Wednesday, January 30, 2008
TDP has its own school for 150 children and sponsorises 491 others to attend local schools. Maria found out that the level of education was really different so she decided to bring back the sponsored kids in TDP school. Then, pushing the reflexion further, she decided to give up the 100% bangladeshi curriculum for an international one. Firoz, our Education expert, has decided that we will follow the Cambrige curriculum adapted to Bangladesh.
But none of the children are on the same level. So, as the official scholar year is starting from July, they have decided to dedicate the 5 coming months to put all the children of what Firoz calls an Education Fast Track. It means that each child will be evaluated and pushed collectivaly and invividually if necessary in order to be ready for July.
This Education world is totally new for me and I realise how it can be an extremely powerful weapon against poverty. Here, families are begging us to take their children as they know it's the only path to escape from their misery. Yesterday for example, we had a father coming to the school with his daughter. He said she wanted to go to school but as she is working in a garment factory (she is 13 years old), he wanted us to compensate the income of the family. It seems that the mother has some blood pressure problems and the father, selling vegetables on the market, cannot sustain alone the family. We told the father we wanted to meet the mother to check her health with our doctor in order to give her a treatment. Then she would be able to work from home with a sewing machine replacing the daughter's income. Let's see what will happen!
This example Showcases quite well what we believe in. We could have told the father that we will pay the family in order to have the daughter in school but we don't believe in this way. We want to teach them how to manage their own life, make their own money and that's the principal task I have decided to dedicate myself.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Then I recieved a call from a gentleman who wanted to handover his donation. I told him to meet me in a cafe as I thought he would be happy to discuss the project. The cafe was closing down and he told me he was in front of it. I came out and a car was waiting. We recognized each other and he told me he was in a rush so he just gave me the cheque. I begged him to tell me who he was as we wanted to say thank you but he literally told me:
"No Flo, I want to stay anonymous. Ok, you have my name but I don't want publicity. That's my way of doing it and that's it."
Then he left. When I read the amount, I could not believe it. 100 000 Dirhams! No typing mistake, one hundred thousand Dirhams. My god! It's amazing....
Even if we don't give your name, thank you mister anonymous from the bottom of our heart. Also thank you to Ali from 7 days as it's through one of your article that this Dhaka angel found us. Also thank you Tim and all the donators. Because of you the project is moving forward but also we meet incredible people who teach us the pure and real sense of giving!
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Our family, The McMillan’s, are privileged to have met Maria Conceicao to learn about the Dhaka Project. These talks developed into an interest in providing any help that we could to contribute to her work.
Besides helping to write proposals, provide medical advice and raise awareness about the project among our friends and colleagues, we visited The Dhaka Project at the end of November 2007.
We have 3 children between the ages of 11 and 15, all of whom were very excited and a little anxious about visiting Dhaka. Like most expatriate children living in Dubai, they weren’t sure what to expect while in Dhaka. Maria’s encouraging words and palpable love for the people in the Dhaka Project led us to believe that helping out with the Dhaka Project would be a wonderful opportunity to give and to learn.
Prior to our arrival in Dhaka we packed about 400 kg of school supplies and clothes for the families in Gawair, a small community in Dhaka. Once at the airport, Maria was able to add an additional 100 kg. So we arrived in Dhaka with a total of 500 kg and 25 bags and boxes ! Despite our concerns, moving through customs was no problem; possibly due to the fact that there were many officials traveling through the airport to assist those affected by the cyclone that had recently hit the more southern parts of Bangladesh. Upon leaving the airport, The Dhaka Project Staff welcomed us and loaded our parcels into vans, just as our own family might do! What a relief to have had their help. Once at the guest house, our children (and us adults too) were exhausted and slept! As mentioned in previous accounts, the guest house was very comfortable with internet up and running!
Over the course of 6 days Ron helped with teaching the Project Medic and updating him on more recent approaches to medical assessment. They went to purchase medical equipment and in particular, an otoscope that the medic could use to examine ears and throats to look for infection. Ron also began to discuss with Maria the changes that would be needed in the new building that, at that time, she had hoped to house a medical clinic along with the school on the upper floors. As you know, these plans have since changed and the building will be entirely a school!
I worked primarily with the nursery and school staff teaching about health and safety, hygiene, and infection control. Our girls worked and mostly played with the children in the nursery, preschool and school. Much fun and learning was had by all!
The Dhaka Project is a wonderful example of a community development project that addresses aspects of life that contribute to the health and wellness of this community. When developed in an impoverished community such as Gawair and the slums of Dhaka, education, clean water/sanitation, hygiene and safety, employment, supportive community environment and housing all serve to improve the health and quality of life of the community there. The activities of the Dhaka Project can serve as a model for development in similar areas of the world. It is through Maria’s advocacy that these things are possible!
Besides the beautiful people here, I would say the one thing that I notice most is how Maria treats the children and their families with kindness and respect, without preference. She's very strict, very fair and very kind. Truly this has been a most wonderful experience and privilege. It's a blessing really. We are so grateful to the people of Gawair, the project staff and to Maria for her generous time in teaching us the meaning of giving.
Bye for now and we hope to return soon!
Ron’s Story M.D. F.R.C.P.(C)
From a medical perspective, in terms of the children, the families and the population that the project is trying to reach, there is an urgent need for high quality medical care. This would require establishing a medical center within the Dhaka Project to serve this population. There would be a need for significant funding for medical supplies, equipment and provisions made for staff recruitment, education and training. There presently exists a basic first aid station within the primary school staffed by a dedicated Medic who provides, in addition to first aid, some primary care including immunizations. We inspected a 3 story building that could possibly house such a medical center. However this building may be required for the school and then the nursery would be suitable for a larger expanded medical facility.
On a personal note, I was impressed with the Dhaka Project overall and the commitment and dedication of Maria and the staff to the children as well as the training programs for the parents. It was a great experience for all of us. The children exude happiness and are in a very nurturing environment for health and education. I would love to return and assist as needed!
Catharine’s Story (Age 15)
It is very easy for one to find out the current events of the world. Occurrences such as war, poverty, and natural disaster can be read, watched, and heard. They are they incredibly easy to access; one look at the daily newspaper proves this. I commend those who are able to report these articles to the public, however feel as though while sharing these stories, they neglect the most important part: The people involved. Newscasters can easily read out statistics, but to really know the people involved in such events we must get to know them. We must find out how alike we really are and how our global neighbors live their lives. This was the fuel behind my November trip to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations in the world. Its location and under-development have caused its people to experience serious hardships. Some of these include natural disaster as well as poor quality of life. When I traveled to Bangladesh in November, it was for the soul purpose of helping and teaching but also enjoying and learning from the people who lived there. I have never in my life done something like that; however doing such a thing always seemed natural. My family and I traveled to Bangladesh in order to volunteer with a growing charity called the “Dhaka Project”. The project began when Maria Conceicao visited Dhaka, Bangladesh for the first time. She was surprised by the poverty in the slum areas, and since then has been seeking ways in which to end it. She begins by bringing these former slum dwellers into stable housing, and then providing them with schools, training centers, housing developments, and other amenities. Her practical approach is leading the way and creating self-sustainable families and communities.
With Maria’s encouragement, 500 kilos of donated goods, and unimaginable excitement we set off for what would become one of the most memorable adventures that my family and I would ever embark upon. The Dhaka team met us at the airport as soon as we arrived, and were helpful and compassionate ever onward. They helped us throughout our entire stay, as well as seeing that all of Maria’s goals were reached to perfection. We stayed in Dhaka for 5-6 days, and for those days we focused simple teaching, community development, work and play with kids, and also office stuff. It was an exciting and worthwhile trip that I will remember forever.
The world of Dhaka was different, but during my stay there I learned more about our similarities than anything else. People are people, we are all incredibly the same and therefore need to defend and protect one another. Its our job as human beings, as members of a common family. Poverty can be conquered. This rings true in Dhaka, and can therefore ring true in the world. If we all make an effort to make poverty history, our joined effort can accomplish more than imaginable. If we can make small steps toward this goal, then they will eventually measure miles in the race against poverty. Giving back to the world in this way was amazing. I learned so much and am excited for my next mission.
Elizabeth’s Story (age 13)
The world of Dhaka was definitely a different world than the one I live in. I had a grat time contributing to this project, and seeing the way poor people in the world live. Being with all the kids was one of my favourite parts of going the the Dhaka Project. They are smiley, smart, fun, beautiful kids, who need love from everyone, and all have dreams for themselves. Those kids and their open arms made my trip that much better. I really enjoyed helping maria plan activities for the kids, such as “Let’s Clean Bangladesh Day”, hygienic sessions, movies, and dance parties. I loved making their lives a tiny bit better, making friends that I will never forget.
Claire’s Story (age 11)
Well when we got off the plane and went into the airport, it was very different. Much more different than the Dubai airport! Then after we went through customs we went outside and some people drove us home. Their names were Jewel, Rusell, Nayan and Mr. Azar. They were very friendly and the driving was CRAZY! Then we got to the place that we were staying at and my family and I all had a nice nap. The next day we went to see the kids in the nursery! All of them were so loving! And during our time at Dhaka we went to different schools to see and play with the children but also to just see the schools. Dhaka was a very special and different experience. I felt good being there because I was helping the kids and I was helping to build up their community to make it a better place. I learned that kids can be so happy with the smallest things. They were so eager to learn and happy to be able to go to school. I would love to visit again.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
"Just had an idea. Don't know how much of the school construction is over, but if it still at the brick building stage, might be inspiring, for all the hundreds of children who are part of these first years of TDP to each write their names on a brick. It doesn't matter if it is plastered over but one day you will be able to tell them, they wrote their names in the history of the Dhaka Project. And their own future.
When I met Mariam, the young Uni student I wrote you about, it was after 8 years, she was still in school when I met her for the first and only time before this. And the first thing she tells me is that when I spoke to her 8 years ago I inspired her about what she wanted to do with her studies and life. I don't remember but she did. Children remember things that make them feel inspired, they take responsibility for their lives.
A friend told me how years ago when a friend and his 10 year old son were visiting, it was raining in London all day so she took them for a ballet movie. 8 years later that boy returned to London, stayed with her as he studied ballet and he told her that years ago when he visited with his dad, a woman took them for a ballet movie and that's when he knew what he wanted to do in life. That's when he found out he was back in the same house with the same person who took him for that life-altering movie."
Please share with us your ideas. We need you!
Monday, January 21, 2008
opportunity and would like to share it with you.
On 12th Jan I visited The Dhaka Project headed by Ms.Maria Conceicao, a cabin crew of the Emirates Airlines. The project is located in Gawair near the Zia International Airport, Dhaka. I was very impressed with
whole arrangement. The project mainly deals with educating slum children in hope to provide them with a better future. I was very impressed with young, eager slum children who spoke to me confidently and even answered some of my queries in English. This initiative taken by The Dhaka Project will hopefully help change the lives of young children in the slums from one of despair and poverty to a better and secure future.
At the moment the project works with about 700 children of various age groups starting from pre-school to high school level. The children are provided with education and vocational trainings. The different schools of the project offers after school activities like music, different types of games etc.
This ambitious yet noble initiative which involves providing food, medication, education & shelter requires continuous funding & support from all corners. I invite you all to visit their website www.thedhakaproject.org and extend your help and support to this project. Support in form of cash, food, clothing, footwear, medication,
cleaning products, study materials, office supplies, volunteers and anything that you might think of is welcome. You will find Maria’s contact details at the website, if you want I would gladly coordinate your kind support to the project.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Dubai has been running and running those last week in order to be ready for the Marathon that took place last friday. We will give you some feedback and input of the runners who dedicated their efforts for the Dhaka Project.
Maria sent from Dhaka, where she was running another kind of Marathon (having the new school ready by the 1st of Feb) ;-) best wishes and encouragement from the kids.
And we have decided that next year, we will have students and staff ready to run in Dhaka at least the 10 kms, in parallel to the Dubai Marathon!
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
One purpose of TDP is to create for the children, a database with all their information.
That's why a blood collection has been organised for all the children and the TDP Staff.
It has been organized by the Dhaka Dental College Sandhani unit through the TDP active supporter Doctor Musa in relation with the fantastic organisation DROP OF BLOOD DROP OF LIFE.
Part of their purpose is to collect, donate and organize blood grouping programs. They also distribute free medication for poor people.
The 12 doctors and dental students have been working really hard all day collecting the blood of 657 children and all the staff members.
A BIG THANK YOU TO ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN INVOLDED IN THIS CAMPAIGN
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Just to give you an idea of what we are purchasing now as school and students supplies.
(it is just a small part of it)
- 800 chairs
- 50 blackboards
- all the books and stationaries for 1 year curriculum for 750 kids
- 3000 uniforms
- 800 sweaters
- 1600 pair of socks
- 800 pairs of shoes
- 800 sport outfits
2 ways for donations right now as we are still waiting for the paper works for our registration in Dubai through the Humanitarian City.
You can call Florence in Dubai +971 50 4517 440 who will collect your donations in cash. In exchange she will give you a receipt. Or you can transfer directly some money to Bangladesh following the instructions.
I remind you that 100 Dirhams make a big difference in Dhaka. Just to give you an idea, 100 Dirhams = 1800 Taka which is the average of one month salary...
Any of us can help, we can, you can.
THANK YOU FOR THEM !
EK Foundation has been supporting us since couple of months now and we have to say that what is happening in TDP regarding the new school is because of them.
The cost of "renovation" or set up of the building is 170 000 Dirhams without any equipment and not even thinking of providing all the supplies needed by the kids.
The school is opening in couple of days and we wanted to say thank you also to Delta Partners Group as their donation is going to contribute for a big part to purchase the school and children equipment.
Also a big thank you to Trish Murphy and her donation ;-) which went directly to the school expenses.
THANK YOU !
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Of course, first thing I do is go and check on the site. Progress is good and I have a look on the roof level (which is flat and ready to be built on). We have thought about building some more structure on the roof to make a canteen with the best views in Gawair!! Progress is being made, so I am happy. The rest of the morning I have been in the office, assisting with admin, writing documents and letters. I also sat down with Masud and made him a flow chart of how purchasing, receiving and stores work, giving him and overview of what to expect when he gets to the Sheraton. At lunch I went to check on the site and was happy to meet Onay there, it seems he believes, just like me, that as long as we keep on top of the work team and keep checking, there will be no slacking!! We discussed the idea of putting a structure on the roof and he thinks it will be no problem. Luckily he had a spare architects drawing of the building on him, which he gave me. Back at the office I sat with Firoz and Maria, looking at the architects drawing and working out how many children we can fit in each class room and all the supplies and equipment we will need to fit out the school (from chairs to printers and computers to UPS/IPS and generators). We have put together a list for Maria and Masud to take to Sheraton tomorrow when they go for a meeting with Trevor and discuss a training schedule for Masud. We have many problems with suppliers here, few will deliver goods, most try to over charge us and are unreliable. So having training and getting assistance from the purchasing department in Sheraton who can also point us in the right direction for good suppliers will be a huge boost to the project.
Must dash now as I have to finish off the last of my chores, say good bye to pupils and staff at the project, pack and head to the airport…until the next time!!
Friday, January 11, 2008
First thing to do on a Friday is visit the site and check the progress, thankfully they are working and not sleeping!! Today we have a meeting with Trevor, the GM of the Sheraton Hotel, whom I met on my last visit. He has been a great source of support to both Maria and the project for a long time now. At 10.30 we head over to the Sheraton and met Trevor, who was charming and relaxed as always. Visiting him in the Sheraton feels a world away from the project as we sat by the pool and had pizza and ice cream. Trevor is a star and has always offered assistance to the project, today we asked his assistance in training a purchasing manager to international standards. Thank fully he agreed to talk to his finance manager and ask him if he would assist us. I was hoping for a weeks training for Masud, our new purchasing manager, but Trevor thought a week in each discipline (purchasing, stores and receiving) would be about right…and of course he had no complaints from us!! Thank you Trevor.
On returning to the project I headed straight to the site to check on the progress…and there has been progress, the walls are growing higher, rooms are taking shape, but most importantly, electricity is on the site! The electrician had borrowed some power from a neighbour and was installing temporary lights and powerpoints!!!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
When I was here in December we started new advanced school project, so I went over to the site to see the progess. It seemed to be going slow. The delay had been finding a good contractor who would do the work without ripping us off. Here they see foreigners and think the project is made of money, so they charge extra high rates, it doesn’t occur to them that we run this on a shoe string and do it to help their country! Thankfully a reasonably priced contractor had been found and work had started 2 days prior to my arrival. After conversations with the site foreman I got up to speed on the general brick work, electrics, windows and plumbing. After meeting Murad, another local Dhaka Project supporter, we managed to get 10 extra men on site and a late shift, so work continues until 1am in a frantic dash to get the school ready for the new school year which is now days away!
Maria is exhausted today. She has been here for 10 days already and I know the challenges of working in an environment like this can really wear you down. She is short staffed as it is, even though she has interviewed about 100 people in the last week, it is a real challenge to find quality staff. A lot of qualified people don’t want to work in this area and/or don’t want to work with the poor, their parents have sacrificed a lot for them to get a good education and so there is huge family pressure to work for prestigious large organizations and not small projects working with the poor – which isn’t so glamorous. Sometimes we even employ people, but they don’t last for a day or two due to family pressure. So Maria has been fighting against the clock, working understaffed and with loyal, but under qualified staff, to get the new school ready for the new school year because she has to return to Dubai to her job, which is the platform for everything that has been achieved here.
The main work of today was being on site, making sure the work is progressing in the new school. In order for them to work late shift, they need lights… unfortunately it takes weeks to get the electricity connected here in Dhaka, thou Maria went to the electricity authority and apparently they will do it in 5 days…we wait in hope! So, we went to the school and borrowed twenty rechargeable lights from the children so that workers could continue after dark. The children normally use these lamps for studying, but as the school year hasn’t yet started they can spare them for us for a few days! Together with Shimul, a teacher at the project school, we went back regularly through the day and early evening to check on the progress and push the foreman to get the fastest work possible out of his team! We also met the architect Onay so now we know who to call if things aren’t up to speed!!!
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
We yelled: Thank You Children of Dubai!!
When I got back to the guesthouse, Maria and Florence were running around being busy and not talking to me about the necessities of the project, I felt brushed aside and a bit useless whilst I also felt that I could contribute in many ways. Late in the afternoon I showed Maria, Firoz and Florence what I have been doing in the north of Thailand in terms of a poverty alleviation project. In that project women create slightly adjusted ethnic products as a secondary income, for which they are paid per finished item. The outcome after a year and a half of hard work is fantastic and the same could be done here.
This opened the doors to Maria and her team and now the road opened for inclusion of my skills in the Project.
One of the issues not yet solved is the sourcing of a supplier for school uniforms. Florence has started the sourcing, but went to shops and suppliers of materials.
As a business owner in the production of toys and decorative items, both commercially in the world of manufacturing in China and in a poverty alleviation project, I have experience that can benefit the project, so I am happy to jump in and offer my help in sourcing the garments for the children. I immediately start up the internet and search for suppliers in Bangladesh, after all a project that serves the community in Bangladesh in general and Dhaka specifically should also provide the commercial transaction within Bangladesh. No good sourcing uniforms from China to save a little donated money when there is a huge garment industry in Bangladesh that is craving for business. By bringing in money to this nation and having as much of the necessities for the Project made locally we benefit growth and prosperity in all possible aspects. So off we go to face this great new challenge. But before I can set off to do so, there is a very rewarding other thing to do on Sunday…
We conclude the day with a nice dinner which brought us back to the guesthouse well after midnight.
Upon getting to the guesthouse we see the truck ready waiting to be loaded with 3000 blankets donated by Emirates Airlines, which will be distributed to the extreme poor of Sripur and Manikhat, two rural villages, a long way outside of Dhaka. Maria intends to go there soon, to enrol families for her Project. Some of the guys of Maria’s staff suggest they’d load the truck with the blankets immediately instead of at 4 AM the next morning. So off they go and I jump in bed for a short night.
Sunday 6 January
Maria calls me at about 6 to get up and drive out on the truck to meet a new, impressive experience.
After a 6 hour drive together with Russell, Firoz’s brother and 2 other guys that work for Maria, we reach the village of Sripur, where we are going to hand out the blankets. A crowd gathers shortly after our arrival and before I know it, we are surrounded by a mass of poverty stricken people.
The struggle of life is very visible in their skinny bodies, their bloodshed eyes and their torn and dirty clothes. My smiles of sympathy are once again answered with the warmest and most welcoming smiles, showing broken and rotten teeth, stained red by the habit of chewing beetle-nut, a habit I first got acquainted with during my volunteering in Papua New Guinea, some 12 years back. I was told than that chewing the beetle nut, packed with a beetle leaf, lime and some other herb, gives a high. I guess that is what one needs when living under these conditions. This struggle to survive yet another day, every single day of their lives is the reality to more than 1 billion people in the world. Just imagine waking up in the morning and facing the same torment that left you feeling weak and exhausted the day before, 365 days a year, without any break.
Not the breath of fresh air, not the crack of yummy smelling, freshly washed white bed-linen, no, nothing like that, instead you wake up in a shed containing 1 room only, which houses your entire family on a wooden or stone “bed” with rugs. Hard as the stone itself, because a mattress is for the rich, the walls are no more than dried mud, or if you’re lucky and relatively wealthy, they might be made of a steel plate. Warmth is only provided by the bodies of the other family members who all share the “bed”.
The crowds gathering are staring at me, what a strange appearance I must be for them.
Here I am, tall blonde woman, dressed Bangla, but by no means comparable to them. Kids start to laugh and giggle, the youngest burst in tears of fright. What a sensation! People just stare at me, some smiling, most just staring. If they’d had a camera, they’d be taking loads of pictures of me. So that’s what it feels like when all those tourists visit your country and stick their cameras up your face to catch your exotic looks! Well, as much as I am now feeling a bit of shame for all the staring and photographing I have been doing all these years, I think it is quite funny. I joke to the guys that every Western woman who needs to boost her ego should come here. No lack of male attention here!!! Hahaha.
Once the crowd has gathered, they are all lined up in categories; women and children first, older men second and the other men last. The village elderly has provided a list of the poorest who are to receive the blankets. These people have been given a piece of paper with their name on it and some form of ‘not to be copied’ marking, which they have to hand over to receive the blanket. It works very efficiently and within 2 hours we have distributed about 2000 blankets here. Time to move on to the next village, Manikhat, for another 1000 blankets.
When we get there, we find a similar scene, a growing crowd of very poor people, eager to receive a blanket to stay warm at night. It may be hard to imagine the necessity, but being here in January, I can tell that a warm winter jacket isn’t a luxury here at night and living in a shed with a night temperature of about 10 degrees makes a shivering night without the comfort of a something as simple as a blanket, a bare basic commodity in our societies of the developed world.
For these people:
Finally, a piece of luxury. Finally a night to be spent in the comfort of warmth.
Just looking at the gratitude in their faces makes your heart stop for a while, thinking about all the things we take for granted every day, spending our consumptive lives without a single thought about what life is like on the other side of the scale.
In sharp contrast to the well organized method of distribution used in Sripur, we find a growing chaos here. 3 Hours after we got there, not even 20% has been distributed. The crowd just keeps growing and the noise becomes so overwhelming that it starts to get a bit threatening. Darkness falls and we are surrounded by shouting people, stretching out their arms to get a gift. Since there are many more people than blankets, it is no option to just hand them out to all those present. The village elderly keeps trying by calling the names of those entitled to a blanket, but the noise is such that no one can hear him. When we find ourselves in total darkness and still not even 30% distributed, we decide to pull out. This is not going to work. A very touch decision, but the only one to be made. This situation proves what the development literature writes, giving out freebees is not the always the best thing to do, as it brings out the greed in all humans, regardless the social status. It is painful to see, especially since you’d want to help all those surrounding you, but incapacitated by number of gifts to hand out we have to pull out, leaving so many empty handed. I need to withdraw and pull out my iPod, find a spot on the truck between the cartons and just sit there staring, trying to give this overwhelming experience a spot in my heart, as my emotions are running a-wire on me.
As we pull out, the people start to jump away and become slightly violent. I am glad we can go, as I have gotten a bit frightened. But what to do now? We still have about 700 blankets left on the truck. Firoz’s brother, Shahalam, and Russell decide we stop at another village on the way to had out the remaining blankets. Shahalam thinks of a great system upon arrival. All the people are to cue up and sit down. Here too, women, children and elderly first as we have only a limited number of blankets to give. All are to remain seated after they get their blanket. Within the hour we are out of blankets and can leave with a feeling of relief. Back towards Sripur for a village meal at Shahalam and Firoz’s mother’s and then onwards back to Uttara, where we arrive at 3 AM. What a day! One that will go down memory lane and will be thought of and spoken about often.
I arrived back in Dhaka, sleepy eyed from the night flight from Dubai. It’s a smooth process now, I know where to go for the visa, how to get through immigration quickly, which carousel the luggage will be on. As you exit the airport there is customs, where non-tourists have to hand in a declaration of any items they are importing. Normally I am traveling with suitcases and get waived through as a tourist or foreigner or both, they are really looking to tax Bangladeshi people bringing back high value and electronic items. However, this time I bought a big bundle (full of shoe box gifts from school kids in Dubai), plastic wrapped, just as the Bangladeshi’s do…so the first customs man let me through, but another one realized that I had far too much luggage for a 4 days stay in Dhaka. I told him it was gifts for kids, he said it wasn’t allowed, I said they have no commercial value and I’m not paying…so then we had a small crowd of customs officers debating the situation in Bangla, with most saying it was for the kids, its fine, but still this one wanted me too pay…luckily I was first through immigration and was in customs when it was quiet, but suddenly there was a few hundred people from 3 flights heading to the customs officials…with their hands full a couple of customs officers told me to go and the one who wanted to charge me tax looked on, wanted to stop me, but had his hands full and so I was free to head into the morning sunshine of Dhaka with all the gifts for the kids and having paid no tax…woo hoo!!
I quickly dropped off my bags, changed and headed out to the project to see what was going on…I arrived at the school to find a big tent put up where the children normally play cricket and badminton…was it a party?? Sadly no…well at least not until later…inside were hundreds of children forming orderly queues. Dr. Musa, a local dentist and great supporter of the Dhaka Project had arranged for volunteers (mostly dental students) and bought all the supplies to be able to do a blood test for every child and employee at the Dhaka project to find out everyones blood group! Here we go again, the children are already more vaccinated than me…and guess what, I have no idea what my blood group is either…so I joined the line!! So now I can tell you, my blood group is A positive!!
Back to the blood tests, myself and two volunteers went off to visit the nursery and pre-school, were the children are too small to come to the big tent for the tests, so we take the tests to them. We were armed with my only ammunition to stop them crying…a big jar of sweets! As it turned out, very few of them actually cried, most were more distracted by my camera than anything else…in fact some of the teachers and catering staff were more scared of the needle than the kids! In the evening, with the big tent still up, the kids put on a little party/farewell send off to another volunteer from Holland called Anouska, so it did get used to a party after all!!
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
I arrived in Dubai at 2am and at home at 3am but impossible to sleep. Happy to find my bed but too many things in my mind avoiding me to fall asleep. I knew that it will be difficult to come back here after this trip and I confirm ;-) I guess the lack of sleep is also one of the reasons I am feeling so down.
I found in Maria a younger sister as we find in each other many similar things. But I can tell you that she has a fire burning inside her that I cannot explain. She is a caterpillar that nothing will stop. Why? Because she knows where she goes and she can see the kids in couple of years, graduating from University.
Maria is far from being perfect (thanks god ;-)) and she knows it. She does not need people telling her what she has to do or criticise the way she is doing things. She needs people around her to support her, understand her and share her joy and her fears, people who do things with her or show her that they also can achieve.
An entire Community has found dignity because of this young lady. The journey is just at the beginning and it's a long one but if you are ready.... welcome on board!
Sunday, January 6, 2008
This photograph is really disturbing me. What is happening in her small brain? When we know that the subconscious will guide part of her life and that she is exactly at the age where she builds it. Her eyes are so expressive, her look is so intense. That's also the life in Dhaka.
Yes what has been accomplished is totally amazing and it comes from 1 woman who has faith and vision. But misery is misery, poverty is poverty and when I see a child like Nilima, it makes me upset. It just reminds me that we need to do more and quickly.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
History begins with the imaginations of human heart, the desire adds fuel to passion. I am not a professional writer, hence the limitation of words is inevitable in my writing. But I know one single thing that I am wording a history which is just knocking at the door and unleash the potential of human capability. I have been always a visionary in my life and insecurity was just a byproduct of my dreams. Of course I have not accompanied a very smooth childhood in my life and youth had not been that easy either. I always had a panic of losing things and this badly caged me with in a box that the society, friends and family. But for the first time this has happened to me that I am not scared of losing anything which has made my imagination an intruder in any possibility, like trying things that a general heart would only fantasize but would not venture to step in. I have to make a confession that it has been purely prompted by the strength of love, pure love with no contamination with undeniable divinity. All of a sudden I have realized my ability to love unconditionally. So I thought I will pen it down which could possibly inspire all crazy hearts to try things which is absolutely unorthodox in nature.
Then we had lunch and how funny to watch their face dring Coke for the first time. They DID NOT like it ;-))) not even french fries or ketchup... Can you imagine a kid in Europe or in Dubai or in America telling you...Beurkkkkk it's not good ;-)))
Followed by the first experience of an Ice Cream! Oh my God we were so scared that they could but sick in the van on our way back. They loved it!
Then we ended our trip on small boats. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries ;-)
Upon arrival in Hong Kong my anxiety started to get a hold of me. What was to be expected in Dhaka? A friend in Hong Kong fed me negative information about Dhaka, leaving me quite anxious by the time my flight left.
Arriving in Dhaka gave me a first fabulous impression. A truly friendly Bangla employee of the airline collected me from customs and helped me clear customs, get my luggage and delivered me to the very warm and loving person Maria, who came to get me from the airport well after midnight.
After a first night at the Skyline Hotel, it was time to meet the Dhaka Project, at last. A moment I had been looking forward to. My expectations were based on my volunteer experience in Nepal. There sources were minimum and the situation in which the children were housed and educated were of a bare minimum standard. Thus I expected to find something similar. At noon Maria took me to the Project. We walked over from the guesthouse through narrow, very well maintained and clean paths with garbage bins on the side of the lane. Maria pointed these out to me and told me the Project had provided the bins and educated the community. Quite a task I bet, but it has a great result. The area looks nice and clean.
When we reached the school, to my great astonishment I was met by a group of nearly 200 children chanting a ‘Welcome Anoesjka’ with the biggest smiles on their faces. My heart melted instantly!
Before I new it children were hugging me, grabbing my hand and giving me the warmest smiles I have seen in my life.
After this great welcome, I was taken through the school and again, I was astound at what I found. A well maintained school building with nice little table/chairs in 6 classrooms downstairs, all in fresh paint. Upstairs my amazement grew as I was shown the learning department for parents of the children in the project, empowering especially the women by teaching them the skills needed to generate income in the garment industry.
So good to see that it is not only the children who are given a solid opportunity for the future, but also their families. On the other side of the building I was shown the training centre for the beautician industry.
Girls here learn the skills of manicure, pedicure and beauty treatments. Another sector that is good for employment on a local basis and provides opportunity for the future tourism industry.
Not only does the project educate, Maria also takes care of the children’s health with an on site doctor, who works from a fully equipped clinic in the school/project building. A stack of vaccine passports for all the children showed the vaccination programme all the children are on, the personal record cards keep track of their health. Next door a fully equipped dentist makes sure that the children’s teeth are kept in good condition.
Having seen the project’s primary education centre, I was now introduced to the staff, which has just been expanded with a highly skilled and educated Bangla volunteer, who is now in charge of changing the school curriculum from Bangla to International standards, allowing the children enrolled an even better chance for the future.
What a fantastic first impression. As if that wasn’t enough, I was overwhelmed by emotions once again upon meeting the pre-school children and the toddlers in the day-care centre. Again a storm of smiles, giggles, hugs and kisses was blown over me, leaving me dazzled with love and respect.
Looking at these kids, the way they are taken care of, the toys surrounding them, the sparkling eyes and clean faces and bodies, it was hard to imagine that I am actually in one of the world’s poorest countries. The children I had worked with in Nepal were covered in sores when I first arrived and were allowed a bath only once a week, wearing their clothes for a full week. Here the kids look nice and clean, well taken care of and in great health.
All this would have been impossible without the work of the Project.
What an achievement! I am in awe, and will be much more so when I learn what it takes to get there….
Friday 3 January
Today is a day off. One of Maria’s staff, Sufiyan, is tasked to take me to see the ‘old city’ of Dhaka today. We drive off to the Sadargot harbour, which is like a bus station on the river. Hundreds of little and big passenger boats move to and from the mourning points or sit and wait for their passengers to arrive.
It is a hectic place where the poverty of the country is very visible. Dirt and garbage everywhere, people in dirty and very simple rags of clothes, life on the streets surrounding the harbour is as can be expected in a country as poor as Bangladesh.
After a day of sightseeing and getting a good impression of the city and its different neighbourhoods, which rank from the slums at the bottom end to a very classy embassy area in Gulshan, with wide lanes, beautiful colonial buildings and lots of nice green trees and gardens. Once you leave this small area of richess though, you are right back in the reality of Dhaka, with its super hectic traffic with its inevitable choking pollution, gazillion rickshaws and tuk-tuks, colourful women with beautiful smiles and men dressed in longis trading and producing all sorts of produce from little shophouses that line the streets.
Once back in the guesthouse, I am beat and ready for a nap. No one is home, so I get to stretch out, do some study work and reflect on the first 2 days in Dhaka. Nothing shocking so far, impressive yes, beautiful too, poor yes but with that typical Asian dignity, a massive suffering carried with pride.
During the day I have been hassling Sufiyan to tell me about his country, its education system, the marriage arrangements, family life and customs. It becomes apparent that education is very basic in the public schooling system, with a very high percentage of fall-out due to the poverty. Marriages are still 90+% arranged by parents, making sure kids stay within their ‘social class’, however the kids do have choice between the marriage candidates presented to them. Family is a very key component of life. Whatever the parents decide, a child has to follow, regardless the age. Even adults must respect the parent’s wishes regarding their activities, involvements and employment. So if a parent says no, the (adult) child must follow suit. Tough, especially if a local adult wishes to enrol in a charity project, working with the bottom end of society. Not a posh thing to do for local high classers. But a primary necessity for a charity organisation that focuses on educating the poorest. Imagine a situation where you have slaved yourself through life in order to allow your children to go school and university and than your child chooses to spend precious time working as a volunteer for the poorest people of your city. Noble, but at the same time not done for many of those parents who gave so much of their lives in order to enable their children access to high income employment, safeguarding the old age of the parents and a better life for the next generation(s). Now that is the culture in which Maria finds the great challenge of sourcing and contracting educated staff.
We left the house with a list of tasks and especially the one to find fabric for the uniforms. Bad start! Just after leaving the house our rickshaw had a fight with another one and they started to punch each other. I told Jowel who was my “assistant” for the day to get out of the rickshaw and then we went by walk.
We found a Tuk Tuk but it was not a good idea. The pollution is at a so high level that being in open air can make you sick easily especially if you already feel nauseous…
We managed to get to the Sheraton where we had to meet Mourad and his cousin who had the task to bring us in the wholesale area of Dhaka…. We MUST find the best deals each time as 1 dirham saved here (20 taka) makes a big difference.
As a first time here I felt struggling with our local contacts supposed to help us. On one hand we need them as we don’t speak the language and we think that they will be helpful. BUT on the other hand, they make us waste a tremendous amount of time. We are not living here and each trip is a too short period of time so when they offer us to have a tea, a coffee or when they tell us to relax, to take it easy, I understand now why we can easily “burn a fuse”.
Like that, I lost 2 precious hours as not knowing the city, our “business Guide” took us to some shops to show us samples that I did not need etc…. I really had to keep my self control as I believe it’s a waste of energy to get upset even if… Arghhhhhh ;-)) Anyway! We changed the car and the driver and FINALLY we arrived in the wholesale area.
Another shock. So crowded, so noisy and smelly and I will avoid telling you the symptoms of poverty and misery. Everything you could imagine (or not even) as handicaps, illness you will find here not even mentioning constant people begging for 1 taka or food from children to old ladies and men.
We entered the fabric market and spent 2 hours trying to find what we were looking for. Finally we found our fabric for the trousers but not the shirts. We close the deal, taking a sample, signing the sample, leaving a deposit and deciding to come back Saturday to pay the full amount and arrange the delivery. (we were ordering not less than 4000 yards). I realized it was already 2pm and we did not have lunch. I was ok but I could feel that the guy with us was starting to slow down and he told me he was already starving. Sorry guys but not time for lunch. Grab a snack if you want but I still have to find carpets and heaters for the nursery. We took the car and left the place. I was really happy at least to have found this fabric. On our way to the carpets, our guide received a call from the fabric shop. The sample he gave us could not be delivered but "don’t worry we have the same quality" so no worries. Oh my god. I saw the red light and our guide told me that it’s the reason why he signed the sample. Otherwise those guys would have delivered the other quality, just fooling us...
So we came back to the shop and the guy started to explain and show us on a small sample that it was the same quality. I asked him to show me the full roll of fabric and he did not want. Of course! On the big piece I could prove him the quality was not the same…. I looked around and found the one I wanted, I went there, took it myself and put it in front of him. "And you really think it’s the same quality? You are fooling me". He was not even looking at me… I said ok, I take the new one but 10 taka less than the previous one. He told me NO, same price… or 1 taka less… You must be joking. I was so upset. As it was impossible to discuss, I asked to be refund of the deposit and we left.
I went through a kind of internal nervous break down as I have been thinking "what am I doing here?" How can people fool us when we are coming from the other part of the people to help them and their families. I will never be able to do it. It's not possible, it's too hard.
In the middle of this mess, I had to find in my mind something to help me to support it. And it became evident. The smile and the joy of the children. Yes, in all this shit and painful environment we just need to visualize their smile and it cheers you up.
After we left the market, our "guide" told us he had some family problems and he could not stay with us.... Of course, everybody is abandoning us, noone gives a s....!
Thanks to Jowel. He saw how down I was and he told me. Dont worry Flo, we get the carpets then the heaters and we will go by taxi. We dont need anybody. YES! We can do it!!!
While reaching the other area, the phone rang...... the guy from the fabric shop.... Finally he found our quality and could deliver it thursday.... Oh my god! it has been a ray of sun in my brain. Just like if I needed that to give me hope again. We ended our trip with our "shopping" and came back to the project. I was so exhausted and shocked by this hard day that I could not talk.
I only wanted to see Maria and ask her how she could manage those things. How she could keep going when it is so easy just to fly back to our luxury life in Dubai. I came home amd sat on the bed. I just needed to take out of my brain the pain of the day and the negative emotions I was dealing with.
We had a talk and she told me she had the same "trick" when she was loosing face. Thibnking of the kids! It made me feel better. Then a couple (the one waiting to a good level of english to move to Dubai as Maria found them a job) came with Rahim and Rahima. The sister and brother. We discussed for a while then the kids wanted to stay with us. That's part of our life. Sometimes kids come to our place and spend some time with us. They play, they dance, they watch cartoons and they sleep here.
Two more kids joined us and Maria was right. It just changed my mood in 5 minutes. How can you stay moody when 3 kids are jumping on you, kissing you, hugging you. Look at Mehdi's and Rahima's smiles, look at their eyes!!!!!
I went to bed less anxious especially when I saw them falling asleep so peacefully
Friday, January 4, 2008
The street around 8 AM started to be busy with colorful ladies and loud men passing in front of your building to go to work.
One of the Bangladeshi staff, a young lady arrived at our place to dress Maria with the sari they offered her yesterday. That’s where you learn to be patient…. As we were ready to jump on our schedule with so many things to do in a so short period of time, we had to handle 90 minutes of girly dress up, make up, bindie etc… But tradition is tradition and Maria knew she had to do it.
When we left the house and started to cross the area, I realized the impact Maria has on the community. I started to hear "Maria, Maria, Maria.." kids calling her name and mothers saying hello etc… On our way to the school one young mother with her tiny baby (really tiny) stopped Maria and I really liked her attitude. The baby looked sick and Maria was annoyed and told the mother. “I told you 2 weeks ago to go to see our doctor, what are you waiting for”. Then she explained that’s it is often the case. We have a medical center for the community but they don’t go.
While we were approaching the school we heard to voices of the kids getting louder and I found, on the playground, the entire school waiting for us, in line, facing the row of their teacher. Roxanna was holding the banner with Welcome Florence. If you could have seen the smile on their face when we arrived…
They were wearing their blue uniform and sweaters. All of them looked groomed with nicely brushed and shiny hair. They were between 8 years and 12years old I guess.
They started the ceremony with a very emotional statement that was reminding me my boy scout comitment. Hand on the heart, they committed to work hard, be a good citizen and be proud of being a Bangladeshi. Then they sang the national hymn before going back to their school followed by us.
On the last post of the year, I wrote a post showing 2 pictures. The people of the slums and some young students. In the first row you have this incredible little boy with a fantastic smile.
When the children ended the ceremony, I heard Maria calling someone in one of the line. She said loudly, Flo, look who is here, and she called the same boy from the picture. Oh my God, I don’t know how but it was like we already knew each other. He came out of the line with a shy smile and just put his arms around me and hugged me. What an fantastic moment.
As I was the “VIP” today, the staff led me in the school to show me all the installations. As we arrived the kids were finishing their breakfast as we provide 2 meals per day. All our meals are checked by a nutritionist and you can feel that the kids are in good health. I visited the entire school, the classrooms, the canteen, the medical and dental center, the beauty salon and the sewing workshop.
My first impression? I will go next time for a manicure pedicure or hair wash and blow dry without any doubt!. Not sure about the dentist but it has nothing to do with the equipment but only with the fact that I have a phobia of dentist ;-)
We had to run as many things were waiting for us. On our way out of the school, couple of kids grabbed us for hugs and kisses… how can we refuse!
Next stop… the nursery. When we opened the door and found those 3 to 4 years old dressed in those bright colours clothes, they just started to scream of hapiness with their hands up. Oh my God! They just wanted kisses and kisses. We quicly moved to the next room as there is a big mattress and we had their favorite game. Me in the center and them jumping on me. What an adorable moment.
Then we moved to the younger nursery with the babies…. So cute… but they were more shy and honestly, a little bit frightened by my blond hair and bright eyes… it took a little bit longer for some of them to approach me but finally they adopted me ;-)
Last stop, the pre school, a nice playground outdoor under the shadow of beautiful trees. After the class. the parents were invited to come over for registration. A picture of each child with his parents is taken and kept in a file for our record.
After visiting this school I had my first designated task to achieve. Sort out some donations and especially the Eid boxes donated by schools in Dubai.
Once it was done, I came back home where Maria was waiting for me and Firoz with a big list of shopping to do. And I can tell you that after doing some shopping here it will change for ever your addiction at least for the word ;-)
We 'just' needed to find suppliers for all the books and stationary for the entire curriculum of 700 children for one year... and guess what? that's was not all... we also had to find suppliers for 3000 uniforms and sweaters.
Easy for a frenchie who is coming to Bangladesh for the first time, does not speak the language and has no clue of the currency and if things are expensive or not!
But as I say, in life there is no problems, only solutions! and here it's not a system D but a system Z!
Let's go Firoz, we can do it!
We ended in a crazily crowded part of Dhaka (but I will realise later that all Dhaka is crazily crowded ;-). My God! on the same road without rules you have pedestrians, rickshaws, tuk tuk, motorbikes, cars, cows, horses, vans, buses, trucks etc....
We finally found a book manufacturer who will be able to provide us with the full list of our requirements but at a really competitive price. When you work for a charity, the bargain is not a game anymore. You know that each Dhaka saved will provide something more for the Community.
We could not find the uniforms's suppliers and with the traffic, it took us more than one hour to go back home.
We had a last "easy" small shopping to do beafore reaching the guest house (we thought). It was to find mopes to clean the floor. That's when you realise how easy our life is out of Bangladesh. Everything is a challenge even finding daily goods.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
I almost forgot it was the New Year’s Eve as I was thrilled to finally go the Dhaka. I have been heavily involved in the last week and even if I think I understood the philosophy and the strategy of the Project, I knew I had to go there, quickly in order to check if Dhaka and myself, we were clicking.
I spent midnight on the New Year’s Eve with 2 friends, watching the amazing fireworks displayed in front of the Jumeirah hotels. While I was watching the 13 minutes unforgettable fire show, (bravo Francois ;-))I could not stop imagine what was happening at the same time in Dhaka. The Project staff was organizing a party that we could not attend on time. I went to bed early, a little bit concern not to forget anything.
I went previously in the afternoon to do some special shopping. While people were loading their trolleys with food and last minute goods, mine was full of special order from Maria…. Diapers and sanitizer (hand wash liquid used without water).
So I came back home after the firework, not too late as I wanted to be “fresh” for our departure. Pfff I could not sleep before 3am, as I could not stop thinking about the Project.
Maria sent me a sms at 5am telling me just finished to pack and that we had to find 2 big taxis in order to load 6 huge boxes… Mmm first challenge of the year ;-)
I went early morning to this place in Dubai where Pakistani are renting their small trucks and services. We managed to pick up Maria with the boxes and went to the airport. As a flight attendant, she knows the tricks so we unloaded the colorful truck in place of the Limousines reserved for the Business Class and went inside with our 11 luggage.
Then came the first bad news… 71 kilos overweight…NOT ME! Our luggage… and Maria who told me when we left the storage room.. But we did not take anything!
Nothing to do to convince the Desk guy for Emirates. He was really nice but rules are rules and "ladies I have to follow the rules…" Ok, ok, I tried (not really convincing I admit) to ask a passenger to put at least 1 box on his ticket but he was going to London… Thank you very much Sir but…
We had to pay the extra luggage promising ourselves that we will need to find a way to avoid those kinds of problems in the future.
After 4 hours of flight we arrived at the airport, getting very quickly organized in order to pass the custom the first ones… then we managed to get the luggage without anything missing and in a good timing. No problem either to pass the custom as a man helped us (we had 4 trolleys full) and when the officer stopped us the guy just said (that’s what he told us ;-)) "NGO, just old stuff for the kids my friend" et HOP! We went through.
There, what a surprise… around 10 kids were waiting for us with one part of the staff with banners and balloons painted with our names. I was amazed. The kids around 10 years old were wearing blue navy clothes like uniforms. They were all saying together.. Welcome Florence… Welcome Maria!
Each one gave me his or her name (I will need more time to remember all of them) and I told them to call me FLO (It made them laugh a lot)
Then we jumped in 2 minvans and went up to the project. Just crossing the area full of rickshaws, small shops and talls gave me an idea of the atmosphere. I liked the smell with a mix a spices and smoke.
We reached our house, in the heart of the community. The Project has an apartment with 2 bedrooms. It’s all painted in green (colour of hope ;-)) There is the girls bedroom and the boys bedroom. The kitchen has the basic and only necessary apparels and the cupboards are full of pasta, pasta and pasta…
The only thing missing but Firoz will fix it today, is a water heater and that's one of my gift to the guest house. Too hard to only have cold showers… I believe ;-)
After having our pasta, we went to Mitu’s house in the neighbourhood. Mitu is one of the teacher. Oh my God, she prepared a full dinner but we had to decline. How ashamed we were but we explained that it was not because of the food, but our system is not accustomed to it. I would love to try their food but that's the best way, at least now to spend my stay between the bathroom and my bed...
We came back home and could not stop chating for 3 hours. In the same room, 2 european ladies and a Bangladeshi, we had so many things to share!