GMB Akash is a photojournalist who has chronicled the lives of many ordinary people in Bangladesh and brought their extraordinary stories to light for thousands to see. But his picture of a father who desperately dreamed of a better life for his daughters touched a deeper chord in the hearts of people and turned a simple Facebook post into a viral symbol of tenacity and sacrifice.
Idris is a day wage laborer who earns his living by cleaning garbage off the streets of his city. He had lived all his life oppressed by his own poverty and wanted nothing more than to see his children rise above the despair that shadowed his existence.
“I never wanted anyone to look down upon them like the way everyone did to me.”
In the post that’s been liked nearly half a million times, Idris tells Akash that he never wanted his children to find out what he did for a living. He would wash the stench of refuse away in a public bathroom before going home at night. When his youngest child asked him what he did, he only told her that he was a laborer. He didn’t want his children to feel humiliated by his profession.
“I wanted them to stand in front of people with dignity.”
Then, after years of struggling and saving every penny to send his three girls to school, Idris finally reached a day when his luck ran out. Street cleaners were hired on a daily basis, and sometimes, Idris wouldn’t get any work. That day, he frantically begged for a job so he could have enough money to cover his daughter’s college admission fees. But nothing turned up, and he sat by the piles of garbage, feeling defeated.
“I never wanted them to feel ashamed because of me,” said Idris. “Respect is all I wanted them to earn for me.”
Idris was convinced that he had failed his children then. After suffering through a lifetime of poverty and the scorn of society, all he wanted was to have his children earn respect in life that he wasn’t able to. But at that moment, hopelessness held him in its grip, and he couldn’t see any way out of this dilemma.
“[I] was trying hard to hide my tears,” the dedicated father said. “I had no idea how to face my daughter.”
But when the day’s work was over, his colleagues began to gather around him. They all knew his story and understood why he was so distraught. One by one, they all handed him their day’s wage. Before he could protest, they told him that they were willing to starve for a day so that “our daughter” could go to college.
When Idris went home that night, he didn’t wash away the smell of garbage first. He walked into his house and confessed his true profession to his daughters. Their reaction was nothing like he expected.
At the time of the interview, several years have passed since that day. His eldest daughter is about to complete her University degree and is already working at a job part-time. His younger daughters work as tutors to earn enough money to keep their father from having to work anymore.
Idris proudly recounts the day when his eldest took him back to his workplace and fed all his colleagues with her hard earned money. She did this often, and when they asked her why, she reminded them that they had starved one day for her sake and helped her achieve her dreams. Now, she wants to do well in life, so she can feed them every day in the future.
Idris doesn’t feel poor anymore. He asks Akash, “How can anyone with children like these be poor?”
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