Bilkis Banu's foster home now houses 75 orphans | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 15, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, February 15, 2019

Bilkis Banu's foster home now houses 75 orphans

Orphan Pritilata Khatun is in her teens now and last year she passed SSC exams. 

A resident of Golap Kha Shishu Shadan in Nageshwari upazila town of Kurigram, her mentally challenged mother disappeared after handing her over to the Sadan's cofounder Bilkis Banu.

Thanks to the initiative of Bilkis, two other residents of the foster home passed SSC (Secondary School Certificate) last year and got admission at different colleges.

Bilkis, now 45, is known as “maa” (mother) to the children of the foster home that she built on one acre of land near Nageshwari Degree College.

Her husband Rabiul Islam retired from the college as a professor of economics. He is a director of the Sadan.

The Sadan currently has 75 residents, including 27 girls, and seven staff members.

Aside from the foster home, Bilkis has set up a school named Golap Kha Primary and Secondary School. The school now has 317 non-resident students and twenty students.

Recalling how she started it all, Bilkis said, "In the late 90s, I used to look after five orphans in my house located not far from the present Shishu Sadan. I also did some social work like giving free tuition in Bangla and social science to poor children in my neighbourhood."

"On a winter day in 1999, on the 27th of Ramadan, a mentally challenged woman named Jharna came to my house with a baby girl," said Bilkis, recalling how Jharna had given birth to the child one and a half years earlier on the porch of a shop in Nageshwari Bazar.

"She could hardly take care of her daughter. She never cleaned her or gave bath to her. The baby used to sleep with her mother almost everywhere, even with the dogs sometimes," Bilkis said.

"One day I asked Jharna for the child and she gave her to me. I named her Pritilata."

The night Bilkis took Pritilata into her arms, she had a vision in her dreams. She saw none other than Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic missionary who dedicated her entire life for the poorest of the poor, especially orphans and abandoned children.

"After that, my husband and I decided to build an orphanage named Golap Kha Shishu Sadan after my father-in-law on his land, inherited by my husband," she said, adding that the orphanage was shifted to its current location on June 26, 2009.

In addition to formal education, the children of the orphanage are given religious and moral lessons. They also take part in physical exercise and perform in cultural events held within the walled compound of the orphanage. The students of high school are also given training on ICT.

A charming and healthy atmosphere prevails inside the orphanage compound which includes a playground, a garden, a prayer house, a rest house, separate sleeping quarters for boys and girls, a dining room and classrooms.

In 2013, Bilkis moved to the orphanage with her husband, university going son and school going daughter. The family lives with the girls in their quarters.

The orphanage is primarily funded by income from Pritilata Super Market owned by Bilkis and her husband located beside Bhurungamari-Kurigram road in Nageshwari town.

Rent from a girls' hostel near Nageshwari Degree College and other income from the family's land property are also used to run the Sadan. Local donors sometimes extend a helping hand too.

Bilkis said she has nothing much to ask for herself. "When the children call me maa, I feel proud... I think I have nothing else to ask for in my life. Now I don't have a personal life; my personal life is the Shishu Sadan."

She said she has plans to construct a new orphanage complex on 2.25 acres of family land where orphans from all over the country can find their home.

"I will make sure it has all the facilities needed. To ensure that the children get fresh, unadulterated food, I will start poultry, fish and dairy farming and also grow fruits and vegetables," said the loving mother.

"I will do everything needed to fulfil the wishes of the children in whatever fields they choose to study... My aim is to bring up the children as good human beings," added Bilkis, who herself could study only up to HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate).

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