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The Sharkar Family
Photography by: Khushbu Patel & Greg Pardo
August 17, 2007

While studying sustainable rural development in Bangladesh with other students from St. Mary's University, I had the opportunity to get to know Greg Pardo and Khushbu Patel. Both of them are interns at the Institute of Integrated Rural Development or IIRD.

In rural Bangladesh, IIRD, an NGO working with the poorest of the poor, seeks to provide opportunities that allow the poor to pull themselves out of poverty. IIRD's holistic approach to poverty continues to make a sustainable impact in the lives of rural Bangladeshis.

IIRD specifically targets families that are extremely poor even within their respective communities. IIRD is able to accomplish this through a holistic poverty classification system. This system allows IIRD to classify the poor, as well as provide a roadmap for target families to graduate poverty. To gain a greater understanding of IIRD's work, please visit their website.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed to have friends that are interested in helping the poor and marginalized. This story is a simple example of how friends can come together to make a difference. Here is the compelling story of the Sharkar family told by two IIRD interns with huge hearts, Greg and Khushbu.

-Guy Martorana

While working with IIRD, we came across the Sharkar family. They were a family of seven residing in the Rouha Union in Netrokona, Bangladesh. Here over half of the population subsists in extreme poverty. Both Hindus and Muslims live in the Rouha Union, where they struggle as day laborers and rickshaw pullers in order to provide for their families.

The first member of the Sharkar family whom we met was little Kobita, a seven-year-old girl. At the time, she was taking care of her younger brother Shanto. It is important to note that Shanto is only four years old. We then asked little Kobita where her parents were. Some of the local villagers told us that her parents were visiting the doctor and that they had sent someone to call Kobita's oldest brother Babul. Babul is fourteen years old. While we waited for Babul, Kobita slid opened the door to give us a peek of their single-room thatch home. To our surprise the thatched walls of the home were patched up with old magazine and newspaper pages. Other than a few articles of clothing, which were scattered upon a wooden bed and the dirt floor, the home was barren.

Shortly after our initial encounter with Kobita, a local villager appeared carrying a man who was cradled in the villager's arms. The man in the villager's arms was Mr. Sharkar. He was the father and the head of this large family. The villager placed Mr. Sharkar on the floor in front of us. He seemed as if he weighed no more than 35 pounds and could barely lift his head to acknowledge us.

When we finally greeted Mr. Sharkar, he whispered in a raspy voice, with great difficulty "I'm sick. We have very little. We just need a little help."

Life had not always been this way for Mr. Sharkar. He used to work as a rickshaw puller spending his days transporting villagers throughout Netrokona. Back then, he could work with dignity earning a living wage and providing for a growing family. Unfortunately, two months ago Mr. Sharkar was forced to stop pulling his rickshaw due to the growth of a tumor on the right side of his throat. His older son, Babul, had to take over his father's job of pulling a rented rickshaw. Babul pulls this rented rickshaw three days out of the week earning a mere 97 cents per day minus what he owes the rickshaw owner. Now the family relies on Babul to bring enough income to provide for the seven member family.

After we met Mr. Sharkar, his wife Mrs. Rita Rani arrived along with the rest of the Shorkar family: Babul, Noyon (a ten year old boy), and Purnima (a one year old girl). Through speaking with Mrs. Rita Rani, we became saddened to learn that the entire family had not been able to eat proper meals, resulting from the lack of income. She is so malnourished that she cannot even lactate to breastfeed Purnima. Malnourishment is the overriding reason why Babul can only work three days out the week. He simply lacks the energy and proper nutritional diet to pull the rickshaw. She further told us that Noyon also contributed to the family by fishing at the local pond, but seldom is successful.

Mrs. Rita Rani went on to tell us that the entire family has devoted a substantial amount of time to Mr. Sharkar; including Kobita, who withdrew from school in order to help take care of her two younger siblings.

A few days after meeting the Shorkar family, we took Mr. Sharkar to the hospital for emergency treatment. Sadly, he passed away three hours after being admitted to the hospital. We, along with Mrs. Rita Rani, Mr. Sharkar's brother, and some villagers, returned Mr. Shorkar's body back to his home. The pain of witnessing this family react to the loss of a husband and a father was almost unbearable.

The Sharkar family falls under IIRD's classification of "extreme hardcore poor". They lack proper economic assets such as a vegetable garden, livestock, or a rickshaw. In addition, they live under deplorable housing conditions, lack access to a proper education, and are experiencing malnutrition.

Through our friends at Rosa Loves and IIRD, we are now planning to aid the Sharkars. We plan to purchase a rickshaw for Babul, repairing and extending their current house, and providing Mrs. Rita Rani with a livestock-rearing program. In addition, the community will receive a Child Development Center to help educate first and second grade students. This will include Kobita and Shanto, as well as Purnima once she is of age.

We hope that through these initiatives the Sharkar family will experience economic and social opportunities that will allow them to choose a better life. We pray that this will fulfill Mrs. Rita Rani's wish that her family could gain the security needed to live in peace.  Heart

The Sharkar Family
Update on the Sharkar Family
September 29, 2008
Our good friend and field worker, Guy Martorana, has recently visited the Sharkar family and has provided an update. Read on ...
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Check out this video on refugees in Bangladesh, which paints a picture of what life is like for the Sharkars. Read on ...
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2 New Shirts!
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