Decades of work for the benefit of children – “I have a heart to share love”

Susan seisoo kummikoulun ovella.

Susan Baroi grew up in poverty, separated from her parents. Now she wants to show love to the children in Dhaka's slums, she especially wants to encourage girls.

In the 1980s, Bangladesh was in the aftermath of the War of Independence in the previous decade. Poverty and deprivation were everywhere. Susan Baroi lived in a farming family with six children. When the father of the family fell ill, the family became poorer, as a result the family was forced to sell their plot of land which was their livelihood.

– Freedom was far away when we did not have enough of anything, and not one of us six children had the opportunity to go to school, Susan recalls.

Because of the family’s plight, 9-year-old Susan was sent away from home. She moved to the capital Dhaka to live with Finnish missionary, Annikki Raatikainen.

Freedom was far away when we did not have enough of anything.

Having lived in Bangladesh for decades, Annikki’s heart beat for the children there. She first took in a few underprivileged children, but after moving to Faridpur, the number of children began to grow little by little.

Susan was one of the first children Annikki started to care for. If necessary, Annikki would also have been willing to adopt Susan, but the girl’s father did not give her permission.

– When I came to the children’s home, I was sad and very quiet, but I was a good student. When we were decorating for Christmas, Annikki came to hug me and asked why I don’t talk and I’m so sad, Susan remembering the encounter fondly.

When Susan told Annikki that she missed her home, Annikki suggested that Susan’s sister move into the children’s home as well. That was a relief to Susan and from then on, the sisters were able to share their lives again. In the summer, they would visit their family and it would do them a lot of good.

– Annikki was like a mother to us. However, when more children arrived, the children’s home was no longer as family-like as it was at first, recalls Susan. Susan had moved with Annikki from Dhaka to Faridpur to accommodate the ever-growing children’s home.

The maternal relationship between Susan and Annikki remained for years. Susan grew up in a children’s home and went to school for nine years. That was a long time to stay in school back then and still is today. It is rare for girls in Bangladesh to get that much education.

– Annikki was a strong woman and had a mother’s heart, Susan says, with her voice full of emotion.

Having received help from afar inspires to help others

After coming of age, Susan continued her studies. At the same time, she worked at the children’s home to support her family. Since the death of her parents, Susan has supported her brother’s family of four children. Susan, who has taught religion, Bangla language and handicrafts, has had a long career working with children. During her time at Faridpur Children’s Home, she would go to Dhaka to buy clothes for the children. From Faridpur, Susan moved to Dhaka after Fida’s work expanded to the slums in the early 2000s.

The help received from strangers from far away still touches and fills Susan with gratitude.

Now it’s been 32 years since Susan started working and she is now a project coordinator at Fida’s Joy & Hope school in Dhaka. She coordinates all program activities that include the: school, child sponsorship program, work in the surrounding slum community, health education, and so on.

– When I was studying, I knew I had to do something for the children with Fida. I had the opportunity to do other things, but I didn’t want to, Susan sighs gratefully.

When her own family was helpless, people from Finland helped them and many other children. Help from strangers from far away still touches and fills Susan with gratitude. It gets her excited and motivates her to give her time and energy for the benefit of the children in Dhaka’s slums.

Encouraging girls to stand up

When Susan moved back to Dhaka as an adult, where she had lived for a few years as a child, she knew nothing about the children in the slums. In Faridpur, she had worked with children who grew up in the countryside. Life in Dhaka is very different, but there were also some similarities.

– These children living in the slums need support and love. I have a heart to share love with them, Susan smiles gently.

The Joy & Hope school is part of Fida’s child sponsorship program. Susan says she wants to use the support from Finnish sponsors to benefit the children as much as possible. When she was a child, she got to experience firsthand how important the support is and how much it means to the children. Through her work at Fida’s Joy and Hope school, Susan has been able to help hundreds of underprivileged children receive a quality education.

The sponsorship project pays special attention to girls whose situation is challenging. Child marriage and harassment of girls are commonplace in Bangladesh. The challenges were already there when Susan was a child.  Susan knows that young girls need support and should be allowed to grow strong. Without the protection and support provided by the children’s home, Susan would not have had the opportunity to pursue higher education education, as she would have dropped out when she was in primary school.

Let your voice be heard is my message to young girls.

– That’s why I always encourage girls, Susan explains her role among the children.

While the school’s teachers teach the children math, English, Bengali and many other subjects, Susan is there to support the children forward. Girls, in particular, need that support in a community where women are mainly stay-at-home mothers and cannot earn money. A woman who is financially dependent on her husband cannot make many choices herself.

– Let your voice be heard is my message to young girls, Susan says emphatically.

Susan, who has lived alone for a long time, knows that the everyday life of an unmarried woman in Bangladesh is not simple. She still wants to encourage girls to study further, grow and get stronger, and do the work they want. Only then is it time for marriage or whatever the girl wants to do.

Even one child marriage and drop out from school is one too many. You can help prevent child marriage in Bangladesh and enable girls to get an education. By donating to the Eväät Elämään campaign, you support Fida’s long-term work in Bangladesh.

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