Anita Sen was born in Manikganj District of Bangladesh in 1972 to a Hindu family with strong ties to Calcutta. Her parents were young when they married. Her father was 20 and her mother was just 16. Anita was the oldest of three siblings and lived a carefree life until her father passed away when she was six.
Finding herself alone at 23 with three small children to care for, Anita’s mother moved back home to live with her mother (Anita’s Dadi), two brothers, and their families.
Growing up as the eldest in her Dadi’s home with nine other children, Anita would help out around the house and quickly became a favourite amongst the adults. She adapted well to all the changes around her so Anita’s mother decided to place her in the care of her Dadi full-time to focus on her two younger children.
Born in a time where school was not an option, Dadi was illiterate, knowing only how to write her name like someone drawing a picture, but she understood the value of education and was very supportive and proud of Anita who grew to become a driven, intelligent, and beautiful young lady.
Anita, in turn, loved her Dadi dearly. They slept together every night for years. In her Dadi, Anita found the affection and consistent presence she needed to navigate the world with strength, courage, and a sunny disposition.
In 1993, at the tender age of 22, Anita moved away from home to start a new life.
As the eldest, she faced great pressure to get a job to support her family and was thankful to find work with Save The Children US in Nasirnagar Upazila, Brahmanbaria District, a full day’s journey away from home by train and bus. It was a very exciting time for her family.
Not only was Anita the first person to work for an NGO, she was also the first to ever work outside of Manikganj District.
Anita really enjoyed her work and her colleagues, but she missed home terribly. During the day, she would do field work, speak with community leaders, and plan activities for her project, but at night she would cry herself to sleep missing home and especially missing Dadi. Dadi also felt the loss and would cry as she dictated letters to be sent to Anita.
Time passed quickly and before long, Anita had worked in Brahmanbaria for 15 years. During that time, she met and fell in love with a man whom she married. They had a son together named Aneek born on 3rd September 2000.
Anita raised Aneek as a full-time working mother in her office-cum-residence with colleagues who adored him. Everything he wanted in life, Anita did her best to provide. She loved him the way Dadi loved her.
Aneek was a fearless young boy. He was bright, intelligent, and got along well with others. Like most other young boys, he loved to eat fast food, play games, ride his bike, and explore. Whenever she could, Anita would take him on trips to Calcutta to visit extended family and to Cox’s Bazar to play on the beach. As Aneek grew, he also began composing music and writing songs on his guitar. Most of all, Aneek loved his mother deeply because she loved him.
Unfortunately, Aneek’s father also expected Anita to provide for him the same way she provided for their son. Throughout their nine year marriage, Aneek’s father never worked. Anita carried the weight of being the sole breadwinner for her home while continuing to support her family in Manikganj.
After careful thought (because of the risk and stigma it would bring her), Anita proposed a separation. In 2010, Anita took Aneek and moved to work with Save The Children Australia in Daulatdia village in Rajbari District, Bangladesh, the largest brothel in Bangladesh on an Early Childhood Care and Development programme. Aneek’s father was very upset by the separation and till this day, is still trying reconcile. Anita continues to stand firm in her decision to wash herself clean of him.
Being more traditional and conservative, Anita’s family also disapproved of her decision and cut off ties with her. Anita became a single parent in a new city, with a new job, but she was free.
In 2011, all the Save The Children country programmes merged into Save The Children International and Anita moved to Rangamati District of the Chittagong Division to work on a Multi-Lingual Education programme. Finding that the government schools available would not match and nurture the intelligence of her growing son, Anita made the difficult decision to separate her heart from herself and sent Aneek to Calcutta where he would get a better education. Whenever she can, she makes trips to Calcutta to see him.
Today Anita lives in a small rented apartment on the second floor of a building in the Umey Burmese Market, Cox’s Bazar. She works for the Education programme in the Rohingya Refugee response spending most days in the camps securing land to build Learning Centres, so refugee children can have hope for the future and opportunities to grow.
If you ever get a chance to meet her, you’ll recognize her by her warm smile and kind eyes.