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Survivor champion

September 19, 2023

By Devi Ghosh, Guest contributor

I am Devi Ghosh,[1] a married mother-of-two young girls, and university student. I currently work as a social worker for Karmojibi Kalyan Shanstha (KKS), a non-governmental organisation funded by the Freedom Fund since 2022 that provides safe homes and community support to sex workers and their children in Daulatdia, one of Bangladesh’s largest brothel communities.

My journey began in Daulatdia, in the same community I now support.

I was born into a brothel community—a neglected and excluded group often shunned by mainstream society. Life was not easy. We faced discrimination from others, who often avoided us and put us down. When we went to school, other children kept their distance, not wanting to sit with us. We were treated as if we were worthless.

Fortunately, when I was young, my mother met with social workers from KKS. They believed that if a girl like me was given the chance, then I could move forward and reach my full potential, a life away from the brothel. KKS provided a safe home, supporting me and other girls who were in similar circumstances.

In the beginning, it was very difficult for us to adjust to the rules and regulations of KKS, as we were  undisciplined, not used to structure, and were not interested in studying. But their support never wavered, and they helped us adapt to the structured environment of the safe home

Often, when a girl reached puberty, her mother would attempt to take her back to the brothel, but KKS arranged counselling support for both us girls and our mothers, showing us an alternative to this life course. They also arranged meetings between us and previous graduates of the program, who helped us cope with our situation by sharing their lessons and life experiences with us.

Over time, we were able to develop skills and build confidence. I began winning elocution prizes at district-level competitions, proving that I could stand on an equal footing with my peers. Today, many of the girls are working for local and international organisations.

In July 2023, the Freedom Fund invited me to share my life journey as a “Survivor Champion” at a prestigious workshop attended by government officials from Bangladesh and the United States, including US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya. This was a new experience for me – I had never shared my life journey in public before. But KKS and Freedom Fund made sure that I was able to share my story on my terms and that my identity would be protected. I was excited but also nervous, facing so many accomplished people, including many foreigners. However, I wanted everyone to know how my life changed thanks to KKS, and that many other lives can be changed as well.

Delivering the speech, I became very emotional. I felt empowered by the opportunity to share the stories of girls, like me, with people who have the power to  influence and change so many lives worldwide. It’s important for them to know our challenges, and also our strengths, so that we can work together to end discrimination and stigma against those of us born into brothel communities.

I still remember the sound of everyone’s clapping at the end of my speech. And I was honoured and encouraged when Under Secretary Zeya spoke to me personally, saying that whenever she feels low, she will think of my story and find strength.

I had never heard the term “Survivor champion”, but having publicly shared my experience, I now realise the amount of power and strength the term conveys.

[1] Name changed to protect identity

Written by
The Freedom Fund