Milon Hossain has moved countries and families in the last four years in the hope of building a new life.
At 16, he’s seen a lot more of life than most his age, and displays remarkable maturity and composure.
“I just want to carry on studying,” he confesses.
The Dubai-based charity Maria Cristina Foundation (MCF), which brought Milon from Bangladesh to Dubai, so he could have a chance at good schooling is now working towards finding him a new foster family.
It was his meeting with Maria Conceicao, founder of MCF, in 2005 that proved to be a life-changer for him.
Up until then, he was leading a simple life in Dhaka, doing odd jobs at an electronics shop so he could support his family.
“I was just helping around. Making tea for the workers,” he says matter-of-factly. He’s the third child, and has four brothers and one sister, who continue to live in Dhaka and whom he visits twice a year.
“I never went to school until I met Maria. I didn’t know what education meant until that day,” he recalls.
Once he started, he didn’t want to stop. “I just want to keep learning. It is like living my dream.”
He joined Maria’s pilot school project and was one of five students chosen from 600 to move to Dubai for good schooling.
Milon currently attends Year 11 at Gems Wellington Academy, and like a typical teenager is unsure which subject to pursue.
“I like science… psychology. I have a broad liking and enjoy learning about new concepts.”
And, when he’s not studying, Milon hangs out with his friends, plays tennis and the guitar.
“I don’t know what I want to be, but once I finish my schooling, I want to carry on studying. I want to be able to go back and help my family.”
In fact, he was selected to speak at a reception in his school attended by Bill Clinton, and the former US President was so impressed that he sent him a letter of recognition and appreciation.
His foster mother Caroline Killeen expresses how difficult the move is going to be for her family.
“It’s for Milon I’m the most anxious. We are already thinking of our trip back to Dubai so that we can see Milon.”
Her three children – Patrick (5), Joseph (11) and Carrie (13) – are equally attached to Milon and would take a while before adjusting to a life without him around.
“Joseph is already asking me if I’ve spoken to the Australian embassy so he can come with us.”
She talks about how her boys took to Milon straightaway, while her daughter took some time.
“The boys share quite an impressive relationship. When you see the boys hanging out, you would think Milon was always a part of our family.”
Carrie, she adds, took her time, but she has built a sweet bond with Milon.
“She treats him just like her brothers, and I feel Milon is a lot more understanding than her own brothers.”
Milon moved to the Killeen home when he was 14. “When we first met him, there was a connection. I remember he had such a big smile.”
Looking back, she believes the last three years have been the most enriching and memorable for her and her family. “It wasn’t just the boarding, I felt he needed a mom… stability and guidance.”
Talking about his schooling, Caroline says Milon is hardworking and “gets on with his studies. And, like any kid, there are times when he needs encouragement”.
“Milon’s an extremely independent child and I’m confident he will be able to adapt well. He is very calm, and incredibly insightful.”
She’s hoping they can find him a new foster family, who can provide him a “life experience”.
“His learning is round the clock. I’m hoping they can give him the edge, to inspire him to step out of his comfort zone. To give him some awareness about personal relationships.”
The entire experience has been so rewarding that she wishes more families consider it.
“Even if you aren’t 100 per cent sure, you must come forward. If you sit back and think hard, then life will just go by.”
The foundation, which steps in to provide education to children from the slums of Dhaka, has been fighting poverty since 2005.
“These kids have been under our programme for the last nine years and we have seen how much progress they have achieved.
“We owe a big part of their success to the kindness of the people who’ve been caring for them like their own family,” Maria said.
The foundation assures that host families are provided full support when they take in kids to live with them.
“The most that we ask from the host families is to provide these kids all the nurturing, guidance, love and support as if they are their own kids,” she adds.
Caroline hopes Milon will get to complete his schooling in Dubai and get a chance at landing a fulfilling career.