9 year old Meem wakes up early in the morning in her hometown Dhaka, Bangladesh to prepare for her work day. Part of her preparation is mental because she knows she is going to be working on the floor for 12 hours in the unbearable humid heat. She makes herself and her younger siblings breakfast after she has gotten dressed. Meem doesn’t own many things so her glittery hair clips she is allowed to buy are precious to her and she keeps them safe in a small draw. She chooses her favourite one and clips it into her hair which makes her smile.
Once she is ready, Meem sets off on her 4km walk to her clothing production job. As Meem walks to work, she imagines what her day would look like if she was still at school learning and playing with her friends. She recalls the day her father told her she won’t be going back to school because she needs to provide for her family. Since the first month Meem started working at the factory, every single pay check has been going straight to her father. Her happiest moments occur when she is allowed to buy a new hair clip or the occasional ice cream with her earned money that her dad gives her every so often.
Meem starts to feel immensely sad as she reminisces her school days and old friends. She soon makes herself snap out of it because she knows pity will not do her any good and she has many friends who are in the exact same position as her.
Her shift starts at 9am but she likes to get to work earlier to get a head start on the day and avoid getting yelled at by her manager for being behind on work. Today Meem is training a new employee who will be cutting threads with her. The factory does not have enough table and chairs so Meem and her co-workers must work on the floor working cross legged. The 9 year old girl starts off her day by training the new employee who immediately starts struggling with working on the floor and complains that her back hurts. Meem feels sympathetic for her but she knows she can’t lie to her and tell her it gets easier because she knows it doesn’t.
Meem’s back is always aching and her fingers are tough and constantly sore. Her shift is the same as every other day; 9am-9pm, a 12 hour shift with an hour lunch break, 6 days a week, for approximately a dollar a day. One of the three fans is broken today and this is the only way the factory is cooled. The room starts to get stuffier and Meem can feel her forehead getting hot and her hands getting clammy. This causes her to work slower and consequently gets screamed at by her manager to work faster. A few hours in to her gruelling shift, Meem feels the urge to use the bathroom but holds it in because she is only allowed to use the bathroom once a shift. She holds on for one more hour and once she can’t hold on any longer, she goes to walk down the rat infested corridor to the hole in the wall bathroom.
Her shift is the same as every other day; 9am-9pm, a 12 hour shift with an hour lunch break, 6 days a week, for approximately a dollar a day.
Meem returns and sits back down on the floor and starts daydreaming about the day she gets promoted to working on a sewing machine which she can sit by at a table and on a chair. This has become the 9 year old’s dream and new goal. As she daydreams about working from the comfortable looking chairs, Meem notices her trainee not doing a very good job on cutting the threads off the collars and sleeve’s from the shirts. She knows that her new friend will get in trouble if she hands in this work so she starts taking all her shirts from her so she doesn’t get abused. Meem’s work has now doubled but she keeps the smile on her face so the new employee doesn’t feel anxious at her first day at work. She continues to act as if she is not tired, hungry or sore and carries on with her work.
By 9pm the young girl is absolutely exhausted and is dreading her long walk home. As she is packing up to go and stretching out her sore muscles, a nimble looking girl compliments Meem on her glittery hair clip and tells her she never gets to spend the money she earns on pretty things. Without thinking, Meem hands her, her favourite clip and tells her to keep it safe and that it gives good luck to anyone who wear it.
On her walk home, the girl mourns her favourite clip but knows she will be able to buy herself a new one soon enough, unlike the girl she just gave it to. She is already dreading tomorrow’s day of work but she shakes the feeling off because she knows she needs to save up enough money for her family, so she doesn’t have to be married off to a stranger. When she gets home, everyone in her family is sound asleep and a small bowl of rice has been left in the kitchen for her. She eats it quickly, brushes her teeth and hops into bed. Meem falls to sleep right away after her enormous hot day and wakes up the next morning and repeats the exact same routine.
This story was based on a real girl in Dhaka who trained an undercover Canadian reporter in the sweatshop. This is only one girl’s story but is a reality for over a million children in Bangladesh. You can read more about Neem’s story here.