Shekha Mondol participates in a class at the Keshabpur Child Sponsorship Program. She's one of the few girls in her community who is receiving an education.
JESSORE, Bangladesh It's twilight in this rural town just south of Dhaka. A thick fog blankets the sky above the grounds of the Keshabpur Free Baptist Church. It's the only presence currently penetrating the thick iron gates that surround the church's compound of three concrete buildings.
Inside the church walls, the whistle of a bird and the splash of fish jumping in a pond become alarm clocks for the dozens of children who live in an orphanage here. By mid-morning, the fog has relented, dissolved by a blazing sun. A single-file line of giggling children forms. Breakfast will be served soon. Many of these children live in the orphanage, but some are from the small clay-walled houses that surround the church compound.
The "Untouchable" Life
This scene inside the gates of the church represents an oasis of love. But when the children step outside the church gates onto the streets of Jessore, their safe haven evaporates. They become "untouchable."
"Some communities here have a caste system," says Christopher Sarker, pastor of Keshabpur Free Baptist. "Poor children are considered outcasts. These children are not allowed to go to any school. If people see them, they walk to the other side of the road. They are excommunicated. They are untouchable."
Sarker says children who live the "untouchable" life have few opportunities to rise above this arbitrary discrimination. They are shunned by society, forced into menial jobs, and abandoned by their families.
For children deemed "untouchable," their only hope is to get an education so they can get a job that pays enough to take care of their basic needs. But that hope is far-fetched for most of the children in this area.
"It's hard for a girl child"
Most of the children that Sarker serves are like Shekha Mondol. Shekha is a beautiful 10-year-old girl with cocoa-colored skin and a thin frame. Before Shekha began attending a Compassion-assisted center, she rarely went to school. And mealtime at her family's home was like a game of chance.
If her father made enough money helping out at a pig farm each day, she would eat. If not, she would go without. Even when her father does work, he makes as little as U.S.33 cents for a day's work. But now, at the Keshabpur center, Shekha eats good meals and learns a lot. Shura says her daughter Shekha's registration at the project and subsequent sponsorship give her hope that Shekha will one day overcome the discrimination that threatens her future.
"I feel so good about the project because when she goes to the project she receives education," she says. "She's a girl. It's a little hard for a girl child.If she's educated she can work and she can make her own way and her own house."
Compassion Helps Tremendously
Pastor Sarker smiles when he thinks about children like Shekha. Helping them find hope for the future is the reason he started his church in the so-called "untouchable community."
He chokes back tears as he tries to describe the incredible opportunity sponsorship gives these children to overcome the effects of living an "untouchable" life.
"Compassion International is helping us tremendously," he says. "We are so grateful because you are giving us a great opportunity to spread our love to our children because they are our future and the next generation."
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