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Day 9: Hope & Despair in Dhaka City

Posted by: on Apr 7, 2015 | No Comments

Today we began the day by visiting an Orphanage supported by the Orphan Trust which is located near Farm Gate – one of the most poor areas of Dhaka – called Bottomley House.

Bottomley House provides shelter, education and nurture to 140 girls who works otherwise be on the street. It is run by Sister Bijaya – a truly inspiring, and it must be added – humble, lady who has dedicated her life to offering these girls a loving and secure home.

Bottomley House has long been supported by The Orphan Trust who last year used donations to purchase 140 beds, medication (to last a year) and computer. All things desperately needed. It was amazing to see exactly where the money had gone and very humbling to see the big difference these things had made to the girls there (we are also purchasing and providing much needed shoes and educational equipment for the girls whilst we are here in Dhaka this time also).

Upon leaving Bottomley House we headed next to to a project called Jagorani. After a tour of the work areas (where the women sew on beautiful old Singer sewing machines – so beautiful!) we explored the amazing Aladdin’s cave that is the onsite shop. I was in heaven! Each shelf groaned with beautiful hand made delights. Needless to say we left the shop with some truly unique purchases, happy in the knowledge that the profit was going straight back to the people who deserved it – the women who made them.

Dhaka is a city of extremes and contradictions. With hearts full of hope and positivity we walked from our project visits with a renewed sense of purpose straight into some of the worst poverty and suffering we have witnessed so far. Whole families were living on the streets, with only a piece of plastic held down with some bricks to offer protection and shelter (many families didn’t even have this). It was devastating to witness.

As we passed one family, Catriona and I stopped to acknowledge 2 little children who were sitting next to their mother. Almost instantly the mother ran towards us and began pulling at my arm, begging me to help. She was desperate. Here was a mother who had nothing and who needed to provide for her babies. At one point she turned my body so that I could see directly into her eyes. She wanted to share her pain and desperation. It was one of the most powerful experiences I have had here and what she shared was absolutely devastating.

A little while later a little toddler began following us. He must have been 2 at the oldest. It was clear he lived on the streets and unclear if he had anybody looking after him (he was very skinny and very dirty). At one point a police officer roughly pushed him into a road of oncoming traffic. Nevertheless he continued to follow us. In Bangladesh there is no social services or such support services available. Here was a little boy who needed to be at home, who needed to be loved and cared for, to be cooked for and tucked into bed at night. Here he was having to fend for himself in this unforgiving city. Unfortunately he is not the exception and there are little children like him everywhere we look. Without funding to places like Bottomley House, the girls there would have been in this situation also.

Our experiences today affected me in many ways, both good and difficult. Upon returning to our apartment I stood in the shower and cried and cried.  Sometimes this world just doesn’t make any sense – how are mothers and little children allowed to have absolutely nothing? To be left starving in the streets? We are in a world where some of us have so much while others don’t even have enough to cover their basic human needs. I have never felt more fortunate to have everything I do or more determined that through The Orphan Trust we can try and change the lives of the people who need our help the most. They deserve it. We have to try.

By Menna

Day 8: Dhaka University, Talent Show and Sponsorship!

Posted by: on Apr 5, 2015 | No Comments

Dhaka’s Got Talent

After the training on Friday and a hectic first week in Dhaka, Menna and me were looking forward to a well deserved lie in yesterday morning. However, Dhaka had other plans. We were awoken at 7.00am by a very loud sound check for what we could only assume was ‘Dhaka’s Got Talent’. Unfortunately Dhaka’s Got Talent was taking place in the play area opposite our apartment, it was extremely loud and lasted all day – and worst of all, Dhaka didn’t seem to have much talent (obviously we know this isn’t the case when it comes to working with children though!) The sounds of off key singing from men, women and children accompanied us all day. Not quite the peaceful day we had in mind.


Whilst in Dhaka not only have I been learning about Bengali culture from the locals, but also about Welsh culture from Menna. Yesterday Menna compared the talent show going on outside to a Eisteddfod in Wales. She told me all about Eisteddfods. Apparently they involve Druids! ‘Druids?! What like Gandolf?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, Druids are massive in Wales!’ she replied.  How cool is that? Next trip for me after Bangladesh is so going to be Wales. It might seem a bit tame in comparison to Dhaka, but hey they’ve got Druids.

By Catriona

 

Dhaka University

Today we headed to Dhaka University to meet with Shaheen, the Head of the Educational and Counselling Psychology depatment and her fellow colleagues. As with all of our previous Bengali experiences – we were greeted by warmth, amazing hospitality and welcomeness (complemented by the most beautiful smelling flowers placed in the room – they were heavenly).

The aim of this meeting was to discuss the next steps in our Play Therapy ambition and the feasibility and practicalities of bringing professional standard Play Therapy training to Bangladesh. The professionally accredited Play Therapists would then be able to work therapeutically with the children here who need them the most.

 

The meeting was extremely successful and we left feeling that each of us was on the same page and each shared the same motivation and drive to move things forward in this exciting direction. The professionals we met today truly shared in the principles we too believe in.

 

We each of us are so excited about where the Play Therapy project will go in the near and long term future…. Such exciting times ahead for us all.

By Menna

 

 Jaago Sponsorship Update

I had a successful meeting with Raisul Alam today who works in Jaago’s sponsorship and child welfare department. We currently fund the salaries of 5 teachers at Jaago and today we have set up sponsorship of 30 children that attend Jaago schools across the country. The school educates and cares for children from families that earn less than 2.5 U.S. Dollars a day. Sponsorship is now available through The Orphan Trust, we will allocate you a child and you’ll receive a child profile, copies of the child’s work and school reports and a personal relationship with the child to exchange birthday greetings. Skype calls are also a possibility! Contact The Orphan Trust to sponsor your child in Bangladesh today – mina@orphantrust.co.uk

Thank you

By Christopher


Day 7: Reflection, recuperation and Kamlapur train station!

Posted by: on Apr 4, 2015 | No Comments

Yesterday’s therapeutic play training,

After our super ‘full on’, busy and very exciting day yesterday – today was all about reflection and recuperation for Catriona and I.

Sometimes it is only when you step back from a situation or environment do you fully appreciate the true reality of what it is.

Dhaka is a crazy city. It is jam packed with the most hospitable, interesting and friendly people I have been lucky enough to meet. It is also full of some of the worst poverty and suffering I have ever seen.

Bangladeshi people are very proud people. They do not seek massive handouts from international sources, rather they seek to be empowered ‘to help themselves’. The eagerness and willingness of the trainees yesterday really brought this fact home to us.

Whilst at Khokon’s house yesterday evening (he is one of the founding members of Photoshisu) we were shown the library of literature and knowledge he has accumulated over many years. Khokon believes that ‘with great fortune comes great responsibility’. He uses his own money to print and copy books to distribute to those who would otherwise have no other access to them (this one among many other inspirational philanthropic projects he is involved in). The books included those on educational techniques, sociological theories, inspirational biographies, poetry and great works of literature. As he so aptly put it: ‘I want to provide the people with the tools and knowledge to empower themselves’.

Yesterday was a day of prayer. One of the 5 pillars of Islam is ‘giving Zakat’ which means ‘supporting the needy’. As such the streets were filled with many more cases of suffering than we had come across previously. These included maimed and seriously injured people, some with eyes gauged out and others with lost or severely damaged limbs. Some had bodies riddled with rickets and polio.  It was hard not to be acutely affected by the suffering we witnessed.

We are so lucky in the UK. We have a wonderful service – the NHS – that is free and available for all those who need help. We are also provided with vaccines to protect us against polio and other preventable diseases. The people we see daily here have nothing and if fate deals them a blow then they have nowhere to turn and no medical service to care for them. How fortunate Catriona, Christopher and I felt yesterday. How lucky that by being born in a country nearly 4000 miles away we don’t have the worry and fear of what would happen to us if severe illness or accident should strike. A sobering thought indeed.

By Menna Cook

Today I visited the area around the notorious Kamlapur train station, the area that Mina has blogged about in previous trips. I took a local bus from Farmgate to Kamlapur, I was helped onto the correct bus by a lovely young man taking food to his father in hospital and was then forced to sit down amongst the crush on the bus by a man who demanded I take his seat. Two people in the U.K had given me money to buy food for children who live on the streets whilst I’m here and so that was my mission for this afternoon. Initially I armed myself with bananas and singaras (large samosas) and water. On the road leading to the station I saw a small girl, around 3 years old with her mother sitting on the pavement dressed in a tiny pair of dirty ripped shorts. I gave them some food and the monkey teddy from one of the wash bags. The girl was so happy, she wrapped the monkey around her upper body and around her neck and ran around playing with it. A cycle rickshaw pulled up and she kept peek-a-booing it through the slit in the canvas at the back! A simple donation from our supporters made this girl’s day. A boy between the age of 7-11 appeared and stood in front of me completely naked, he didn’t request anything but just stood and looked.

I went to the concourse outside the station and met a boy of 10 years old, he kept saying ‘Amma’ (Mother in Bengali) and sticking his tongue outside as if to say she was dead. The locals were very bemused and kept trying to usher me away from the boy and also from the roadside with the little girl, trying to persuade me that a café would be a cleaner and less dusty and smelly place to sit! I tried to spend some time with him, give him some affection, some smiles and also some physical attention by placing my hand on his shoulder. Attachment specialist Louise Bomber from Brighton promotes the use of touching on the shoulder as a safe place to touch but also an area that calms, soothes and regulates the body. Everyone was very appreciative, shook my hand and gave praise to God.

When I moved over to a different area, a covered walkway on approach to the main station area there were lots of groups of people some sitting down and some lying on mats and old concrete bags, I continued to give out the food but at this point lots of people started to crowd around very close and one man started to get very angry and shout in my face. At this point I left and calmly walked away, he followed me blowing a whistle in my ear, as I continued to calmly walk away he disappeared.

Thinking back now I guess it’s most likely that he had mental health issues, as a group this is a topic of discussion that has come up time and time again over the last week. A well-dressed man had come up to me and told me he was telling me I was mad. Catriona and Menna have suggested that he might have been ‘translating’ any possible problems on to me.

As I walked through the door of the school this afternoon the paper lanterns made by children hanging from the ceiling started to blow, people started to wail outside, thunder followed and then the rain, the storm continued for the next few hours as the sky became angrier and louder. The electricity cut and remained out for around an hour just in time for dinner so my roommate Josh and I and some of the Jaago staff had dinner under mobile-phone torch light whilst the sky provided a very dramatic soundtrack. I had planned to finish on a positive note, Josh and I now have a working AC in our room, meaning sleep is a more likely possibility at night time but the back-up power is providing electricity only for the internet and the corridor light…. and as if by magic hey presto! The AC rumbles to life!! Hurray!

…. And after checking through what I’ve written the electricity has once again gone…..

Goodnight people, see you tomorrow for day 8.

Christopher Downie

 

Day 6: The training was a success!

Posted by: on Apr 3, 2015 | No Comments

Hasan and Catriona.

So the training was a success – hooray! It was well received by the participants and there were no cock ups – result! It was a busy day, we covered a range of theory around play, brain development and communication; we played lots of lively group games and got a bit of practice in as well. The participants worked really hard, as did our interpreters Lubna and Hasan. It’s not easy delivering or attending training that has to largely be translated – but everyone stayed as focused as they could. There were some tired faces and scrambled brains by the end of the day though. Next Friday we’ll meet with the volunteers again, the day will focus more on the practical side of the training. Giving people a chance to practice and develop some of the therapeutic play skills they will have been learning about. One of the participants said the highlight of their day today was learning about, and now understanding, the difference between empathy and sympathy.    There were a number of highlights for me today, but one had to be getting to use a handheld mic – which all day made me feel like I was an MC in a drum and bass rave!!

After the training Khokon, one of the original founders of Pothoshishu, invited us to his beautiful home for another delicious meal. Before dinner we sat in his rooftop garden and met his extended family. Then he proudly showed us his collection of wooden sculptures and carvings capturing historic figures and also his extensive range of post revolution Soviet literature on child development and child rearing, all translated in to Bangla. Another wonderful meal followed, prepared by his wife and sister-in-law. Then it was time to head home for the night.

Khokon bha

Apologies if my contribution to the blog is a bit short, but it’s been a tiring day, I’ve just finished my post training G&T and my bed is calling me. Night night.

 

By Catriona

Day 5: Training preparation day.

Posted by: on Apr 2, 2015 | No Comments

It was only a matter of time before we were hit by Bangla belly – and in the name of team spirit we’ve all gone down with it around the same time. I hasten to add that this is unconnected to the amazing meals that we’ve been treated to recently at some of the volunteers’ homes, this was a pre-existing condition.

Timing wise it’s not ideal, as tomorrow Catriona and Menna will deliver the first day of the Therapeutic Play Skills training programme to Pothoshishu Sheba Songothon volunteers (and a couple of other participants from other organisations and Dhaka University).

The focus of today has mostly been around preparing for the training and checking the venue, facilities and resources are all good to go tomorrow.

We’re looking forward to seeing some familiar faces tomorrow, as well as meeting more of the volunteers – and hope that our Therapeutic Play Skills training programme will be of help to an already very knowledgeable, talented and skilled group of people.

By Catriona

As therapeutic practitioners we truly believe that ‘sharing is caring’. We believe in this so much that one of us couldn’t bear to fall ill with ‘Bangla Belly’ without kindly sharing it with the other two. We are kindly sorts like that you see!

Our busy day was made ‘slightly’ more stressful with each of us battling sickness, tummy cramps and frequent loo trips (not always easy to find in

a city like Dhaka!) However the British Bulldog mentality prevailed (helped by the many wonderful friends, like Hasan, we have made here) and we battled through, each of us thinking of our beds and showers waiting for us at the end of the day. Bliss! (well, apart from Christopher who has a cold bucket shower and sleeps on what basically is a metal railing – not bliss for him!!)

It made us think of what it must be like for the millions of less fortunate people surrounding us in this ‘full on’ city when they become ill. What do they do? Where do they go? Who looks after them?… A sobering thought and one that made us truly grateful for the comforts we have here.
We were lucky enough to be invited to Hasan’s family home for the most amazing meal and where we were welcomed with the legendary Bangladesh hospitality, and met his siblings and parents.  Thank you Hasan and your family for looking after us so well!

Tomorrow is an exciting and slightly nerve wracking day for us – we present our training course for the first time! 18 months of hard work and planning have led up to this point. We hope we are ‘good enough’!! We will let you know tomorrow how it goes… Night night for now, Nosda…

By Menna

Day 4: Dreams, Bangladeshi hospitality and rain!

Posted by: on Apr 1, 2015 | No Comments

Sujon on the space hopper donated by The Orphan Trust – We also provide expert British Association of Play Therapists backed training to PSS volunteers.

We met the very talented Tinni today – she was leading the Pothoshishu Sheba Songothon session on the rooftops of New Market, one of the busiest markets in Asia.

The session focused around what dreams the children might have for the future. We stood in a circle holding hands and all shared a dream we had. One of the children dreamt of riding in a rocket one day and another dreamt of being the MD of a garment factory. We then all drew our dreams and then took it in turns to present what we had created. It was wonderful seeing the imagination and creativity that the session opened up for the children as well as the sense of worth and hope it appeared to give them too.

After that there was time for some fun, physical games. We had brought some space hoppers over with us from London at Lucio’s request and we unleashed one in this session. The boys absolutely loved it! Apologies to the volunteers for the carnage it caused today – everyone wanted a go on it! At the end we all took it in turns to say one moment that made us happy in the session and one that made us feel sad. One of the boys, Sujon, said being on the space hopper had been his happiest moment all day!

By Catriona

So….  One thing hit me today and it hit me pretty hard. During the dream sharing that Catriona shared above, one small boy named Shiraj shared his dream.

“I dream for a house.”

Some of the dreams were light-hearted, some rightly-ambitious but his dream is the very basic of human needs.

Shelter.  

This is Jahid. He is a businessman, he gives his time to these children.

Local businessman Jahid gives his time to these children, students Tinni and Lubna and others give their time to be with these children. They are an inspiration.

After the session we had a tour of the university buildings of Dhaka and had a translation meeting at Dkaka Univeristy of Engineering and Technology with Potho Shishu volunteers Hassan and Lubna, they will be translating the therapeutic play training on Friday.

We then went to Potho Shishu volunteer Tinni’s house for dinner and what a treat! An incredibly tasty home-cooked Bengali meal including such delights as pumpkin curry, small fish curry and big fish curry being the highlights amongst many, many other dishes. The hospitality and the warmth shown to us would surely be unrivalled, anywhere.

During the meal the rain started outside, there’s rain and then there’s Bangladeshi rain. The heavens opened and dropped a deluge of water onto the city as if thrown at once from a giant bucket in the sky. The city was left to bob around in water like a rubber duck in a bath. So we rolled up our trousers and waded down the passages through a foot of water. at times a foot and a half to the main road which more resembled a river than a road. The cycle-rickshaw wallah also extended the customary Bangladeshi hospitality, tucking us in to our seats, pulling a tarpauling over our laps to keep us dry, pulling up the hood and giving us a large, warm smile. He then took us slowly along through the deep water, the tarmac not visible beneath the water. As we moved close to home the rain began to sub-side as if to punctuate our day.

Read day 5 tomorrow. Thank you.

Christopher Downie

Day 3: Every little helps…

Posted by: on Mar 31, 2015 | No Comments

Today was a special day. It was the first day we spent with Lucio and the volunteers and got to meet some of the children they work with.

Potho Shishu Sheba Songothon – Street School, Gabtoli bus station, Dhaka.

Eager smiles and jumps of delight and joy greeted us and the fellow volunteers as we arrived at the bus station for the session. It was clear all the children were very excited at the prospect of the play session ahead. The joy was catching and all three of us, Christopher, Catriona and myself spent the whole time with big smiles on our faces.

A rope was placed around the area where the play took place, along with mats for everybody to sit on. As the children stepped into the safe and secure play area they ceased to become ‘street children’ and simply became ‘children’ again. For that brief moment in their day, they could leave their troubles and stresses behind – and could just ‘be’. It was very humbling.

Throughout our work, communication through metaphor and play is at the forefront of our practice. Metaphors and play are universal and the safe space today offered the children a chance to ‘play out’ their experiences naturally and instinctively.

The children asked if they could show us a ‘drama’ to illuminate for us what their reality is like for them. They wanted to share with us what life is like.

One scene involved me being cast in the role of a ‘careless lady who doesn’t see them’. My instructions were to throw a cigarette on the floor, burning one of the children in the process. I was instructed to ‘not even notice what I had done’. The ‘victim’ was taken to hospital where further ‘bad and scary’ things happened. It became clear that the only people the victim could trust, in the big world, was another child.

This really brought to life that fact that outside of the play area, the most secure attachments the children had were to each other.  Adults were people who could hurt you without even realising – that the children were so insignificant that the only attention they would get would be negative and threatening.   Very significantly, these children could only have explored their experience in this way if they felt safe and secure enough to do so. Exploration and security are the flip sides of the same coin – you can’t have one without the other.  The play session, and the secure relationships they have with the volunteers,  offered the children this safe opportunity.

All children deserve to feel happy and secure. These children experience this throughout their play sessions. The relationships with the volunteers shows to them they are loved, kept in mind and accepted. The things ALL children need (anywhere in the world) to develop and grow positively.

The world has shown these children that it doesn’t care – the volunteers show them that they do. 

Please get us home Mr Tesco delivery man!

After saying goodbye to the volunteers and children we headed home. We were surprised that a Tesco delivery driver had ventured so far from home and wondered if Tesco knew a rickshaw driver in Dhaka was proudly representing the company! After a long, confused and arduous ride around many different parts of the city, and with the help of many different shop keepers and passers by – we eventually made it home!

by Menna Cook

 

Menna captured today so well, I have nothing more to add.

However, Christopher failed to mention an important detail in the blog yesterday: that he had decided to upstage me. Being the only blonde of the group I get a lot of attention and pictures taken of me here, but Christopher decided to up the ante yesterday by wearing a skirt. ‘It’s actually a lunghi’ he informed us as he casually sauntered in to the drama class yesterday morning, looking reminiscent of a sarong clad David Beckham.

Later on during our mini sight seeing tour arranged by the lovely Pothoshishu Sheba Songothon volunteers Hasan and Imran, the locals and camera phones were only interested in one person: the Orphan Trust’s very own David Beckham – Christopher Downie. Hasan and Imran very politely explained that was because the locals weren’t used to seeing men in skirts. Handily two men in lunghis just so happened to be walking past at that moment, laughing and pointing at Christopher’s outfit, so Hasan and Imran were able to illustrate the differences between their lunghis and Christopher’s skirt.

Christopher took this all in his stride, like a true celebrity.

I promise to write about some more serious stuff in future blogs, but just thought people would appreciate Christopher’s lunghi adventures!

By Catriona Ross

Children playing bubbles in the slums. Children love to play wherever they are in the world!

Day 2: Three Orphan Trust Volunteers Saved by Cristiano Ronaldo

Posted by: on Mar 30, 2015 | One Comment

 

After awaking from a DEEP sleep we observed volunteers Theresa and Josh deliver a drama session to the children at Jaago Foundation. The school provides education for children of families who earn less than $2.5 a day. The session focussed on emotion; the understanding and the processing. Numerous games were played to start the session but during one the room was split into four areas with string, with each quadrant assigned an emotion. Children and volunteers jumped into each quadrant and played out that particular emotion with an incredible, boundless energy! The game is designed as an outlet for emotion but also to help to understand and process any emotions present, fantastic work! They moved onto practising for a forthcoming performance, a twist on ‘A Midnight Summer’s Dream’ again with a very acute focus on the emotion shown between the performers.

 

 

Breakfast was a dream: samosa, chai and slice of water melon from the street. Later in the afternoon we squeezed three onto the back of a cycle rickshaw, Catriona noticed to her horror Cristiano Ronaldo’s face looking down at her from an advert above a shop as we headed to Asad Gate for a ‘sightseeing tour’ of Dhaka from Hassan and Imran that volunteer for Potho Shishu. Potho Shishu educates and cares for children on the streets in some of Dhaka’s most notorious locations such as the New Market, the biggest market in Asia, Dhaka’s largest bus station and the port area , Sadar Ghat. We took in the magnitude of the modernist parliament building before our light-hearted pre-dinner tour stopped at the liberation war museum to see a lot of 1970’s bomber planes and other instruments of death!

Here’s one for Gooners out there…. Catriona has been on the lookout for Premier League shirts in Bangladesh and is trying to convince us and herself that Chelsea are the most popular team in Bangladesh, I was explaining the delights of following lower league football in the U.K (Crewe Alexandra) to Hassan, having said I support a team who had never won the English league title, Hassan replied ‘What, Tottenham?’

Armed with a box of Dhaka’s finest Asian sugary sweets we went for dinner at Bridget’s house, the vice-co-ordinator of Potho Shishu. After a 3 hour meeting to thrash out the finer details of Potho Shishu’s work and of Friday’s play therapy training we had a delicious meal of fish, vegetables and rice before our hosts jumped up, shouting and ran to the TV to catch the host’s daughter reading the news on Bangladeshi television!

Three weary Orphan Trust volunteers jumped into an auto-rickshaw (known locally as CNG) and headed home… only the rickshaw driver who knew the way to Jaago at the start of the journey, suddenly remembered half way back that he didn’t know the way! We enquired at numerous shops for the way to Rayer Bazaar but were met only with wide smiles. Luckily, we were saved by Cristiano Ronaldo, his face appeared and was once again beaming down at us from above the very same shop and we were able to guide the driver home from there!

By Christopher Downie