Newcomers to the city often end up living in slums

Children playing outside the family home (Photo: SOS Archives)

SOS Children's Village Sylhet is based in Dayamir, about 23 km from the centre of the city of Sylhet in north-eastern Bangladesh. It is known for its beautiful surroundings which include terraced tea gardens and tropical forests. The economy of the city is highly dependent on remittances sent home from Bangladeshis living abroad, mostly in the United Kingdom.

The people who live near the SOS Children's Village earn their living as day labourers or as domestic workers. Many live in slum areas where there is a lack of basic infrastructure such as clean drinking water, sewage systems or electricity. Many households face severe social and economic problems – not only can they not afford to feed their children, provide them with shelter and clothing or send them to school, but furthermore the children are forced to go to work in order to contribute to the family income. Children are found working in very harmful environments and often suffer physical and psychological problems which will accompany them for the rest of their lives.

Children in need of a loving home and families in need of support

When the War of Liberation ended in 1971 many children were left without parental care. SOS Children's Villages approached the responsible ministry, who welcomed the proposal to support families in need and to provide loving homes to children who had lost parental care. A recent SOS Children's Villages study on the situation of children found that the number of children without parental care, and those at risk of losing it, was increasing in Sylhet and its surrounding areas. In a city where around 43 per cent of people cannot read or write, making sure that children are able to attend and stay in education is one of our top priorities. 

What we do in Sylhet

We think running around and playing together is an important part of children´s evelopment (Photo: SOS Archives)

SOS Children's Villages works closely with the local population. In order to support vulnerable families in the neighbourhood, we offer family strengthening programmes which give vulnerable children and their families access to education, health care, a balanced diet, as well as training and tools for income-generating activities. These efforts aim to make families self-sufficient and therefore allow them to care for their children in their own homes and communities. Most of the families we reach are living in extreme poverty, are victims of natural calamities, or are widowed or divorced women who have to raise their children alone. 

When children can no longer stay with their families they can find a loving home with one of the fourteen SOS families. The children grow up alongside their brothers and sisters, attending the nearby school and making friends with children from the neighbourhood. The high illiteracy rate in the area has prompted us to run literacy training programmes for people from the surrounding communities.