Monday, November 5, 2012

The weather was terrible when I arrived in Bhola. The rains had been late, and we were still getting downpours. On my second night there was a mighty storm in the south of the island – 31 dead and a thousand fishermen lost at sea, although I understand 700 of them were rescued. We felt nothing at our end of the island, and our only casualty was the television lines. Since I depend heavily on Al Juzeera for my sanity when I go to Bhola alone, I was rather fed up until the aerials were mended!

Once the rain stopped, it became extremely hot and humid, and the third floor was like an oven under the flat roof. Fans simply moved hot air around, and the nights were not great. We may have to invest in a couple of small air conditioners for us visitors.

The disappointing news is that Chandan Cruze, the manager of whom we had such high hopes, is not right for the job. Apart from the fact that he can’t drink the water in Bhola and appears to dislike the island, he really does not have managerial skills. So I had to give him his marching orders, and the hunt resumes for a director.

Before we both left, however, we had regular evening lessons in sign language. He may never need to use his newfound knowledge, but I hope to put mine into practice on my next visit.

The staff and children were in good form. Montu and Monira are thrilled with their new baby boy, and Shahti’s daughter Nabanita has become a little beauty.

I walked to the primary school with our deaf children one morning. They have settled in extremely well and no longer have a signing interpreter – the whole class looked at her instead of the teacher! Ali plans to send all our children to school in January, even the slow learners, since they will all receive the government curriculum school books which we can use in the boundary.

Several of our deaf teenage girls and boys have been training in Dhaka, and four of the girls start work in a garment factory this month. They live and learn free of charge in the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed, founded and run by an English physiotherapist called Valerie Taylor who is a good friend of Ali. Sadly I didn’t get to meet her this trip but hope to do so next time.

So we seem to be achieving our aim of educating and training many of our children to lead a normal and fulfilling life.

As usual I brought home a suitcase full of the beautiful embroidery – pillow cases, table cloths and napkins – made by our teenage girls under Asma’s tuition. I sell them here for donations and hope to have a pre-Christmas ‘embroidery party’ in my house, to give friends a chance to find unique and lovely Christmas gifts.

We took a mixed bag of disabled children out for an ‘awareness programme’, this time to a girls’ secondary college in a very rural area. Ali had asked the principal to invite parents of disabled children to come and meet us. We had not expected 61, from an area not much larger than Chiswick… By the time I left, we had half a dozen new children – mainly CP and Downs – who will come daily for physio until they are able to look after themselves enough to live with us. I have asked Ali to do other such awareness programmes, since we have space for more children.

Due to the rain, planting at Valumia is very late – in fact, we only ploughed two days before I left. We usually manage to plant early so that we can sell surplus vegetables in the market but sadly, this year, they will only be ready at the same time as everyone else’s and we will have to eat or store them ourselves.

We had a wonderful picnic on the estate belonging to the politician whom I met on the overnight launch to Dhaka several years ago. It has a beautiful avenue of trees – very welcome in the heat – and runs along the bank of the river. Ali and the younger children had a lovely swim before lunch. One of the better picnics as far as I was concerned – perhaps not as adventurous as the one Peter and I enjoyed in March, but all the rivers were too high for us to attempt another island visit.

I left just before Eid. Most of the children went home for the holidays, and I always feel sorry for Ali who has to stay in the boundary with the few who have no home or whose parents do not want them. He tells me they had a good time, they shared a cow with other families and went out on some visits. School has now reopened.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dinah's report on her visit to Bhola February - March 2012

On my recent trip to Bhola, I had a new traveling companion who had decided to visit Bhola before going on to India. His name is Peter and I think he enjoyed the experience very much indeed. The children loved him, of course – and not only because of the wonderful bags, caps and pens he produced from Surrey Cricket Club, as you can see from the photograph. He is also rather good at cricket, so he and Ali became quite competitive – and he even got me batting! At the farewell, Peter said he had intended to stay only a couple of days but he had stayed two weeks and didn’t want to leave. Watch this space!

Because we had a new visitor to Bhola, Ali and I tried to show him as much as possible. At our first roof meeting we picked 22 of the smaller children who had never been to Barisal, and set off at 6 a.m. a few days later. I warned Peter that my previous trips, involving two ferries each way and some low tides, had always lasted considerably longer than planned but this one went swimmingly – even if we did have to park right behind a small truck with a cage containing at least 500 extremely distressed chickens with a similar one next to us. I will spare you that photograph, suffice to say it has put me off eating chicken. Otherwise we had a lovely time, did a scenic tour of Barisal Centre Ville – of limited cultural interest – then visited various relations of Ali for lunch, followed by the usual Childrens’ Park, before just catching the two ferries home (someone had given us the wrong times but we persuaded Ali to get there early, just in case!).

We had a splendid picnic on the second Friday. Everyone, together with food and water toys, crowded into the tractor trailer and minibus and we drove to the Meghna river, the other side of the island from Barisal. There we jumped – or, in my case, was helped – into a battered motorboat which already had a couple of calves on board. We had a brilliant picnic on a small island of 10,000 inhabitants, after which many of the children swam and played in inflatable boats, carefully guarded by Ali in his rubber fishing clothes. It was an exciting journey home in that the tide was low. We had to walk through the mud and then wade through thigh-deep water to get to the boat. As usual, the older girls had dressed to kill in their best saris, but I firmly wore my oldest salwar kameez! Reaching the boat, I was presented with very steep, very narrow and very slippery gangplank up which I flatly refused to climb. Luckily we had a small wooden classroom chair with us, which we set down on the river bed and I could clamber aboard in a rather undignified manner, to the cheers of family and strangers alike although I don’t think the goats were very interested.

That day was Ali’s birthday. We had ordered the cake and icecream so, after a quick shower and change, off we went to collect the goodies while the staff decorated the room. This was the third birthday Ali had actually celebrated with me – he was in the orphanage till age 17 – and the children really enjoy the occasion, but it was a long day. Peter and I were very pleased to pass on supper afterwards and crawl up to the third floor for much needed vodka and cokes!

Our final major outing, on which we took another variety pack of children, was to the very southern tip of Bhola on the Bay of Bengal. On the way we passed a sixth form college where classes had just ended so they were happy for Ali to talk to the students about disability and how to prevent it – part of his awareness programme. Afterwards we reached the coast, along 3 kms of the worst road I have ever driven, where we gazed out on the choppy sea. Remember that Bhola lies between two large rivers so, although they had seen plenty of water, this was the first time many of the children had seen the ocean. No swimming this time, but a good picnic of hardboiled eggs and other goodies purchased on the way.

The new tailoring building is almost finished and is fully occupied. Apart from Asma and her tailoring classes, all the married staff are in residence including Shathi and Dipak with their gorgeous baby girl Nabanita. Six of the older boys and single men live in a couple of rooms and there is still space. We will be taking on new staff so it is good to have such accommodation to offer.

As far as I was concerned, the high point of the visit was taking five of our brightest deaf children to register in the local primary school. We undertook to send a teacher with them every day – school is mornings only – so Susucki and Masuma are taking turns. Ali tells me the children, two girls and three boys, are loving school and several of the slightly younger children want to go too, so it looks as though one of my dreams might be coming true.

Rozina and Supia telephoned almost daily from Rishilpi, where they are happy and learning their physiotherapy. I hope I will see them when I go back in the autumn.

It is always sad to say goodbye to the children, especially at this time of year since I will not be returning for so long. But I know they are well and happy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An exciting opportunity for our blind girls

There is great news for our two blind teenage girls Rozina and Supia. Bruna has formed an extremely positive and helpful relationship with a well-established charity in Bangladesh, called Rishilpi. Bruna has now written:

Last November when Holger and I were in BCPS we talked with Ali of the possibility of the two blind girls, Rozina and Supia, to go to Rishilpi for a while to learn and train to become physiotherapists.

In Rishilpi there is a very good and professional physiotherapist and teacher that is blind! He is extremely good; everyday there are over 40 children that come with mothers to have physiotherapy and learn what to do at home.

It would be a wonderful opportunity for them to learn something useful, good and practical that will give them a better purpose in life and a better future. It will also give them a proper job in BCPS and if they are good and successful they could also help children outside BCPS in the local community

We hope that on the 7th February Rozina and Supia will arrive in Rishilpi with their escorts Shefali and Livia to start the greatest and most important adventure of their lives.

Livia, the volunteer Swiss nurse, will accompany the girls and stay for a while to see the medical department of Rishilpi to get some ideas for BCPS too.

Ali has permission from the girls' guardians, so they are all set to go.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A new baby girl in Bhola Garden

We are all delighted to announce the birth, on 9 January 2012, of Shathi's daughter. Our lovely deaf Shathi married Dipok in January 2010 and they are blissfully happy together. They are now the proud parents of this beautiful little girl. All the children are thrilled with their new baby.

Friday, January 6, 2012

a new building for a new year

Ali and the children send best wishes for the New Year. They all had a good Christmas and are now back in school or further training.

The married staff have moved into the new building and are very happy with their new accommodation. As you will see from the photographs of Monira and Surma, it is excellent and a great improvement on their previous rooms.