Dhaka (AsiaNews) - "Don't cry when you go away. I'm fine here. I'm happy," said ten-year-old Sima. Although her body still bears the marks of the acid that was thrown at her when she was ten months old, she is the one reassuring her mother. In January, a new chapter in her life began; it is called Snehonir or 'House of caring', a hostel for children, some of whom are physically disabled, orphans or from poor families. Sister Dipika, from the local congregation of Shanti Rani (Immaculate Heart of Mary), runs the place. She takes care of the children, teaching them about the value of being and sharing with others.
Sima came to the hostel with her friend Aisha, who was also the victim of an acid attack, albeit a less serious one. She appears to have well adjusted to her new surroundings, two months after arriving. Both play, jump and have fun with other kids. Sima sings well and is a good learner. Seila is very vivacious and likes to play tricks on others. "The two are a force of nature," Sr Dipika said.
Sima's singing is like a prayer from a misshaped mouth. Her Calvary began when she was 10 months old. Her father threw acid on her because he wanted a boy. She only survived because of the quick intervention of the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF)
Ten years and many operations later, Silma's face is not very expressive. Framed by rebellious hair, one of its eyes now opens. She can move it but cannot see with it. Her nose was reconstructed, but it is small. Only one of her ears is intact. Her mouth can open but it is uneven. Her skin is paper-thin and prone to inflammations. She will have to undergo operations all the time. This is true now that she is still a child because her skin is not developing proportionately to her skeleton. However, it will also be true in the future, when she is an adult, because her skin will never be adequately elastic or properly nourished. Yet, in Snehonir her ravaged and apparently inexpressive body does not make her different. Sima runs, plays, skips, laughs and studies like all the other children; he especially does all of this with them.
Most of the kids are Christian, but there are three Hindu kids. Two girls are Muslim: Sima and Aisha. Originally, the hostel was part of the local Shanti Rani convent.
Some years ago, one of the nuns, Sister Gertrude, took in a couple of orphans, one of whom had physical problems, but they went well together. This led her to image a place where able-bodied children could live side by side with disabled kids. The mother superior of the convent agreed to the construction of a small hostel, which became today's Snehonir thanks to contributions from a local donor.
Nicknamed Dolly because she has the face of a doll despite her 40 years, Sr Dipika, who took over from Sr Gertrude, studied physiotherapy and nursing to care better for the children with disabilities.
Unlike in other hostels where parents come once every two months, Sr Dipika encourages mothers to come any time they want. "Bring them what you want!" she told them. "I'll teach them how to share with others."
Sharing, good cheer and freedom is what Sr Dipika is giving the children every day. In turn, the little ones bring all this to their classroom, beyond the walls of the hostel.
Even Sima is going to school, outside. She is doing so well and fits in so well with her fellow classmates that teachers asked Sr Dipika to send them more children like her. This never happened before.
At a recent picnic, Aisha said she wanted to become Christian. "I like the chants and the prayers," she said. "But we are Muslim," answered an astonished Sima. Looking at them from a distance, Sr Dipika smiles as they go back to play. Snehonir is also this.