The birth of a new baby brings joy and excitement in a family. And in our culture, sometimes hijras (colloquial term for hermaphrodite and transgender people in Bangladesh) visit the new parents, and dance and sing to celebrate the newborn. In return, they are given some money.
When Lamea Tanjin Tanha was born, these transgender community members also visited her house. But one of them, Mala Hijra from Jessore, was surprised by the warm behaviour they received from the family members.
So much so that she opened up to Tanha's mother about her life, how she was abandoned by her family and forced into begging and prostitution, simply because of her sexuality.
The story was etched deep in Tanha's mind and years later, as a young woman, she created "TransEnd", a youth led non-profit organisation working on empowering the transgender community through education, training, entrepreneurship and employment.
With the help of its volunteers who are based in Dhaka and other parts of the country, the organisation tries to teach life skills such as basic computer and English language skills to the members of the transgender community so that they can take up mainstream jobs.
Areas of concentration
The TransEnd team of 70 people work in seven different departments: Education and Curriculum, Editorial, Partnership, Outreach, Communication, Legal, Marketing, and Health and Hygiene.
"While growing up, I used to see them being treated differently, and poorly. I would ponder the reasons behind this attitude. My parents taught me to be kind to others, they told me we had to treat people nicely no matter how different they are," said Tanha, CEO and founder of TransEnd.
Before she created TransEnd, she would carry out small, personal surveys by herself. She would talk to transgender people all over the city, sometimes for hours to really understand their struggle and pain.
Gradually she came to understand that not receiving proper education and not having proper employment opportunities barred them from having a better life.
"Dropout rate is really high among transgender people, they cannot get educated at regular schools even if they want to. But they do not want to be involved in sex work or begging, they want to change their situation. Many of them are interested in makeup or fashion, so we also try to teach them these skills so that they can open a beauty salon or work as dress designers," said Tanha.
About TransEnd's work, she explained, "Transphobia, intersex – these words are unknown to many of us. Some transgender people may have feminine attributes, some may not. We try to teach others about these things as well,"
Tanha is currently a student of Dhaka University. From a young age, she started to think how she could help these left behind people in a sustainable way.
She did not simply want to give money or food, she wanted to make sure they would be able to do something on their own after receiving some form of training.
"There are lakhs of transgender people in our country, we should give them education and jobs and include all of them in our economy"
Tanha got selected as Sir Fazle Hasan Abed Ashoka Young Changemaker 2020 for founding this organisation. TransEnd is also a winner of YY Goshti Incubation Programme.
Challenges and the Pandemic effect
One of the challenges that Tanha and her team faces is creating interesting training modules. If the information is presented blandly, the trainees would not feel any interest in knowing them.
This is why TransEnd tries to use things like stop motion animation in their videos and writes their content in easy, comprehensible language.
TransEnd regularly keeps in touch with transgender community members over the phone and oversees their progress. In case of emergencies, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, they raise funds and reach out to others for help.
The beginning of the pandemic was a tough time for the transgender community as they could not earn or receive reliefs.
But Tanha tried to help as much as possible, with her own money as well as some funds they raised. "From April, calls began to pour in that many of them were starving without any food or money. We raised some funds and from April to June 2020, we provided 15 days' worth of food and hygiene items to more than 1,000 transgender people across Bangladesh."
Tanha and the volunteers at TransEnd try to learn as much as they can about the transgender community so that they understand how to properly communicate with them and provide help and support.
TransEnd have transgender rights activists like Joya Sikder and Tasnuva Anan Shishir as their mentors.
While speaking to The Business Standard, both expressed their happiness in TransEnd's work and wished the organisation the best for its future.
Joya Sikder said, "I have been with TransEnd from its beginning and I applaud Tanha and her team for doing so many things for the transgender community. I support them wholeheartedly. During the pandemic, Tanha and the volunteers did a great job of helping the transgender people."
She added, "People in our society do not know about the transgender community's plight, we are ignored all the time. But TransEnd tries to learn from us and then let others know which is wonderful. They create job opportunities, provide medical treatment and do many other good things for transgender people."
Tasnuva Anan Shishir said, "Tanha is serious and sincere which are rarely qualities in people these days. TransEnd works hard to empower the transgender community. Nowadays people's words do not usually match their actions, but Tanha's do, and I really appreciate her for it."
Few years ago, as part of information collection, Tanha spoke to a transgender person in Suhrawardy Uddyan. Her voice quivered with emotions as she shared the story with us.
"She was quite feminine as a young child. Her siblings and neighbours would constantly taunt her mother with questions about her. When she was around 11 years old, her brother asked her to strictly wear boy's clothing. But she left the house and joined the Hijra community."
"One day, while returning from a wedding ceremony, law enforcement agents stopped her and after some interrogation, she was raped. Trans-people also get sexually molested and abused; most of us do not understand this."
"After listening to her story, I thought to myself, here I am , a privileged girl in the society but here was another human being my age suffering so much for being transgender. She showed me bruises on her arms from where her brother had hit her because she went to see her mother. Maa ke dekhte gesilam tai bhai marse (As I went to see my mother, my brother beat me), she told me."
This is the story of many members of the Hijra community in our country and TransEnd wants to put an end to all the mistreatments and abuses. "There are many transgender people around us, afraid to show themselves and so they remain closeted. We will keep trying to help them," Tanha concluded.