My name is Saif* and I am 16 years old. These days things are going really badly. When I was a child, I used to study at school. But my parents got in trouble due to my studies. My parents used to pick me up from school. One day my father came to pick me up but as we were crossing the road, we got hit by a private car. My father pushed me, and I fell. My hands and legs broke, and my father’s hip bone was fractured. They had to operate on me and my father. It required a lot of money and we got into a large amount of debt, and then I couldn’t study because of the loans.
The car driver ran away. Many people tried to stop him, but they couldn’t. When I went to the hospital, the doctor told me to go to this place and that place, ‘we need your signature’, this and that, go here and there, give money to this person and to that person. Then after coming home, I had to be kept in bandages and was bedridden for over a year and a half. My situation got even worse because I was sitting idle in that house and our debt was increasing. It just wouldn’t stop. We’ve taken out at least Tk. five to six lakh ($4,500 to $5,400 USD) in loans since I had the operation. Tk. Three lakh ($2,700 USD) was used to pay for the operation I needed because my bones were broken. Then there was more expenditure – they bought medicine, they brought fruits and other things to feed me.
The loan was provided by one of my uncles (with interest). We are paying the interest and the initial amount. We are giving Tk. 5,000 ($45 USD) for the initial amount loaned, and the interest is also Tk. 5,000. We survived because he gave us this money. We had some land and property, but we sold it and gave it to my uncles. We still have around 400 square feet of land – enough for me and my brother to build a house on to live there together. I had many problems, which is why I sold the land and repaid my uncle and repaid what we owed to my sisters. We have had some disputes with our uncles and now they don’t talk to us. They say, you didn’t give us the interest, you didn’t give us this and that. But I gave them the interest, the initial amount and everything. Still, they said it was too little. We gave them weekly payments of Tk. 10,000 or 15,000 ($90-135 USD) for the interest. And Tk. 20,000 or 25,000 ($180 to 230 USD) to pay off the initial loan.
My mother worked in someone else’s house, and sometimes we ate and sometimes we didn’t. My brother worked without eating anything. We worked and saved all the money to repay the loans. I have two brothers and two sisters. One of my sisters got married recently, and the other one married some time ago. My elder sister helped us a lot when she first got married, as did our younger sister. She worked in a garment factory and earned a salary of Tk. 15,000 ($135 USD). She would bring Tk. 10,000 ($90 USD) to the house. Then with the remaining Tk. 5,000 ($45 USD), she would spend Tk. 2,000 ($18 USD) and would give me the other Tk. 3,000 ($27 USD). If my sister hadn’t been there, we would have been in danger. My brothers helped as well – there was no other way out. My brothers and my other sister also work in the garment factory. I have been working as a mechanic and repaying some [of the debt] and using some earnings to eat.
My four siblings worked and managed things with a great amount of difficulty. My mother worked in someone’s house and brought money for groceries. With great difficulty, she also paid the rent that was in arrears (seven to eight months’ rent). The house rent is about Tk. 2000 ($18). Then my brother took an advance payment from the factory where he does cutting. We struggled a lot to survive and faced many issues due to scarcity. One brother works in China making hand gloves. Everybody gives money to the family. My sisters got married and eat separately from us. Everyone is working to repay the loan slowly. It is not fully repaid yet. My uncle will still get Tk. 20,000 to 30,000 ($180 to $270 USD). We owed money to many people which is why we sold the land and house to repay the money. Three or four people are supposed to be repaid. They pressurized me a lot. They would say, if you don’t repay our money, we will file a case, go to the court… What would we do then?
We couldn’t tolerate it anymore, so we sold everything (the land and property) to them and repaid their money. My elder uncle aggressively ran at my father to beat him and slapped him too. We got hurt when we couldn’t pay the money. My father recovered a bit, and then we went to our hometown because our uncles put pressure on us to go there. They said, if you don’t come fast, we will file a case and go to court, so we went. We convinced our father to sell the property to repay the loan. We said to him, sell it, we can buy it again in the future and it will mean we won’t fall at the feet of anyone. He sold it eventually.
We were in great difficulty back then. At that time, if we ate one meal, we couldn’t eat the next meal. We survived on bread and bananas. We struggled a lot after my father got sick. My mother used to bring food from her workplace and cook for us. We ate at night but kept some for later. We slept with hunger and worked with hunger. But by the mercy of Allah, now I am not in pain. I don’t have any worries now. My brother gets a salary, I have been working as a mechanic and my parents sit idle. I left my studies due to scarcity in the family and I won’t be able to continue studying because of this. I think to myself, if I work, I can’t study, so I should just work. Life gets better if I work. I don’t see any other way out. I got the job myself: I contacted the mechanic and told him everything. He asked me to work and said it would be better for me. I have worked for Tk. 200 to 300 (less than $3 USD), which was the attendance money. Our family used that money to live on. I used to give it all to my mother.
Before the accident, things were generally okay. But even then, it wasn’t that good – we were still in trouble. I couldn’t pay the school fees and I couldn’t give this and that. My parents sent me to study, but my student life was full of difficulty. I studied till class five. I used to get beaten up by my teacher. I still went to school. I used to stay with my friends some days and after that, there were many problems at school. They told me not to come to school anymore. I would still go to school, but they would keep me locked up in a room. I liked going to school and wanted to study, so I no longer went to play with my friends. They would say to me, ‘don’t go to school, you will get ahead of us!’. But if I got ahead of them, it would be better for me, I could do something with my future to be able to eat. But they wouldn’t let me go to school and would run away with my bag and books and things. We fought a lot. Complaints were made to the teacher who then took care of them. In the end, my teacher told me to study in another school because I couldn’t study in the same place where they were. They would annoy me all the time. The reason was that, when I worked as a mechanic as a child (when I was eight or nine years old), the owner gave me about Tk. 10,000 ($90 USD) but I didn’t share it with my friends. That is why they were after me, because they worked with me too. They got money from the owner, but the owner gave me some extra money to make me happy. They were after me for two to three years. They wouldn’t let me go to school; they would throw away my books.
My father couldn’t work when he was sick. Currently, he pulls a wheelbarrow two to three days a week. He gets Tk. 200-250 (less than $3 USD) and the family manages with that money. My mother works in people’s homes but she left due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so me and my brother are managing the family. I don’t have any work now, but if I get any mechanical work, I will go. I stay at home but I’m breaking the bricks outside for the landlord and he gives me money – Tk. 30 ($0.30 cents USD) per sack. For mechanical work, I get Tk. 250 to 300 ($1.80 to $2.70 USD). I dig up cement and sand. They give Tk. 500 – 600 ($4.50 – $5.40) to the elders. They put the cement sack on those who are older, but I can carry the cement sack to the second floor. Still, they pay me less. I feel bad. I want to speak out, but I don’t have the courage and if I did, they wouldn’t keep me in work. So, that is why I can’t speak – I tell them, whatever they give, fine, I will keep working. I have to support my family somehow.
When I went to work, they didn’t want to take me. They said, you’re not old enough. But I forcefully started working – I said to them, look at my work and if you like it, you can take me, otherwise, I will leave. Then I started working. I picked bricks for the walls, then carried them to the second floor and broke them. The owner doesn’t touch me, but they do scold me. By the mercy of Allah, it is going well now. I am managing despite great difficulty.
My brother pays the rent and fees, we have a little debt, and we are repaying that. The situation is a bit better now, it is better than before. I eat two times a day now (we don’t eat in the morning). I can’t bring any food of my choice. We think to ourselves, we will have our time. We will eat and everyone else will regret it. Sometimes, I want to eat something, but I can’t. They make so many things I feel like eating. The way they arrange events, we can’t do that. It was difficult to get [my sisters] married. We arranged their marriage. One of their husbands said he won’t take any dowry from us. He used to do household work in the village, and we arranged for our elder sister to marry him. Then I arranged my younger sister’s marriage to someone local in Dhaka. Her husband is better. We took a loan of Tk. 30,000 ($270 USD). He said to repay him slowly and I paid it off by giving it back little by little. There were many expenses (Tk. 20,000 to 30,000). We sold the cow for our sister’s marriage; there was no other way.
I moved to Dhaka from my village. I came because of the pressure from taking loans, we were living in scarcity. We don’t have a house or land, but we are staying in a refugee shelter now. We stay on government land in a tin house. We had taken loans out in the village, and then again in Dhaka. We had some loans in the village because my father used to play around. It was because of that. My father didn’t take drugs, he used to sit in the gambling place which is why we have those loans. A lot of money was loaned. I didn’t know that, only my father and my elder brother knew. They came every month to take it from us. I told them, my parents are sick and that once my father recovers, we will work properly and will give it to them. They agreed to that. Every day, two to three people would call, and they would come to our house as well. I was living in a slum area at that time.
My relatives were in Dhaka: my paternal aunt and my younger uncles. I wouldn’t have been able to come to Dhaka without their help. I have five uncles and they helped me a lot. They gave us money so we could manage the family and come to Dhaka. I have been in this sand field for five or six years. In the future, I will repay everyone’s loans and become self-sufficient. I will build my own house. Then I will take my parents back home. I won’t stay here. If I could get a job in a garment factory it would be better for me. I hope to operate a machine. I don’t know tailoring work, but I can operate the machine a bit. I did some shoe work in between school. I did some leatherwork as well. I fixed the side of the shoes at home. I took that work from the factory to my home. But now, I am a mechanic. I don’t have any other wishes (for my life). But if I could bring shoe work home, I could do that sitting at home. I could work all day long.
*All names have been changed