Impoverished Bangladeshi women offer up their suffering

Faith in God has given meaning to a life of intolerable hardship.

Mala Rozario, a visually impaired Catholic woman, has struggled her whole life so as to help herself and three daughters survive. ( photo)

Mala Rozario's life has been an endless saga of poverty and suffering, until now.

Born to a Catholic family at Mothurapur parish in northern Bangladesh's Pabna district in 1975, she suffered from polio aged three, and an illness that also left her blind. Her family was poor and so her parents gave her away to the Children's Home in Dhaka run by Missionaries of Charity congregation.

She grew up at the children's home, studied at a school for the visually impaired and was married aged 19. She hoped her life would be better after marriage but she was wrong.

Her husband pretended to be a Christian before the wedding but she was upset when she found out that he lied and, in fact, followed Islam.

"It seems he was interested in marrying me only because the nuns gave me an allowance at the time. He never loved me," said Mala.

In the fourth year of their marriage, the man left Mala to fend for herself. She already had two daughters and was seven-months pregnant with a third. No relative came to support the young, single mother, even when she starved for days. But she was determined to strive on.

"I cannot see so I cannot work but I wanted to help my daughters live with dignity. I sought help from priests, nuns and voluntary church groups and helped them get an education," she said.

Today, Mala's eldest daughter studies at a university, the younger one is in college and the youngest goes to high school. For years she lived in various slums with her daughters but now they live in a one-room apartment thanks to income from her two daughters who work as private tutors.

Aid for Catholics from Catholics

At Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tejgaon, central Dhaka, on April 11, Mala held the hand of her youngest daughter, Anita Elen Rozario, and lined up to receive "Easter Aid" from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The charity collected donations from wealthy Catholics during Lent and Holy Week to be distributed to 40 poor Christian families. Twice a month, the unit offers daily essentials such as rice, lentils, and cooking oil.

"Three times a year, before Christmas, Easter and the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, we offer them special aid," said Bernard Gomes, president of the charity's local unit.

"We encourage people to become self-reliant if they are able. We bought sewing machines for three women and gave money to another to start making prayer beads to sell. They are self-dependent now and don't come to us for help anymore," he said.

Mala received 700 taka (US$9) in cash and daily essentials including rice, oil and molasses worth 300 taka (US$4) from the charity for her Easter.

Mala told that she has deep faith in God and she offers her life and suffering to Jesus Christ.

"I thank God because I am still alive and was able to help my daughters grow up. During Lent I fasted and went to the church regularly. Jesus was innocent but he suffered the worst for love of humanity. I endured hardships but didn't give up faith in God," she said.

"Easter is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and it's also a time for me to celebrate my life of struggles and suffering," Mala said.

Nationwide problem

Mala's story is common in Bangladesh, an impoverished, overpopulated South Asian nation of 160 million where many people live on less than US$2 each day. There are still about 48 million people living below the poverty line of whom 27 million are classified as extremely poor, according to the World Food Program.

In Dhaka, some 40 percent of an estimated 15 million people are extremely poor like Mala and live in slums unable to fulfill their basic needs.

Another poor woman, Shanti Agnes Rozario split with her husband 30 years ago over his unfaithfulness.

"He had an affair with another woman and he didn't want to have children with me. He used to abuse me physically and mentally. I was pregnant and he forced me to have abortion," said Shanti, a Catholic from Doripara Catholic parish in Gazipur district, near Dhaka.

After the split, her family refused to accept her so she had to work as a housemaid for various Christian families in Dhaka. Shanti does not have a permanent home and she lives with the family she currently works for.

A few years ago, Caritas set up a small house for her to live in. "I don't go to my ancestral home for holidays as my brothers don't behave well with me," Shanti said.

Instead, Shanti will open her home to others.

"I will invite poor people like me to my home and celebrate Easter with them. My relatives have abandoned me but these people are now my relatives because they realize my pain," she added.

Source: UCAN

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