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The Untouchable Colony

Posted by: on Jun 27, 2018 | No Comments

After check in we visit a local colony of Doom and Sweeper families. We now understand that in the caste system Dooms are used to clear dead carcasses and perished deceased bodies or to dig up graves for purposes of enquiries that follow burials. The sweepers are toilet cleaners.

The colony is a tiny slum area made up of a cluster of tin houses with mud walls all located in very close proximity to one another. It is based in the town of Sirajganj.

On entering we meet a women outside the communal temple. She is very praising of god and proudly points towards the temple. We continue down the alleyway and past a couple of tin houses to an opening, this tiny court yard surrounded by four building appears to be a community hub area. There is a pump well located outside a building which is essentially one room. We are told this is the school.

A young lady appears, she is introduced as a former student, her name is Jinook, now aged 22 she has completed her studies in Political Science BA Hons and is looking for work in a related field. She is of the Sweeper community, an untouchable. As we stand there, more and more people appear, the children gather. At first they are a little shy. Our host appears with a camera and we all gather for photographs. After this we are invited into the school.

We meet Chadni who is 16, she has just finished her studies at the school and requires sponsorship to continue with her education. I later discover what a bright and articulate young lady Chadni is, when she succinctly, articulately and politely makes a case for funding the girls education at a meeting with community head, the men of the village and our host from Shudha who provides some of the sponsorship.

As a welcome the schools teachers also from the community and the children put on a meet and greet session for us. They sing us a song to welcome us, then we all set off for a wonder around Colony. People empty their houses to welcome and join us on the tour. Each house is made up of two rooms and a kitchen. The kitchen is located in a separate building away from the house, the toilets and showers are communal. We hear that a Swedish charity have recently committed to building a separate showers for the girls. After the tour we are presented with flowers and asked to join a village meeting. It is held in one of the houses.

The house is clean and well presented, and although a single room accommodates an entire family the feeling of love and warmth from this community stretchers through the four walls of this home. The villagers gather around the house, looking in through the window as the meeting commences.

At the meeting we hear that the community have been given 50,000tk by the government to help a project which aims to refurbish the school. The tin building has become dilapidated and is dangerous for the children (see picture).

Shudha have pledged 25000tk for the project. Due to the lack of funding the project will take place in phases. The rear wall of the school will be rebuilt to begin with, and once more money is available another phase will take place. Bristi one of our hosts explains that the school are desperately in need of books for their library (see pictures) which is currently a single cabinet consisting of a single self of books. She says that the teacher hope that one day they can have a separate room with a reading area as the library.

It occurs to me that if rebuilding a single wall of school costs £750 the cost to supply the school with some books, more sufficient shelving units or perhaps even a separate room as a library and reading area cannot be very much. This project would continue to serve a community who with education are already beginning to work their way out of poverty.

At the meeting we learn that sponsoring Chadni and the other girls who have reached 16 in the village into higher education would cost only £12 per student per month. It is acknowledged that the advancement of girls in this community will greatly contribute to the advancement of future generations.

I remember the conversation with Bristi on the night of our arrival. She described that commonly children and particularly girls from this community are at risk and can quickly become destitute following the marital break up of parents or a bereavement. They can be drawn into brothel communities like Daulatdia (see link, this a a must watch)!!!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JYPyI1agpiw&feature=youtu.be

Now that I have met these loving people who are so happy, generous and attentive I find this vulnerability hard to swallow. I can see that this is a strong community who work together. I therefore find it all more difficult to comprehend.

By Sofena Choudhury

The Road to Sirajganj continued…

Posted by: on 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

Posted by: on 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

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

Day 10: Dhaka Children’s Hospital

Posted by: on Apr 7, 2015 | No Comments

Today we visited Dhaka Shishu (Child) Hospital and were lucky enough to meet some of the Psychology team there. Monowara Parveen, Senior Child Psychologist, met us at the busy entrance and then took us on a tour of the departments her team work in. We began with the Department of Developmental Neuroscience, which runs a range of busy outpatient clinics for children and their families. General Developmental Assessment clinics run every day, as do the many different specialist clinics that they run for families of children with issues such as autism, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy. Some children have no organic neurological difficulty but instead their parents are experiencing emotional difficulty which impacts on them, in this case the team provide the parents with counselling.

Health care is not free in Bangladesh and the first appointment in this clinic – the General Developmental Assessment – costs 30 taka (around £0.27 pence) after that each specialist clinic appointment 300 taka (around £2.60p). As a result this service is mainly used by more wealthy middle class families. However, the same services are available at Medical Colleges through Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh at a much cheaper rate of around 20 taka (£0.18 pence) per appointment. Although much cheaper, this still means that families on the lowest incomes will inevitably miss out on this service.

Today the epilepsy follow up clinic was in progress and we got to observe how Developmental Psychologists and Paediatricians work collaboratively with each family. Monowara explained how important a multidisciplinary approach was in this team.

We then met two young Developmental Psychologists who worked on all the different specialist clinics. The Developmental Psychologists all complete their academic training at Dhaka University and then further practical training at the hospital before becoming Psychologists.

Monowara then took us to visit the EEG department, where brain scans help to identify neurological conditions in children such as epilepsy, and then on to the inpatient ward where the children and their mothers stay and the Developmental Psychologists work with them.

We then visited the Psychology Department, where children are initially assessed for psychological conditions and where appropriate seen for further psychological treatment or referred on to the Department of Developmental Neuroscience.

We were excited to see some of the toys and resources that the Psychologists use for assessment and therapy with the children. These included small dolls, figures, furniture, that children could use to create worlds and make up stories. These toys are often known as small world figures in Play Therapy and used in a similar way by children in Play Therapy sessions.

The similarities between Play Therapy and how these Psychologists’ worked with children did not end there. The team also emphasised the importance of play for children to express and work through their emotional difficulties. Child & Adolescent Mental Health Specialist, Farzana Islam, was particularly passionate and eloquent on this point. She explained how keen the team were for Play Therapy training to occur in Bangladesh, so that they could ensure that professionals were working with children experiencing emotional difficulties in safe and effective ways.

We left Dhaka Shishu Hospital feeling extremely positive about the future of Play Therapy in Bangladesh. Not only are the Psychologists very keen for Play Therapy training and skills, it appears that Play Therapy is highly compatible with the values and approach of leading professionals already working with children with emotional difficulties here.

We at the Orphan Trust have a vision of offering Play Therapy to the vulnerable and disadvantaged children of Bangladesh – and this will only be possible if Play Therapy is embraced and integrated in to existing specialist mental health services like that at Dhaka Shishu Hospital.

By Catriona

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