Maruf's teacher used to berate him for being poor at memorising. There were days when the 10-year-old would kick up a fuss because he refused to go to school.
One morning, his father beat Maruf. He ended up fleeing his home in Sylhet and boarded a Dhaka-bound train.
Like hundreds of street children in the city, he was a rough sleeper in Kamlapur rail station area when he was rescued by an NGO called LEEDO (Local Education and Economic Development Organization). Maruf was brought to their transitional shelter located at Babubazar.
"I like staying here, it is not hot and I can watch cartoons," says Maruf while pointing at the TV hanging on a bright red and yellow wall mimicking a sunset. He looks relaxed in a clean t-shirt and neatly combed hair.
"The shelter's name is "Shetu Bandhan", because it bridges two worlds where, in one, street children sleep hungry and in the other world there is plenty of food, water and warmth," says Murshida Akhter Kanta, administrative director of LEEDO.
The place accommodates 10-12 children, all of whom are provided with clothes and meals as soon as they come here. The rescued children live in the shelter for up to six weeks, after which they are referred to other shelters or LEEDO's peace home in Basila.
There is one large hall room where the children sit around and sleep. Mattresses are gathered in one corner of the room for sleeping at night. The pillars and the surrounding walls are decorated with the childrens' palm prints of various colors. Whoever has placed a foot here, has left their mark.
Md Abu Nahid looks younger than his age, his deep-set eyes in a narrow face holds a history of begging and starvation. "I do not remember my parents or how I came to Dhaka. I got lost when I was a baby. I used to call this woman "maa", but she too got lost" he said half-heartedly.
Kanta says, "When we can not reconcile the children with their families, which is our primary focus, we bring them to Shetu Bandhan. Some of them are also transferred to our LEEDO peace home."
Every day 2-3 children like Maruf and Nahid are brought to the shelter. They are mostly rescued from Kamlapur Railway Station and Shadarghat area.
A place for safekeeping
"I do not want to contact my parents. They will try to marry me off again!" Shapna Akhter Sheuly coughs up her words in one breath. The teenager was playing hide and seek from her parents until she landed in LEEDO's shelter in Basila of Mohammadpur.
Now a student of HSC second year, the cheerful 16-year-old dreams of becoming a doctor. She was also one of the team members of the children's cricket team who went to London to participate at the Street Child World Cup in April of this year.
She says, "Everybody is finally noticing us because we went to London. Nobody talked to us when we were living in the streets."
11-year-old Rubel's love for cricket took him all the way to London. "It was so cold in London! Every time we had a match, either it snowed or rained! But we went to the semifinals and beat West Indies," he proudly declares.
A topper in his class and an all-rounder in cricket, Rubel wants to become a scientist. Looking at his eager smile and perfectly pronounced English, it is hard to believe that two years ago he was rough sleeping in Kamlapur.
Most of the children at LEEDO's peace home are studying in schools and colleges. The boys and girls have their separate rooms, along with classrooms and a dining space. Adjacent to the home is a playground constructed completely out of bamboos.
In the last four years, LEEDO has rescued over 2000 street children. 800 were successfully reunited with their families.
LEEDO's Executive Director Forhad Hossain's motto in life is simple - look after those who are less fortunate. "I look after these children because I think it is my duty as a human being. If not us, then who would ensure a good life for them?"
As a happy ending to the day, Maruf was reunited with his family in Sylhet soon after this article was prepared.