The Baby In The Basket
'I don't dare to dream that things could get better'
Sat in the home of Morsheda Begum, a young woman who, married at eight, has led a life marked by extreme poverty, I watched the weather rage outside.
I listened to Morsheda tell me about the day the river rose and flooded her and her children out of their home.
I listened as she described putting her baby in a cooking bowl and floated her down the river to safety.
I was aghast as she described how, during the floods in April last year, the river flooded into her home. How she raised their bed on bricks, but how one night her baby, Murshid, fell off the bed and into the water. Scooping him up she sought sanctuary in her neighbour's home.
'I feel very scared of the river. When I look at it I keep thinking 'it is coming'.'
At fourteen, while pregnant with her first child, Morsheda's husband left her and married another woman. Now in her late twenties, Morsheda cares for her children alone. Over the years, she has been flooded out of her home several times as the mighty river around her rises. She lives in the Bazetilcupi Char and works, where and when she can, as a daily labourer, for as little as 74p a day. In April and August last year, as the river flooded over the bank and into the Char, part of Morsheda’s home was flooded. With no assets and four children to care for, Morsheda told me ‘I don’t even dream that things could be better.’
She said, ‘Suddenly there was a big force and the river came. There was not time to take everything. The water came in very forcefully and it was frightening. Everything was shaking because of the wind and I saw the river rise in front of my eyes. My children were so scared. We were panicking because my neighbour's child was washed away.’
The longer I spent with Morsheda, the more I came to learn what it meant to toil and suffer. It’s hard to believe that she is as young as 25. She tells me that it feels like her body is ‘falling apart.’ But you ought not to think of her as fragile. For Morsheda is tough and determined. She finds ways to provide for, and protect, her children. She takes on the back-breaking, and typically male, work of digging and carrying earth from the river. She spends hours in the heat of the sun picking chillies until her hands and eyes burn. And, when flooded out of her home several years ago, she floated down the river with her arms wrapped around a cooking pot that her daughter was bundled up in, in search of safety.
'This house is in a very low place. It has already gone under water before. Maybe even in a few weeks it will be flooded again. It makes it difficult to grow, or do, anything. I don't have any money, or anythingI have to work very hard to survive my daily life. I do different types of work: digging the soil, picking the chillies, cutting and processing the jute... but because I am a woman I get less. I am not equal to men.'
'I am hopeful. I am confident that one day I can change my life. I know how to survive the disasters. I have what I need for the difficult days, but I am hopeful that there will be better days.'
Bangladesh is undoubtedly beautiful and it's one of the most fertile places on earth. But behind its beauty, and in spite of its fertility, it's also one of the most vulnerable countries owing, in part, to climate change. Char dwellers like Morsheda are among the most vulnerable, but in the midst of all her struggles and pain, here is a woman who has energy and faith, and who does everything she can for her children.
Gana Unnayan Kendra (GUK) is an organisation who works, among other things, to raise the plinths of houses that are vulnerable to the rising waters. They’re just one partner organisation which Christian Aid works with in Bangladesh. GUK is one of the few organisations that work with Char dwellers in this part of northern Bangladesh. Their field workers make the daily four-hour round trip to the Chars six days a week to deliver a project that has transformed the lives and livelihoods of people like Morsheda. Together we're raising people's land to give them a space to keep animals and grow their crops and to build their assets so that they can make decisions about their futures, like where they live, based on choice rather than necessity and, more importantly, a safe place they can call home, out of reach of the mighty river.
This Christian Aid Week we're asking people to give generously to help people like Morsheda.