Sunday, Nov.12, 2006
On our Bangladesh map there is an inset entitled "Bangladesh in the World." The tiny red dot appears insignificant in the grand scheme of things but we now know that this dot represents millions of warm, hospitable people, most of whom are struggling to eke out an existence. Often in countries such as this, where corruption in business and politics is the norm, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, frustrations give way to political unrest. Such is the case in Bangladesh at the moment.
Normal life and business activities have come to a standstill as an indefinite blockade programme, enforced by a fourteen-party alliance, started Sunday across the country. This initiative has brought Dhaka, and the SCAW team, to a standstill. Although it is easy to understand what motivated the opposition to strike, it is difficult to see what will be gained from it.
The hiatus has given us time to reflect on where we have been, what we have done, and on the many fascinating people we have met along the way. We have already written about our volunteer partners and their efforts to help their people but working in Bangladesh are many more folks who have a heart for humanitarian efforts here.
One such person is an obstetrician/gynecologist from New York whom we met on the plane from London. She came to Dhaka to study the work of BRAC, which is the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. BRAC is recognized as one of the foremost national initiatives for providing aid to rural areas in the world. Small villages have centres where women are taught to use the skills handed down to them to create crafts such as needlework, weaving, pottery, and beadwork.
Outlets for sale of the goods provide income to purchase more materials and support for the women and their families. BRAC also has local schools which enable students to attend at times more convenient to their work obligations while extra help gives the struggling student a chance to succeed. BRAC University takes these young people one step further as they gain education they need to get ahead. Women’s’ health issues are of some concern to BRAC and because of our friend’s expertise she was able to initiate a programme to give local midwives ongoing training which would enable them to provide safer deliveries and to recognize the need to transfer the woman to hospital if the situation warranted it.
Visiting slums and rural homes, hospitals and clinics, she was able to share her knowledge to improve conditions here. Having retired from active practice, she is now planning on using her gifts, along with what she gained from her time with BRAC, to start a similar programme in Colombia. It was a privilege to spend time with this woman.
It has often been said that it is a small world and this has never been more true than during our time in Dhaka. A volunteer in the SCAW office in Toronto has a sister whose husband is affiliated with the British Embassy here. Over the past two weeks she has been most helpful, providing travel advisories and updates and last evening, inviting us to dinner with her family.
A teacher by profession, she told us about a volunteer project which assists girls here in the city. Thirty of these girls are orphans who are learning to sew, with a view to eventually being able to work independently or in the garment industry to earn a living. The materials — including the sewing machines — were purchased by our friend to get the programme started. Successes are celebrated by all involved.
A somewhat more ambitious project involves former sex trade workers, some very young, to enable them to get off of the street. Bringing with them a myriad of emotional problems, these young women enjoy fewer gains, but nonetheless the programme continues to give them a chance to get their lives on the right track. All this just for the joy of helping someone, makes this woman a very special woman and a real joy to know.
Murray Dryden was fond of telling the Starfish Story: A young boy was walking along a beach strewn with starfish washed up on shore. As he walked, the boy picked up a starfish and threw it back into the water, repeating this often as he went. Watching him, a somewhat cynical man asked, “What good do you think that will do? There are thousands of them.” The young man bent down, picked up a starfish, and threw it back. “It will make a difference to that one!”
Surely this is what SCAW and our new friends are doing. Unable to undertake a project to change a nation, people are being helped one at a time — and lives are being changed.
Ron and Mary Ann King
SCAW Travelling Volunteers