Laila lives in the largest refugee camp in the world – Kutupalong. Her Rohingya parents fled Myanmar in the influx of 1992. Laila, who is now 18, lost her father when she was four years old. Her mother did not have the means to support her two children, and unable to feed them properly, she sent the two sisters to live with relatives. After a difficult three years, the sisters started work as domestic servants in the homes of Bangladeshis.
What is your earliest memory of work?
At my first job, when I was only 7, I remember being made to grind hot dried chillies. Within ten minutes, my hands were burning. And then somehow I got some of the powdered chilli by the side of eye. It just got worse and worse. I got into a real state. I laugh now thinking about it but at the time I didn’t know what I was doing and I got scolded for being so useless. I am still scared of grinding chilli. Haha.
How were you treated in these households where your worked?
I wasn’t treated well. In one household, when the entire family went out somewhere, they would lock me up in the toilet. At another place, during winter time, they did not give me a warm quilt. I persuaded my uncle to take me out of another household. They would make me wash clothes all day long. It was exhausting and I was badly treated too. None of the households I worked in paid me properly. Some did not pay me at all.
Why do you still do household work for others?
I have no choice. I have to feed myself. I work for food. My husband used to be able to do day labour work. However he got involved in a scam. Every penny we saved up over four years, some 50,000 Bangladeshi taka (approx £475 or $590 USD), was taken from him. And he was so badly beaten that he still can’t do any lifting work. We get rations. We sell some of it and we use what we need. But you can’t live on that stuff.
Do you like your sewing machine?
I have wanted a sewing machine for a long time. I learnt how to use it a few years ago. Getting my first dress sold was so nice. And the internet buyer sent a very nice message to us. I could not believe it. This machine will help me a lot. When I go to bed at night, I often look at it. And really, I can’t believe that I own one. It makes me happy.
I don’t want my child to go through what I did. I don’t know what the future holds for us. I keep trust in God.
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