Ten autistic children and adolescents are now living in the shelter named Angels’ Garden, located near Circuit House More in Chapainawabganj town. They spend their days happily in the safe haven.

One of the founders of the shelter, physician Anwar Zahid, told Prothom Alo that the children living there used to spend their times glumly in a corner of the house. Now they fill the place with their voices, dance and sing or draw together and get a chance to roam outdoor in groups.

Basically Angels’ Garden has been established for those who face a crisis in accommodation, food and treatment. Some children and adolescents don’t have those problems, but have no one to look after them. They are given shelter here too, added the co-founder.

Deputy director of Chapainawabganj district social services department Umme Kulsum is aware of Angels’ garden’s activities. She told Prothom Alo Angels’ Garden is the only organisation there providing shelter to autistic children.

She said the founders are involved in various types of social work. The institute has applied for registration at the social services department and will get it soon.

A day at Angels’ Garden

A visit to the shelter around 11am on 1 March, nine autistic children and adolescents were seen sitting around while five-year-old Tuktuki was crawling around the dining room floor.

She was smiling happily, expressing her excitement in unintelligible sounds. Her mother Shyamoli tried to pick her up, but she didn’t want to be carried. Finally her mother had to give in.

Supervisor of the shelter Fatema Begum (65) said, “The girl, Tuktuki, keeps the whole house vibrant, roaming around like this. You can clearly see her joy.”

Fatema Begum then played songs. The children Rifat, Shobuj and Emon were quick to show off their dance moves in sync with the music. They kept going while Britto, Rafia and Khadija had an idea of singing a song themselves.

Fatema said, “Some of the children find it most amusing to dance whole day long, playing music on the sound box. We also try keeping them entertained.”

Tuktuki’s mother Shyamoli said she moved to the shelter three months ago as she couldn’t bear to watch Tuktuki being neglected. Although she’s not divorced, her husband doesn’t provide for her anymore. She also has a son of about 10.

She has taken shelter there, leaving him with his grandmother. Both she and her daughter are being taken care of while she looks after the other children as well. And, she has been promised a salary for that.

There are two children who have shelter at home but with no one to look after them. They are now sheltered at Angels’ Garden. One of those two is Nisha. About 15 years ago, a childless couple from Chapainawabganj town adopted her.

They later found out she has special needs. By then, the couple had already formed a bond with her. The girl is speechless and required assistance from her mother in everything.

When her mother died recently, her father retired college teacher Naimul Haque fell in a terrible crisis regarding his daughter. When he learnt of Angels’ Garden, he brought his daughter there.

In his own words, the same girl didn’t like leaving home before, but now often goes out with everyone from the shelter. She seems happy.

He told Prothom Alo, “Angels’ Garden has appeared as a blessing for my daughter. And, I can’t describe it in words the way it has helped me out. I’m infinitely grateful towards its founders and I wish to stand by them.”

How Angel’s Garden was started

After sending that disabled girl from the train home, Aminul Islam contacted the local Union Parishad chairman about establishing a shelter. At his proposal, the chairman agreed to allocate a plot from the Union Parishad. But, later they declined for unknown reasons.

Then he went to Anwar Zahid, a physician from Chapainawabganj city. He also has an autistic daughter. He too wants to build a shelter for these helpless and unsheltered children. Then, Zahirul Islam joined these two.

With the help of some other well-wishers, these three built Angel’s Garden together on the four-room ground floor of Anwar Zahid's own building.

Angel's Garden began with finding and sheltering the girl Aminul met on the train. Eight of the ten children currently living at the shelter are from poor families.

Anwar Zahid said they are working towards the goal of relocating Angel’s Garden to a permanent address with its own building on a spacious plot of land.

While they have the ability to arrange the land plot, they require assistance and donations from affluent people to construct the building, he added.

Aminul Islam is the librarian of Krishnagobindpur Degree College in Chapainawabganj Sadar Upazila.

Apart from helping poor elderly people with cataract surgery, he has been helping people with disabilities in different ways for many years.

Prothom Alo had published a special report on him titled 'Poropokari Porombondh'.

Anwar Zahid is involved with running a private hospital named Sheba Clinic in the city. He’s associated with the establishment of Mohanonda Probeen Nibash, an old age home come orphanage that shelters blind Quran scholars also.

Jahirul Islam is there with them since the very beginning. He’s a retired pharmacist of the family planning department.

He’s involved in various humanitarian activities like taking care of people living at old age homes and staying with poor patients at the Sadar Hospital.  

There is an executive committee of 11 members, but these three are the main driving force of Angel’s Garden. Anwar Zahid presides over the committee while Aminul Islam is the general secretary.

Anwar Zahid said that three people have been employed to look after the children. It cost Tk 50,000 monthly to operate the shelter including the food expenses. It’s running with financial support from them and their friends.

Wishing success to Angel’s Garden, deputy commissioner of Chapainawabganj AKM Galib Khan told Prothom Alo, the society lacks people to work for children with special needs. And, the job is daunting. Anwar Zahid and his associates have chosen that difficult task indeed.