try to cheer her up, saying, “Mom, don’t be sad. When I’m educated and get a good job, I will give you money, and I will buy you everything.”

New opportunities

In late 2012, World Vision identified Sonali’s needs, and she became a sponsored child. Through Child Sponsorship, she received a bed net to protect her from mosquito-borne diseases, as well as a blanket, school supplies, and other necessities. Shohel says, “I felt so encouraged.”

The support was welcome, but the family needed more—and they weren’t alone. Fortunately, help was on the horizon. In 2013, World Vision started the Sundor Jibon (Nice Life) project, designed to reduce child malnutrition and increase family income and assets.

Sonali’s family was chosen to receive goats and chickens. But the animals weren’t just handed over to them. To ensure success, families were required to attend training classes about animal rearing and breeding.

World Vision found out that all families, throughout the area, struggled equally with raising their livestock. As a result, child malnutrition was widespread, with only about one in ten households regularly eating foods from four or more food groups. Across Bangladesh, nearly half of all children are physically stunted due to a lack of proper nutrition. Before her sponsorship, Sonali was among the children who suffered.

Now, she shines as bright as her name, which means “golden”.

Shohel says, “Now I feel I have a good life, people in the community respect me and try to talk to me. Before, I used to feel isolated, but now I feel included in society.” Mahfuza agrees. “I don’t hear bad or mean things people used to say before,” she says. “People are encouraging me and saying I am in good hands and earning for my children.”

The programme has also resulted in changes in how men in the community view and treat women. There has been a decrease in domestic violence, and now men are more respectful toward their wives.

Thanks to Child Sponsorship, Sonali is healthy and thriving in school. Her parents plan to do all they can to make her dream a reality. Mahfuza says, “I dream now that if World Vision walks beside me, I can continue Sonali’s schooling so, one day, she can become a doctor.”

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