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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.


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

Day 1: Dhaka Play Therapy Trip

Posted by: on Mar 29, 2015 | No Comments


Smooth arrival despite being at the back of a long visa queue and so…. into a very misty Bangladeshi morning we went….

From my room in the Jaago Foundation school I can hear the sounds of Bengali children singing, a few steps down the corridor and I’m in a reception class lesson, 25 beaming 5 year old smiles enthusiastically learning their numbers from 20 to 30! Up the stairs and there are children using algebra to work through linear equations. From the rooftop looking down 5 children are playing a version of ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ in the courtyard. The children here at Jaago are outgoing and at every turn there is a child offering their hand for a high five! They seem happy and secure and they show this through their play, they have a safe base here. The school works in a very carefully considered and well thought out way with the local Rayer Bazaar community, importantly the school operates morning and afternoon shifts with children completing either one or the other rather than enforcing full time school commitment. This trusting relationship with the local community will create a lasting change.

I’m staying in the room with a young English volunteer, Josh who has completed a Masters in International Development and who has done research on ‘street kids’ in Rio. He stresses the importance of first building relationships and trust before embarking on rehabilitating ‘programmes’ and cites Brazil and Rio’s governance as a very poor example of this. Before the world cup, laws were changed to allow police to take children away from the city centre, the city centre was where NGOs were based, had built relationships and were delivering change. Police took children away from this safe base and ‘stuck’ them straight into drug clinics and attempted to rehouse them. The result of this poorly planned, reactive strategy where time was not taken to build relationships, trust and a safe base caused children to run away, disappear and sadly lose any trust previously built up.



So, our first day in crazy, chaotic, beautiful Dhaka city is coming to a close.

After a journey of 4965 miles, a brief stop in Istanbul, many movies watched, pages read, and the slowest visa queue known to man -we arrived!

Wisdom has dictated that ‘it’s about the journey, and not the destination’ however when we landed in Bangladesh I had to disagree. Arriving at this destination is the beginning of a whole new journey and adventure in it’s own right.

Everything is bigger, louder and more overwhelming here. From the continuous sound of bells and horns, traffic chaos, glimpses of extreme poverty and suffering, and the friendliness and hospitality from everybody we have met so far – Bangladesh certainly packs a punch!

What stories we will be able to relay over the next 12 days ahead of us…. We look forward to sharing our adventure with you all.


We’re staying in Rayer Bazar – in the middle of a lively food market district. Which means stalls and stalls of beautiful brightly coloured fruit and veg, punctuated by the occasional stall of goats heads and bloody insides (slightly
less appealing if you’re a vegetarian like me…) It also means loads and loads of people and loads of rickshaws and loads of noise!

It felt like we had properly arrived in Dhaka once we’d all had a cup of hot, sweet chai and then piled in to some rickshaws. Me and Menna squeezed in to one with Theresa, the German volunteer we’re sharing an apartment with. Amongst the many rickshaws that filled up the streets, we were the only white Western women riding in a rickshaw and needless to say we drew a lot of stares. Some of the younger men driving rickshaws looked quite wide eyed and envious of our rickshaw driver having us in the back. However I’m sure they were less envious when they saw what hard work it was getting us three up a slight hill! Even our driver had to give up and push the bike for a bit, which made us all feel really bad and really fat… We wanted to get out and help push but our driver wasn’t having any of it.

Our apartment is opposite a massive outdoor play area – which is perfectly placed for Menna and me as play therapists! It means we can very easily observe how some children play here. It’s mostly boys playing cricket and the occasional game of football, it’s all child led with very few adults around and there’s very little conflict within or between the groups of children.

Talking of football I’m very pleased to report that the only football shirts I’ve spotted being worn here so far are Chelsea and Man City shirts. Some of you might believe this is a result of successful marketing campaigns in Asia by the two premiership clubs, however I think it’s more to do with Dhaka residents having excellent taste in football teams…

The Orphan Trust Fundraiser 2014

Posted by: on Mar 11, 2014 | No Comments

Since our launch a little over a year ago, The Orphan Trust have been working hard to ensure that the pledges made with your donations are being fulfilled and reaching the children and organisations that need it the most. We have also been working very hard to get exciting and much needed new projects off the ground.

As you can appreciate, operating solely on the good will of our volunteers both here and abroad, it has been an extremely challenging first year, but also very rewarding. We did question whether or not taking on further commitments would be a good idea, but never ones to shy away from a challenge, we thought what better way to celebrate our first year than with a little get together!

 So it is with great pleasure that we would like to announce that The Orphan Trust are hosting a charity fundraiser on 4th June at Cinnamon Kitchen – Anise Bar, 9 Devonshire Square, London, Ec2M 4YL 7- 10.30 www.cinnamon-kitchen.com for event details see http://orphantrust.co.uk/eshots/second_fundraiser/index.html

 The fundraiser will be an opportunity to take a look at all the work that we have done in the past year; and to look forward to some of the new projects we have in the pipeline.

 More importantly it will be a chance to show you the tangible change that has been brought about by your donations, and how a small organisation like The Orphan Trust, by cutting out the middle-man and having direct links with orphanages and drop-in centres, can deliver immediate and life changing results to the children that need it the most.

 We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible there on the night!

 All the best,

 The Orphan Trust Team




The Invisible Millions

Posted by: on Nov 11, 2013 | No Comments

Despite the enactment of ‘The Birth Registration Act of 2004’ hundreds of thousands of street children in Bangladesh remain unprotected and undetected.

In July 2006, Bangladesh  the seventh most populated country in the world, enacted legislation to register all births and deaths, making it mandatory for every citizen to possess a valid official birth certificate by 2009.

The possession of a birth certificate is crucial for a child’s protection. Without proof of age, children under 18 are being employed doing hazardous jobs by unscrupulous employers.  Child protection agencies cannot challenge theses employers due to lack of evidence of childrens’ ages.

Likewise, under-aged girls in the commercial sex business are claimed to be over 18 years of age by pimps.  Under aged girls are forced into child marriages, when the law states minimum age for marriage is 18.

The age for criminal responsibility is 13 yet it is not uncommon to find much younger boys in courts charged with murder, rape or arson.

“The absence of a birth certificate puts them at greater risk of discrimination, abuse and neglect,” said Muhammad Azizur Rahman, a child protection officer with UNICEF Bangladesh.

UNICEF is especially focusing on vulnerable children such as those living on the streets, working children, children of sex workers, indigenous children and refugee children, as they are more likely to be missed out. Yet despite targets, only 45% of people are now registered with birth certificates though the percentage of the child population with birth registration is not known. (http://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/4926_4968.htm)

The reason for the slow progress is a lack of awareness amongst the population to register births, lack of computer equipment and resources to facilitate the project, but primarily the Bangladesh Government’s failure to treat registration of births as a priority.

Homeless litter picker plays with his adopted stray Puppy. He has no idea of his date of birth and guesses his age.

Until the 2006 Act, the Bangladesh Government’s registration of birth system was governed by Law developed in 1873! Birth certificates are not required to access services so there was no incentive to register. Culturally birthdays were not a celebratory event and when needed people guessed their age relying on memory.  Birth registration is not in the national psyche and nor it seems in the Governments.

Looking at the treatment of street children in Dhaka and their place in society, it is easy to understand why people do not care to have these children registered. They are cheap labour and hold no accountability. If an unregistered child goes missing then it’s one less nuisance on the street.  Quite how many children living in the train and bus stations of Dhaka make it to adulthood will never be known. Registration is only free for under 2s. Amongst the street children there is also a complete lack of trust of authority – it is highly unlikely a street child, run away or orphaned, would pay to put themselves on the radar.

What is needed is more integration between different sectors and groups to bring awareness of birth registration amongst the general public and in particular street children.  A government needs records for good governance. Until the Bangladesh Government manages to register 100% of its population, it cannot begin protecting the most vulnerable and most marginalised members of its society; its voiceless street children.

Bangladesh Garment Workers Demand 77% Pay Increase

Posted by: on Nov 6, 2013 | No Comments

Bangladesh wage board seeks a 77% pay rise from $38 a month to ($67) for the nation’s four million garment workers in the wake of a factory complex collapse that killed 1,135 people.

The figure must now be accepted by the government and made law before it can be implemented.

If accepted, it will still remain one of the lowest wages in the sector worldwide. “The minimum wages in Cambodia and India are around $80 while Vietnam, Indonesia and China pay higher,” said Union leader Sirajul Islam Rony, who is one of six members of the board.

So why not ask for more? Why did they not attempt to bring wages in line with worldwide figures ?  The answer is simple- they need to remain competitive.

The unions had initially demanded a minimum wage of $102 a month. Factory owners said that although they were prepared to increase wages they could not cope with sharp hikes as, money has to be spent on improving premises to ensure safety and remain competitive.  ”We’ve demanded more. But after considering every aspect, we think this is a fair deal,” said Mr Rony.

Fair deal or not, how much of this will actually be implemented? Many subcontractors already pay significantly less than the current minimum. 90% of buildings don’t meet local building regulation standards let alone international standards.  Enforcement is painfully lax.

Hundreds of thousands people, victims of floods, cyclones, and poverty have little option but to move to the city in search of employment in substandard factories and workshops. Factory owners manipulate accounts and health and safety standards for benefit of clients yet the reality is very different with under aged workers working crouched under tables. The factory owners have little choice but to play these games if they are to meet the demands of the clients.

The garment workers of Bangladesh are paying a very high price for the cheap clothes that fill a lot of our shops.  They pay the price by risking their lives working in unsafe premises, for long hours, in awful conditions, for terrible wages. ‘

If the new wage increases are accepted as law than, the only way to make sure it works, is to shift our attitudes as consumers. We drive the market. We need to accept our choices greatly impact the lives of these people. We need to take responsibility and make choices that will make a difference. We can choose to see the story behind the garment. We can choose to buy clothes from brands that have a transparent supply chain. Retailers can do the same. They can hold their suppliers to account, for health safety and wages. They need to look beyond what the suppliers say they do and run thorough checks, to ensure the safety and protection of one of the most vulnerable people in today’s society.


Rana Plaza – the textile industry’s house of cards

Posted by: on Oct 29, 2013 | No Comments

On the 24thof April 2013 Rana Plaza, an 8 storey building which stood in the Savar suburbs of Dhaka collapsed. Days earlier cracks had been reported in various parts of the building, including load bearing walls. Several shops and a bank on the ground floor were immediately closed. However these warnings were ignored by the owners of the textile companies operating out of the building, and garment workers were ordered back into work or risk having their pay docked.

Although this was not the first building collapse or fire to occur in Bangladesh’s many thousands of textile factories, it is considered the worst collapse in the country’s history, claiming over 1,100 lives and injuring up to 3,000 people. The collapse made global headlines and the response from many of the world’s political and social leaders was a unanimous call for change and a greater emphasis on safety and equality for Bangladesh’s garment workers.

The Bangladeshi government pledged financial assistance for injured workers and life insurance benefits for family members of the deceased. Several global retail brands who directly sourced clothing from Rana Plaza, including Primark and Walmart, also made compensation pledges of their own, adding that they will make careful checks with all of their suppliers to ensure minimum safety requirements were being met and that workers basic human rights were not being abused.  However, 6 months on and many of the injured and the families of the deceased of the Rana Plaza disaster are still waiting for that compensation.

According to figures, of the estimated 4,000 families affected by this tragedy, around 350 survivors and families of the deceased have received any financial assistance from the government’s relief fund.  The remaining survivors and their families have been struggling to rebuild their lives. Most have been left with no income and escalating medical bills, whilst families of the deceased are required to prove through DNA testing that they really did lose someone in the collapse. This approach could prove somewhat problematic considering some bodies were never found and almost 300 burials of unidentified bodies took place.

What is even more worrying is the lack of any real action from the global retail brands that had contracts with the companies operating out of Rana Plaza. Of the 23 European and North American retailers who had initially made compensation pledges only Primark has provided any financial aid, by providing 3 months wages (around £118) to the 3,300 survivors. This in itself was no easy task, with poor record keeping and the loss of employment documents in the disaster itself, it has taken Primark 6 months to build a database of around 3,000 victims and families of the deceased who were affected by the collapse. By Primark’s own admission, a lot of those affected by this event have slipped through the net.

As for the rest of the multi-national companies, rather than thoughts of compensation, most chose to quickly distance themselves from the catastrophe in the immediate hours after the collapse. Italian fashion brand Benetton and Spanish company Inditex (owner of the Zara chain) issued statements stating that they had stopped sourcing clothing from their affiliates at Rana Plaza months ago, while US giant Walmart denied all links to Rana Plaza despite there being documented evidence that their clothes were being manufactured in the building.

To date most of the retailers associated with Rana Plaza have failed to come to any agreement on long terms compensation arrangements, and even if a deal were met victims are unlikely to receive anything until early next year due to the bureaucracy and inherent inefficiencies in the claiming process. Considering Bangladeshi garment workers are the amongst the lowest paid labourers in the world, it is astonishing to think that companies who make billions off their hard work every year have failed to make any substantial financial contributions to the victims of this disaster.

And what of our part in all of this? It is no secret that the boom in the clothing industry is largely fuelled by the fast, throw away fashion culture that has seen the price of clothes plummet while retailers fight to keep themselves competitive on the high street. This in itself has put added pressure on global retailers to source cheaper production and faster turnaround times. Bangladesh is reported to be the world’s second largest exporter of ready-made clothes behind China, and it is less than one-tenth of its size. Why is this? Well for starters Bangladeshi workers are paid a quarter of what a Chinese worker would cost.

The very fact that the Rana Plaza building only had permission for 5 storeys, and the upper three storeys were illegally added to compensate for the growing demand and pressure on manufacturers to produce more and at a faster rate, is a poignant reminder of just how much our buying habits and the decisions we make when handing over our money at the tills have consequences.

It is of vital importance and with immediate urgency that all those responsible for and associated with this tragedy start to make real financial contributions to help the thousands of survivors, many of whom are now permanently disabled and unable to work, and the families of the deceased that are having to survive without breadwinners.  In the long-term it is up to us, the consumers, to send a clear message to global retailers, that the lives lost in this tragedy and countless others around the world, are not a price we are willing to pay for cheaper and more affordable clothing. When profit margins and sales figures become more important than human life it is we the consumer who are the last line of defence; and our moral and ethical expectations of the multinationals who operate to meet our demands are far greater than this.


The devastating collapse of Rana Plaza