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The Road to Sirajganj continued…

Jun 26, 2018 | No Comments

On the bus to Sirajganj we chat and laugh…

There are frequent stops for snacks. We share shingara’s (Bengali pyramid shaped vegetable samosa’s) and potato crackers (Bangladesh branded crisps). The journey takes 5 hours and we travel on a single main road that is still under construction so it is a bumpy ride.

On arrival we sit at a chai stand sipping on tea while our host arranges our return travel and transport to our hotel which is a short distance away on a Rickshaw.

We arrive at a tall building set back through an alley way off the main village street. There is confusion as without the address you would not know that there is a hotel at this location. Our host demands that the rickshaw walla takes a large suit case carrying 25kg of clothes we have taken to Sirajganj for distribution. The rickshaw walla tugs at the suitcase which causes is to wobble back and forth but doesn’t move.

I look at him more closely for the first time and notice how thin he is. It becomes obvious to me that any attempt on this man’s part to lift this suitcase would probably result in him snapping in half.

The girls step in.

Myself and Brishti take a trolley suitcase each and Mohima draws the short straw and gets the large suitcase. Inside there is more confusion. People who live in the building do not know of the hotel. Finally a guys comes downstairs and confirms we are at the right locations and leads the way.

Our expectations for this hotel are not high but i don’t think anything could have prepared us for what came next…

By Mohima Shamsuddin

Day 2 – Journey to Sirajganj

Jun 25, 2018 | No Comments

Breakfast was followed by a car journey to the bus stop, two rickshaw rides in the monsoon rain to organise and exchange our cash and a two hour wait for the bus to Sirajganj…

Finally we are on our way. As we drive out of the inner city area, the air and humidity seem to lift, although I maybe confusing this with the luxury of the air conditioned bus that I am not usually accustomed to travelling on when abroad.

During our wait at the bus station Khokon Bhai, our host and founder of Shudha and Smiling Rainbow Foundation talked about the hindu village communities in Sirajganj.

They were brought to Bangladesh by the British when the subcontinent was under colonial rule. They were used to undertake jobs that nobody else would do.

As I reflect on our conversation I feel eager and curious to meet the people. They are most familiarly referred to as the untouchable race.

By Sofena Choudhury

A harrowing reality. Nightmare, doom and release.

Jun 23, 2018 | No Comments

We arrived in Dhaka at 17.30 Bangladesh time.

After the usual chaos of arranging visa’s on arrival and baggage collection we received a warm welcome from our hosts working on the Rainbow Project and who in affiliation with the Orphan Trust have been working on building wells in villages in Sirajganj.

We stepped out of the airport and were immediately hit by the humidity of monsoon season in Dhaka and its oh so familiar indescribable smells. From the aeroplane we witnessed that much of Bangladesh is now under water. Our host Brishti explained that there is much hardship in Sylhet which has been hardest hit.

After a long taxi drive covering only a short distance we checked in to our hotel and were accompanied to dinner at Star Kebab (thank you Christopher for the recommendation). In the CNG on the way to the restaurant Bristi described the work she has been involved with in Dhaka. She casually dropped in to the conversation that only last week she had negotiated the release of three women and their children from a brothel in Dhaka. The women have now been safely re-homed with their children and have been given some money to help them get on their feet.

Combined with the shock of the speed at which the CNG driver was aggressively accelerating towards oncoming traffic, the constant horning of drivers at one another and what we were hearing coming out of Brishti’s mouth, we pressed on with the conversation in pursuit of what we had aimed to accomplish on our mission in Bangladesh.

We were surprised to learn that the cost of releasing these women and her children amounted to less than £300! Volunteers on the ground in Dhaka build relationships with these women, and provide the long term counselling and support required to get them out of these situations. Many women are unable to leave for fear and judgement of the outside world, the ones who are brave enough are unable to because they are indebted to their captivators for rent and maintenance.

Dinner lived up to all our expectations, though it was somewhat confusing. The restaurant which is laid out over 5 floors has a beef restriction on floors 1, 3, 4 & 5. Women who are very well looked after in Traditional Bengali culture, as we have been since arriving are given special areas in restaurants. Unfortunately at this particular establishment the ladies section is located on floor 5 so we just had to make do without our sheek kebabs.

Over dinner Bristi explained that girls ages between 5 – 9 who find themselves on the streets, sometimes through the marital breakdown of parents, when the mother remarries and the step father does not wish to take on the responsibility of children from the previous marriage, are commonly raped within 3 days of being on the streets, which is followed by the doom of living out their remaining lives in a brothel. This is hard to imagine, but over the next 3 days we will meet the people who’s lives are so tainted by prejudice, that this type of nightmare can quickly become a reality.

After dinner we completed a hat-trick of Bangladesh modes of transport by travelling back to our hotel, 3 people on a cycle rickshaw.

So much fun. Watch the video.

By Sofena Choudhury

Orphan Trust video

The Critical Need to Address Mental Health in Bangladesh

May 12, 2018 | No Comments

According to WHO 15 Million people in Bangladesh are suffering with mental illness of various types. That’s 10 % of the population. Yet mental health is largely ignored in Bangladesh with the government focusing on chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension which are have replaced traditional killers such as polio and leprosy.A 2015 study by Anwar Islam and Tuhin Biswas Published by the American Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience looks at the incidence of mental health in Bangladesh. The prevalence of Mental health issues amongst adults, women and children in Bangladesh  are surprisingly high, yet what make the most  alarming reading  is the sheer lack of mental health resource ….‘ there are only 0.073 psychiatrists per 100,000-population in the country most of them concentrated in major urban areas like the capital city of Dhaka.  Another study says there are only 10 known Psychiatrists in the whole country.

One only to think about the lack of mental health care in the UK, where we have an awareness of the issue, to get an idea of the enormity of the problem in Bangladesh where the definition of mental health was until 2017  based on The Lunacy act of 1912 where you are either classed as sane or a lunatic.

With the stigma attached around mental health, there is a complete lack of education and awareness of the signs of mental health and seeking appropriate help. People often misinterpret behavioural signs of mental illness as the work of evil spirits and seek out spiritual healers!

The mental health of a countries populations will have direct impact on the county’s development and economic productivity.

A copy of the study quoted above can be found by clicking here.

 

Trans Pennine trial

Apr 30, 2015 | No Comments

I can’t remember what made us decide to raise money for charity but after doing a Google search I came across the Orphan Trust website. I was inspired by the charity and all the good work that it does, so I, along with my friend Syed decided to do a sponsored work. After much hesitation it was agreed that we would walk from Sheffield to Manchester along the Trans Pennine Trail!!!!

The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) is a route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders linking the North and Irish seas, passing through the Pennines, alongside rivers and canals and through some of the most historic towns and cities in the North of England.

We had no concerns about my fitness levels for walking however, I was very concerned about my map reading skills.  We therefore decided to leave navigation to Syed. As for training, on the weeks running up to the big day we did some walking just to ensure I had worn in my “fashionable” walking boots.

The day before the walk we had to make a late change of route.  Due to excessive rain and poor weather conditions, it was not safe to walk across the Pennines. Bad weather was not going to hold us back! We decided to walk the A57 route.

The walk itself was a success. In consisted of Syed experiencing blisters for the first time and I conquered my fear of sheep (sort of). The best part of the day was when we made it to Glossop as it meant we were half way. In celebration we treated ourselves to a nice Costa Coffee but then hit a massive low as the walk out of Glossop was a long stretch. When we did eventually get to the city of Manchester we were over the moon, thinking it was all over, but we were so wrong.  We still we had another hour to go! We completed the 42 mile walk in 14 hours and 8 minutes.  Throughout the walk, the fact that we were doing this for a greater purpose was good motivation.  The thought of the children that we were helping was what kept us both going and made it all worthwhile.

A big thank you to everyone who sponsored us and helped me conquer my fear of sheep (sort of)

 

Aalia and Syed

Post-trip: Back home in London Town

Apr 12, 2015 | No Comments

It feels very strange and slightly surreal being back home.  There are no twinkling rickshaw bells outside of the window, an absence of amazing smelling street food, no constant and frenetic noise of life in it’s most ‘in your face’ form being played and enjoyed by millions of people crowded together into a crazy small area.  Everything seems too ordered and clinical somehow.  Ah Dhaka, I miss you already!

 

We arrived home yesterday to the most wonderful welcome party, with signs held high heralding our return.  Thank you Sofena, Abz, Leon and Tim for greeting us so excitedly and warmly and apologies for the slightly dazed look on our face after 19 hours of travelling!

I feel we all learnt so much from our time in Bangladesh – what kindness really means, how the world might be full of unimaginable suffering but its also full of amazing and proactive people, that you can make the most wonderful friends in all areas of the world.  It has also reinforced and strengthened our resolve to help all those children who need us, and support all of the wonderful and life changing individuals and organisations we encountered whilst there.

 

Thank you Dhaka – we look forward to meeting you again soon!

 

By Menna

Day 13 – “Actually, we don’t feed them, we eat with them.”

Apr 10, 2015 | No Comments

Today was our last day in Dhaka as well as our second and last training day for Pothoshishu Sheba Songothon.

It was yet another rewarding and fun day with this group of committed individuals who volunteer their time to work with street children. Although part of the training involved the introduction to and opportunity to practice and develop certain therapeutic play skills, it also focused on highlighting and validating the high quality of work that the volunteers already undertake.

The volunteers give this group of marginalised children the biggest gift they could: relationships based on love, acceptance, understanding and respect.

It seemed an uncanny coincidence that on the day that we were delivering training that highlighted the importance of empathy and positive relationships with children that a certain Jose Mourinho spoke on the very same subject in an article published on the BBC Sport website.

Mourinho revealed it was during his first job with children with Downs Syndrome that he discovered the importance of relationships:

”I wasn’t technically ready to help these kids’ he said. ‘And I had success only because of one thing, the emotional relation that was established with them. I did little miracles only because of the relationship. Affection, touch, empathy – only because of that.”

(Well said Jose. Let’s hope those relationship making skills of yours help
Chelsea get another 3 points against QPR on Sunday.)

It’s only a few hours until we fly back to London and although I am looking forward to getting home and seeing my loved ones, it is also with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Bangladesh and all the amazing people and friends we have made here. There are too many names to mention here, but thank you all for your warmth and hospitality and also for filling my belly up yet again today!

By Catriona

As I write I am surrounded by my packed bags, waiting for the car to take us to the airport and from there, home.

In some ways I can’t believe it is time to leave but in others I feel like I have been in Bangladesh for way longer! We have met so many wonderful people here, and I have been blown away each day by the Bangladeshi hospitality.

Bangladesh has exceeded my expectations in so many ways (in particular the kindness and respect the Photoshisu volunteers show the children) and also both filled and broken my heart on a daily basis.

The poverty, desperation and suffering I have witnessed has been breathtaking at times and it has left me feeling both angry and devastated at how people and children can be left to live in such conditions. I have cried more tears than I have thought possible and felt greater sadness than I was expecting.

The hope, happiness and determination of the people and children I have met had left me questioning what it is we truly need as human beings to be happy. What I have witnessed here is that people are happy without so many of the things in the west we believe are importance for our happiness. Do we need so many ‘things’? Quite possibly not. Have we in the west perhaps forgotten what we actually truly need to feel happy and contented? Quite possibly yes.

While dhaka is full of sad and upsetting life stories, it is also full of good and kind people who are doing all they can to help those suffering and in need.

Hassan, Menna, Catriona, Lubna, Christopher.

We need to champion people like those at Photoshisu and Bottomley House (among many other amazing organisations and services we met here) because they are the people who make the most important changes in this world. They change lives by offering what we all need at heart – namely acceptance, empathy and kindness.

I leave Bangladesh with a heart heavy with hope for this beautiful country. It is certainly full of wonderful people who are trying to make it a better place for all of their fellow countrymen and women.

Thank you Dhaka – it’s been a blast! I look forward to coming back soon.

By Menna

Fitting that today, our last day in Bangladesh was spent with all of the people that have welcomed us so so warmly, all together for the final day of the therapeutic play skills training. They are the people that give their time to volunteer for Potho Shishu, a very talented, intelligent group of people with a great sense of fun and humour! It was great also that representatives of some of the other organisations The Orphan Trust works with could link with PSS for the training such as Dhaka University, Ekmattra, Bottomley House Orphanage and Shishu Polli Plus. They are brilliant with the children and already have a lot of therapeutic play skills such as knowing the importance of play, having outstanding relationships with the children they care for and setting boundaries for the children in the sessions. They provide a physical boundary with a rope and all volunteers are firm, consistent and calm in their manner. Our training has improved their communication, particularly in the use of statements rather than questions and  empathic responsiveness, working on using empathy rather than sympathy, joining the child on a journey. One volunteer told the group today….

“Actually, we don’t feed them, we eat with them.” 

Enthusiastic volunteers practising therapeutic skills.

The group has enjoyed a game know as Pani Pani which has taken cult status during the 2 days of training. The Ummba Ummba… Pani, Pani game I think may well take Bangladesh and then the world by storm and become the new Gangnam Style!

I’ve enjoyed living a simple life with a bucket to wash with. I’ve enjoyed smiles around the clock from every passer by and I’ve enjoyed beautiful food.

There are only 42 countries in the world out of 219 that are experiencing better economic growth than Bangladesh and that growth has been consistently growing too at a rate of 6% a year.  Our job is to provide for those that are left behind and are not feeling that growth or are unable to. To provide therapeutic experiences for those on the streets, therapy for those who have suffered extreme trauma and are living in or visit a safe space each day. We also need to continue to look into supporting in new ways such as those with special needs, disability and mental health issues as well as seeking to support additional organisations through education, health and community action.

Continue to support us on our journey.

Thank you.

Christopher

 

Day 12 – Girl without eyes, rickshaw accident, 150 sisters gained!

Apr 9, 2015 | No Comments

Notes for today’s blog are being typed up on the back of a cycle rickshaw, today has been scorching hot and the sky is in stark contrast to how it has been of late, it is calm, dark and quiet as opposed to loud and angry. Today’s soundtrack comes from the soothing and some-how magical sound of the tinkling of bicycle rickshaw bells.

After a roadside breakfast of tea, spicy omelette and parotha, the day began with a rickshaw journey. Rickshaw journeys are very different to your average journey in England and rarely dull! Whilst at a junction a man with one leg asked me for money, I gave him a samosa from my supply bought with money donated from 2 people in London. As I handed him the snack the rickshaw moved away and rode over his crutch snapping it in two. He was gutted, broken, startled and angry. A fight of sorts broke out, the man stepped in front of the rickshaw forcing him to stop, he then let down the rickshaw’s back right tyre, I guessed the conversation was surrounding compensation and I guessed the outcome was probably no as the man began hitting the rickshaw driver with his spare crutch which he was using as a leg. I moved to the side of the road (we were in the middle of a 5 lane road). The man gestured to me in a praying motion as if to say his beef was not with me, he wouldn’t harm me. I looked round again and they were gone. The driver had made a run for it pulling a U turn and heading in the opposite direction, they were now together on the opposite side. I’m guessing he hopped and caught the rickshaw as the traffic was so bad. The guy was immobile but his strength was admirable as the rickshaw now on the opposite side of the road was now fully upside down (I was long out of it by then).

A massive crowd gathered, the driver offered 20 taka (17p) which was rejected. Once the commotion had died down the man and I took a rickshaw a mile up the road to the hospital area where we had visited 2 days before (see previous blog) and opposite was a whole row of shacks selling every kind of medical assistance of the equipment variety you can imagine. After the initial introductions, I sat down, made myself comfortable and waited for the price of a new set of crutches to drop and drop to a reasonable level. During the journey, the man was gesturing to me that he had lost his leg in an accident. Later in the day I was walking through the underpass at the notorious Kawran Bazaar area and what I saw left a feeling of sadness that enveloped me and was truly haunting. A girl between the age of 10 and 14 was standing in the underpass, a white stick in one hand a small plastic bowl in the other.

She had no eyes.

I gave her a snack. When I returned half an hour later, she was still standing in the same spot. This is her life, this is her future.

This is a research/planning trip in truth and one of the areas that has struck me is the fragility of life and existence here. It’s a beautiful country, with the kindest, most generous people but it seem like these people are perched on a wobbly branch and at any moment that branch could snap and for most the inevitability is a life on the street, survival. During our research visit to the Dhaka Children’s Hospital we were kindly shown around the departments by Dr Monowar Parveen, the Lead Senior Psychologist. She heads a home in her spare time for people with disabilities like the man and girl I met today.  The Orphan Trust has the details of this home, this will be highlighted in our post-trip feedback meeting with the aim of looking into the feasibility of the Orphan Trust supporting this and other such groups.

Another topic of conversation that invariably pops up on visits to ‘so called’ developing countries is happiness. I had a very interesting conversation with Josh my roommate (Masters – international development, dissertation – street kids, see post #1) who had apparently also had the same conversation earlier today with Menna (Masters – play therapy). Adults and children seem happy here, very happy. We in the ‘developed’ world could learn a lot. Josh pointed me towards Amartya Sen’s work, ironically a Bangladeshi-born Indian, professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University in the U.S, recipient of a Nobel prize who helped to create the Human Development Index (HDI), a United Nations statistic ranking countries’ level of development based on health, knowledge and standard of living. He also considers such indices as happiness and includes human wellbeing and human freedom into indices as well as just narrowly focusing on GDP (a country’s total value of goods and services produced) and believes this could improve policymakers’ responses to problems in the economy in the wake of the global financial crisis. The economist told Reuters “If you have indicators that concentrate on human wellbeing and human freedom then you could get ‘there’ much more quickly by thinking about policy decisions in that light.”

On a more positive note I completed the shopping for Bottomley House Orphanage. I arrived at the orphanage at the pre-arranged time and once again the hard-working girls were writing away at their desks. As I approached the hall, the girls broke out into fits of giggles punctuated by smiles and waves! Sister Bijoya told me to go in, talk to the girls and look at their work. I learnt about Bangladesh’s seasons, one girl asked me to read out loud about the six seasons, another shared the beginning of a Bengali story ‘The Red Cow’ which, she read aloud in Bengali before translating it into English. The best moment of the day was when the room of smiling girls enquired about my family. One asked about my siblings, I told them I have 2 brothers. They then enquired about sisters, I told them I have none to which they replied…..

                          “We are your sisters!”

Suhel, a multiple shop owner from the same road who helps the orphanage and I ventured back towards Old Dhaka as we had done yesterday

armed with the knowledge of how many of each size of shoe we needed. We located the shop, worked through the list and once again the cargo was boxed, tied up, loaded and dispatched to its destination!

And all that remained was to write up this blog and eat a delicious snack; fresh rotis (bread), coconut and gulab jamun (sweets)!

By Christopher Downie

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