Thursday, January 15, 2009

Anne's report on her Christmas visit to Bhola, December 2008

The Journey
It was a joy to spend Christmas week at Bhola.
The warmth of the welcome was even greater than the
warmth of the sun ­ it was like going from a world of
black and white to one of vivid colour! It was a
long journey to get there; the fog that had grounded (
or diverted) all flights after mine, hit Dhaka
in the early hours of the next morning
(at least it wasn¹t a cyclone this time) and
Ali and I finally arrived off the launch at 2pm,
rather than before breakfast as
all the children had expected.
There were lots of phone
calls saying: "dadu where ARE you and sister?"

The Children
The children all appeared in great form, looking well
and happy,and enjoying my efforts at Bangla and
at signing. It was great to meet the old friends
and make some new ones, joining in the
classroom and all the games.

Fatima¹s burns are healing slowly but nicely.
She will almost certainly need skin grafts but
she is looking after herself well and getting
Lailey, whose cooking remains a high point
(³Lailey¹s London soup²)
is much more comfortable with a new prosthetic limb ­
the sores are gone and she has little pain. Shurma
is having some problems with her artificial eye
but this is under medical control.

Little Sonia and Hafsa are the best of friends,
when they¹re not fighting madly. Hafsa is a
child always busy: she had decided
to embroider a complicated design as a
gift for me and spent the week bent over her
stitching, even as she walked around
the boundary or watched TV.

A number of the children living at home came
back to visit: Dilruba, Khaleda, Maksud and
Putul all arrived. Along with Farouk, and Saladin,
who is a tremendous worker and whom Ali
is paying a small salary, Maksud was helping
with the building work and seemed much happier
that the poor little thing that
Dinah described in November. He¹s still very
skinny, but hisfather who did come in to speak to
Ali, argued that the whole family is small and
skinny ­ and this is true!

As many of us as could fit in the minibus (lots!)
went out to the new land which is looking beautiful
and ­ like the boundary garden ­ full of organic fruit
and vegetables growing at a great rate.

The Building
The new building is a triumph, both in the design
(all thanks to Ali) and the speed at which it has ­ safely ­
gone up; and all with bamboo scaffolding and labourers
carrying bricks on their heads (something that all the boys
delighted in showing me their proficiency). The third
floor was finished before my arrival and the ground floor
and all the bathrooms were being painted and tiled.
It will make such a difference for everyone to have a proper
building to sleep in, the girls sleep uncomplainingly on the
floor of the classroom but it can¹t be comfortable week after
week. For visitors, the odd quiet moment on the top verandah
with the view as the sun sets will be an added bonus.
The ground floor room will be a great multi-purpose
space and might even bring in some extra income.
It would be perfect to rent out
for meetings and events, Ali says its by far the best
space on Bhola and is fully self-contained.

Now that the worst of the building is over, games have
resumed in the entrance to the boundary and there
is fierce competition over the nightly badminton games!
(of course it still vies with the lure of the television).
There is also great enjoyment in the rowing boat, which
all the children who can swim, are allowed to take out ­
wonderful way to spend an hour watching the fish jump.

It was a pleasure to meet Ronazid. Now three months
into his position as Ali¹s second in command, it is
as if he has always been part of the family.
The children respond well to him and he clearly
enjoys spending time with them, and he seems to
balance this well with all the administrative work.
Like everyone else in the boundary, he was always busy
with something. He took charge of the Friday evening
meeting (Ali was an onlooker) and handled it fairly
and well ­ even with limited Bangla it was easy to
see that. Of course,Ali still does far too much,
but having Ronazid is a great start.

Farewell to Ruhul Amin
The week was very overshadowed by the final illness
and death of Ruhul Amin, an orphan who had been with
Ali for forty years. As we all know, Ruhul Amin
had been sick for a long time and this time, as we
took him to the hospital in the microbus, heaven sent.
Prior to this he would have had to go by public bus
or on the back of a rickshaw van (a pallet on wheels
pulled by a rickshaw). He was admitted with
advanced kidney failure,and he died that evening.
My constant memory of Ruhul Amin
will be of a simple and gentle man who was
always so delighted to join in and get his share
of sweets and treats. And a special mention to
Taznour and Agamoni who looked after him
so well on that last trip to hospital; 13 year
old girls with the compassion and capability of
people much older.

The grimness of the government hospital and the lack of
state care was a sad but timely reminder of the harsh
realities of life in Bangladesh, something from
which we are very insulated as visitors in the boundary.
This also came home to me when I met the superintendent
of the government orphanage for girls, which just up
the road. When I went with Rina and Massima for a visit,
the 100 girls were well fed, dressed, and seemed happy
but their accommodation and the environment around
them was basic to say the least ­
and of no comparison to our Boundary.

Being in Bhola really was the perfect way to spend
Christmas: understated, non-commercial, lots of
fun and with people you love. We had coloured
fairy lights, a Christmas tree, the Christmas story
and gifts for everyone. There was an interesting
moment when I asked Ali if we could buy a small gift
for the children and he thought I said goat,
and he was planning how we would kill it together
instead it was tiny bouncing balls for the boys
(a real hit) and bracelets for the girls (always a winner)
as well as some clothe or lengths of material for
each of them. Ali made some sweets ­
he could have a second career here ­ with coconut,
milk, nuts and spices. Absolutely delicious!

I spent a lot of time in the classroom with the children,
learning alongside them as they prepared for the end of
year exams. Shati, Rabeya and Earudin in particular, got
their books out daily and ensured I did the homework with
them. I got the honorary position of colouring and
drawing teacher for the week, and naturally we had
the loudest oftraditional singing and dancing sessions.

Working with Ali, I started taking some biographies of
the children for the website and "sponsor a child" scheme
(which will also be good to have as an archive of
the charity).
This was slow work as there was always something
else to do, and often there is so little information,
but it has begun.


As always it was a pleasure and a privilege to spend
time with Bhola¹s Children. It really is a second home
and, as Dinah will agree, it gets harder and harder to
leave each time. It¹s a place with lots of laughter
and some tears ­ just one big loving family with all
the good things and the challenges that brings.
The achievements since last year, especially in
terms of the new accommodation, have been amazing.
So, many, many thanks to Ali and all of the children
for letting me be a part of it all. I¹ve come
home inspired to spread the word further about
Bhola¹s Children, not to mention working out when
and how the next trip will come about!

Anne Hamilton,
January 2009

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