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Christine Galipeau - Blog Post 2: The Railway Kids

Christine Galipeau - Blog Post 2: The Railway Kids

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When I first saw him, he was clutching a rock in this hand. He looked ready to launch it at a target that was about three meters away from him. When I came closer, I saw that the boy’s aim was a full-grown man who also happened to be holding a rock. I felt like I was stepping into the middle of a showdown-Bangladeshi style. My voice broke the tension. “What is going on here?” The young boy looked up at me and seemed a little surprised to see me standing there. It was at that moment that I asked the boy his name. “Amar nam Mustani” he replied. Mustani seemed to relax when he noticed that his opponent had disarmed himself.

Mustani, is about seven years of age; I rarely see him wearing anything but worn out shorts. His bare chest and his dust covered body are symbols of absolute poverty. To my knowledge, he lives beside the railway with his family in a makeshift home made of tarps and bamboo poles. Dhaka’s impoverished children are often seen carrying large bags, which surpass their own height and width. Barefooted, they walk all over town and collect discarded plastic bottles in the hope making a little bit of money. This type of informal work may pay them about fifty cents per bag and can cover the cost of roti and several bananas.

Since making his acquaintance, I have never seen Mustani in the company of his parents. He does have significant responsibilities such as looking after his baby brother, who must be about seven months old. Mustani’s brother looks at the world with wonder in his eyes and you can tell that he is smart. From my understanding, the boys have an older sister and her name is Selina. I just ran into her on my way home from work. I almost did not recognize her as her beautiful, curly, black hair has been completely shaved off. These types of haircuts are a feature that distinguishes the children of this particular family. What is most striking, however, happens to be in the manner that these kids show their affection to stranger like myself.    

Train passing through Banani, Dhaka, Bangladesh. July 5th, 2013.

Without a doubt, these children are at the mercy of their physical and social environment. On one hand, they are exposed to various dangers and there is something primal about the way these kids fight to make it to the finish line, day after day. On the other hand, I see local vendors, rickshaw wallahs, or shop owners engage with them. They make small talk with the kids and I have personally witnessed gestures of compassion. In that kindness I see an opening, or an opportunity for humanity. In a similar light, John Berger has an astute way of describing what can emerge out of the depths of desperation:


“The promise is that again and again, from the garbage,

the scattered feathers, the ashes and broken bodies,

something new and beautiful may be born.”


While this promise may appear to be broken, I don’t think it is ever justified to conveniently forget or give up on people like Mustani, Selina, and their baby brother. A part of me can’t stop thinking that if we lose their potential, we also lose out on our own.