Post-trip: Back home in London Town

Posted by: on 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.”

Posted by: on 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!

Posted by: on 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

Day 11: Chowk Bazaar Shopping Trip

Posted by: on Apr 8, 2015 | No Comments

I’m writing today’s blog sitting on top of 2 huge sacks containing 150 school bags The Orphan Trust has bought that are tied on to the back of a bicycle cart. With me are Sister Bijoya and Suhel, We’ve just finished our dinner on board and are stuck in a seemingly endless sea of rickshaws.

We had ventured out in search of shoes and bags for the 150 girls of Bottomley House Orphanage. First stop we tried the renowned shoe brand Bata in Farmgate; a manic place with traffic heading in all directions in a cacophony of noise under a series of connecting pedestrian bridges. The prices here were extortionate so we headed south to Gulistan on the edge of Old Dhaka. We passed a very small political protest of a 100 chanting people before arriving at the shoe wholesale market, here prices were more than 3 times lower. We scoured the market’s 3 floors searching for girl’s school shoes of the best quality and price before agreeing a deal. We bought 1 of each size and tomorrow will see the great shoe fitting exercise at Bottomley House, with 150 pairs of feet to measure!

Next we took a cycle rickshaw and headed deep into Old Dhaka to Chowk Bazaar, on the way we past the city jail where a crowd and TV cameras were gathered and Suhel informed me that a political execution by hanging was about to take place. As the rickshaw weaved in and out of on coming traffic the roads became lanes and the lanes became narrower, I noticed an open manhole cover and then out popped a near-naked man! Farmgate is manic but Chowk Bazaar is an incredible mass of humanity crammed into a tiny, narrow road with goods of every kind being moved up and down on heads, shoulders and bicycle carts amongst other modes of transport. We quickly located the bag wholesale market and again searched out the best prices and quality. Once the deal was done the school bags were tied up in sacks ready for the journey home and are currently safely below me, very slowly winding their way back through the jammed streets to the orphanage. 

The journey back from Old Dhaka to Farmgate took just short of 2 hours, when we arrived back at the orphanage the girls were all working hard sitting at their desks in a large hall studying. I headed back to Dhanmondi and stopped at Dhaka’s famous Hotel Star Kebab which does a cracking lamb biriyani. It’s back to Old Dhaka tomorrow to collect the 150 correct sized shoes!

By Christopher