Street children: transition towards being children…

The title reflects a thought from a critical reading of Joy Moncrieffe’s ‘When labels stigmatise’, as we conducted our first workshop as part of a design project to build a transition shelter for street children in the Sadarghat area of Dhaka.  This is one of the busiest parts of the city, with all of the cargo ferries and passenger launches arriving and departing at an intense pace.  We are working with LEEDO, who have been in the field for over two decades providing basic education and support to vulnerable street children. 

Our intention for the initial workshop was to see how, if children are left on their own, how they work together – through a paper collating exercise.  This was simple, and the result was quite unanimous, with only a handful of the children quietly putting the papers together, while a group of boys caused havoc. The second exercise was to further understand their perception of the environment around them, as we asked them to draw where they live, and what they see. There were 36 children in all, majority being boys, with 11 girls, and ending with a very simple question of their favourite colour, black and white being the least favourite.  

This post is a quick run down rather than an intense critical analysis, however, it is important to note that there is already some clear indicators for further work, at least from a Paraa perspective.  Creating and designing a space where vulnerable street children will be in transition towards a more permanent shelter, means that there needs to be an understanding of how LEEDO will work with them.  This is a complex issue, as the site selected is close to the port, it is for girls only (to stay over night) and open to both boys and girls throughout the day, with space for play. 

The below drawings by the children, depicts the variety of perceptions, as well as understanding of the task itself. A group of boys at one end (left) caused a lot of nuisance amongst themselves, disturbing others and Fazlul bhai noted that they were under the influence of ‘dandy’ a local drug.  The other end, on the right, were where the girls sat, and their drawings and texts reflects a very different view, one that is perhaps better organised.  

What is important for us to understand further is how the children engage with the street, strangers, friends and how they manoeuvre the complex urban landscape around them, especially those that are new to the area. Especially considering the vulnerability that exists and the pace of life around the river port, with so much heaving activity going on at any one time.. This will be a more longer and in depth study, and we shall develop a framework, hopefully with LEEDO and others, to critically analyse and understand ways forward that are more reactive to the needs of the children. 

For now I will end here, and below are some images from the day. Next weekend, we shall conduct a design workshop, as well as discuss with LEEDO, their strategies for a cohesive and positive empowerment plan. One that escapes away from labelling the children as anything other than children, and focus on bridging the gap between them and mainstream society through active empowerment and destruction of labels that can stigmatise the children.  There are of course plenty of NGOs supposedly working in the field, but the extremely vulnerable section of children who live and work in the streets, still needs our attention, and friends such as Restless Beings have been working tirelessly as well. Strategic planning is crucial, more so, is reflexive practice. Just because we want to do good, does not mean we know what is good. Critically understanding our approaches, accepting that we are not objective by standers with a magic pill to fix the problem. Clarity of the problem, and solutions need to be collaborative and fully engaged with the children at the centre. 

LEEDO’s target is to have a transition shelter for upto 30 girls at any time in the Sadarghat area with a further centre for boys as well. 

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LEEDO Pano

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