Today we visited a children’s day center, Light of Faith that cares for the children of the Bihari people. They came eager to learn, sing songs, and play games. These children are the new generation of Biharis who fathers are often rickshaw drivers and barbers. They live in a slum that was once a refugee camp.
The Bahari people are Muslims who speak Urdu and who originated in the Bihar region within India. The Indian sub-continent was partitioned in 1947 into Pakistan, India, and East Pakistan. The Hindus were to live in India and the Muslims were to live in Pakistan or East Pakistan. The Bahari people were educated elite until after the War of Independence in 1971. During the war, they backed their Pakistani brothers. Many of them fought in the war or were assumed to have fought. After Bangladesh became an independent nation, the Red Cross created 66 refugee camps for them. These camps have deteriorated over the years to become slums. Many Bahari were repatriated into Pakistan, but thousands got stuck in Bangladesh awaiting their turn.
We walked through the Geneva Camp today. It is the largest former refugee camp left in Bangladesh. Each family occupies a 6×6 square foot room. As a family grows, they build upwards, and so it is a concrete structure with many winding alleyways that has new floors added all the time. When you look from afar, you can see the various heights of parts of the building. It lacks sanitation and clean water, which causes many health problems. There are too few public toilets for the amount of people that live in Geneva Camp. It is unsafe for girls to go to the bathroom by themselves at night. Looking into many of the houses, you will find young men embroidering clothing for the brand, Basic Edition which is a brand that Sears and Kmart sell. Geneva Camp has become a breeding ground for poverty and hopelessness.
But, at Light of Faith, the children come to the day center and are given a good meal, take showers, and are loved on by the national Bangla Christians that run it. Many of the children do not attend school, and so their time at Light of Faith is important. When they are not there, they are out on the streets, getting into fights, and stealing things.
As we laughed, sang and danced, I was reminded of how joy in life does not come with possessions. These people face many struggles, but the children who attend Light of Faith learn about something and someone that is greater and stronger than those struggles. They have many Goliath’s in their lives, but just as David was able to overcome the giant with the Lord’s mighty power, I pray that these children are able to do the same.