Monday, August 11, 2014

Freda runs for Bhola's Children

Yesterday our wonderful trustee Freda, who has not done any serious running before, completed the 10 k run in Regent’s Park in aid of Bhola’s Children. To date she has raised over £800 for our charity. Back in Bhola, our children ran at the same time. They sent their good wishes. Here is Freda’s account of her marathon: As you may be aware, the date of my momentous running event coincided with the arrival of a certain Hurricane Bertha. It was thus with some trepidation that we arrived at Regents Park this morning. Running with umbrellas (or 'borrowing' bin bags from the friendly street cleaner we passed en route) was contemplated, but it was soon all too apparent that we would not have been wetter had we decided to swim to the start and thus all further attempts to stay dry were futile. However team morale was as high as the water level, and with a determination and stride pattern that Mo Farah would have been proud of, we set off only a mere 20 minutes after most of the field (as you know punctuality is not our strongest event). In fact Amy started so late that the 'start' line had been turned into the 'finish' and thus when she tried to cross the line she was accosted by a somewhat irritable race organiser. It only dawned on us later that had she been allowed to she would had inadvertently 'won' the race! With true courage in the face of adversity (some would say akin to that of the Jamaican sprint relay team in Glasgow) we battled on against fierce winds and thrashing rain overcoming everything that Hurricane Bertha could throw at us. A strong 'sprint' finish resulted in a 'Team Graf' personal best time of 1 hour 24 minutes. As you might suspect we are expecting to hear from the Olympic GB selection team in the next few days regarding our availability for Rio. Joking apart there was no way on earth you would have got me running around a flooded Regents Park for an hour and a half without knowing I had all your support behind me. Your generosity has humbled me and will make the pain I endure getting out of bed tomorrow (when my entire body has stiffened up in protest to today's exertions) seem completely worthwhile. The children in the home at Bhola went running at the same time as my run in support of our effort. I am sure their run was equally as wet with the added discomfort of the heat. Many thanks again for your support Freda “just call me Mo” Graf PS I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my Team – a big thank you to Bethan and Amy

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Allan's report on his first visit

I found my first visit to Bangladesh and to Bhola an extremely exciting and happy adventure. Ali greeted and welcomed me on arrival at the airport and in the first few hours I experienced travel by rickshaw, auto rickshaw taxi and by evening overnight ferry – fantastic! The care and attention given to us by Ali continued when we arrived at Bhola’s children. Thanks also to experienced travelers Anne and Simon who helped guide me through the many wonderful experiences in Bangladesh. Highlights of my trip included being with the children at Bhola, their warmth and friendly nature only exceeded by their energy, fitness and agility. I loved the morning run and brisk walks with the children. Several exercises as warm up routines seemed to go down well with the boys and lost little in translation. Together we played cricket, catch and a game of ‘footie’ - all in temperatures of 30+ degrees! Trips out with the children were a great experience. The willingness of the children to help and support each other was impressive. Peer guidance and order seemed to come naturally to the group, demonstrated by everyone helping to load breakfast onto vehicles that would transport us to Valumia. Here, in what we might call a garden or allotment site, we were served an al fresco breakfast in a lovely, tranquil environment. One of my most vivid memories is of the Bhola boys and girls climbing trees and positioning themselves on high branches for their picture to be taken. Their fantastic fitness and agility gave me some wonderful, colorful pictures. Allan Gall April 2014.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Anne's report on her recent visit

Back in Bhola 8th – 15th April 2014. We arrived in Bhola early on the morning of the 9th April. At this stage, it’s a homecoming for me as I’ve been to Bangladesh a dozen times; Simon at 3-and-a half is on his second visit, and for Allan, a fundraiser and supporter, also from Scotland, it was his first time anywhere in SE Asia – it was a great introduction. After the thrill of a ride in our new auto-rickshaw, the children, armed with Bangla flags and bright flowers, were on hand to greet us – a wonderful, warm welcome for all three of us, but clearly Simon was the one they were waiting for… He had a fantastic time playing with the ‘big boys’ and was using sign language in no time; it took him longer to accept the girls as they were, apparently, a bit ‘kissy’! Allan, a marathon-runner, was accompanied on his early morning runs by up to 10 boys in flip-flops, on other days Ali led them in a brisk walk. It was a pleasure to see so many new faces amongst the familiar ones. A couple of the younger girls had only just arrived and were busily settling in, whereas old friends had – just as they do in all families – grown up and moved on. Not moved too far though: we spoke to Tasnur and Dilruba, and met Maksud in the street. Everyone appeared to be healthy and in good spirits. The older children are going daily to the local primary school. It’s not easy for anyone, as they don’t have an interpreter, but they are persevering, and signing and lip-reading classes continue in the boundary. There was much singing and dancing too – there always is – and cricket was the name of the game most evenings. Official awareness programmes and day-long picnics were shelved for this visit, given the average temperatures of 35 degrees, but we managed trips to Valumia (the new access road is shaping up and the pond is being dug out - very slow and hot work), Supari Bagan, the river, the second bridge – for the sunset – and Bhola town. One highlight was the ‘water melon’ trip: Ali, the three of us, 32 staff and children, and twenty gigantic watermelons on an outing in the tractor/trailer combo. With the crowds that followed, there was certainly plenty of unofficial awareness-raising! Our last day coincided with the Bangladeshi New Year and Nahian’s ninth birthday, so an evening party, with Ali’s signature dish of ‘sweet rice’ – and when the Bangladeshi’s call something sweet, they really mean it – and a lot of fun and games. There were the usual types of challenges! The new air conditioner on the third floor caused the electrics to fuse and added to the thrice daily power-cuts… Eventually the very tenacious electrician triumphed (at 11pm) and the system, used sparingly, is a nice addition. The microbus kept breaking down due to the lack of clean fuel but again was eventually fixed and fixed again. But on the upside, the brand new gas supply, promised to Bhola Island for years, finally arrived. This long-awaited main-line gas means there is a viable alternative to the outdoor wood-fire method of cooking, which is welcome during the hottest days and the wettest monsoon. On the plane on the way home, Simon asked me, wistfully, if he could, please, have four big brothers, ‘just like my new friends in Bhola.’ Clearly, Ali and Bhola’s Children worked their usual magic on all of us and I remembered over again why this is such a very special place and part of my very extended family. I would say it was one of the best of visits ever… except that I say that every time! Anne Hamilton 08/05/14

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Photographs taken by Dinah in February

Dinah's report on her visit to Bhola

Dear friends, I returned last week from possibly my best ever visit to our children. I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to go alone – not that I would want to deter any of you from coming with me, but it is easier to bond with children and staff on one’s own. Ali and the children were in great form, and relishing the improvement in both the political situation and the weather. Almost the first thing I did was to travel to Valumia in the wonderful auto-rickshaw, with all the small boys. Valumia is flourishing, with lots of vegetables, fruit and fish. I was able to authorize the building of an access road so that we can get vehicles onto the land, and this is well under way – I myself helped pass 2000 bricks from the trolley to the land where the road is taking shape. As you know, it has been difficult to travel during the past year but Bangladesh seems to have calmed down since the election. I had told Ali I wanted as many awareness programmes as possible, and he had arranged three in primary and high schools. These are not only to instruct the young on how to reduce the danger of giving birth to disabled children, they are also to find new children who could benefit from coming to live with us. At present we have only 44 children aged between 6 and 13, and we have space to double that number. An Australian friend had discovered Fred Hyde, a truly remarkable man from Brisbane who – aged 95 – spends six months each year in Bhola. He first went out in 1980 to run an orphanage of 100 boys in the south of the island. Since then, in the last 20 years, he has built 41 schools. Last summer we talked on the telephone and briefly discussed the possibility of working together but soon realized this would not be an option. Luckily, though, Fred was in Bhola and agreed to summon the head teachers of all his schools, along with staff from the orphanage, to meet Ali and some of our disabled children. Fred, bless his heart, had told me he’d only heard of about 3 disabled children in the years he’d been in Bhola and figured his part of the island was healthier than ours. It came as a surprise to him that all his head teachers knew of at least one child who could benefit from our care. These schools are all south of Bhola’s largest town, Char Fassion, and therefore over 100 kms from us, so it was good to have introductions to so many schools in a part of the country Ali does not know well. Ali and I took a busload of teenagers, as well as Sima and Sonali, to Barisal, to visit Valerie Taylor’s local Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralized, which opened last July. It is an impressive setup and we were treated royally. Our older children go to CRP in Dhaka for training but we hope, once the Barisal centre has accommodation, they might start in Barisal and move on to Dhaka. I always worry about our teenage girls going from tiny, peaceful Bhola to the enormous and busy Dhaka, although Ali always makes sure there are at least three going together. Our day in Barisal was a joy. We lunched, as usual, with Ali’s nephew’s family and I was amazed to see Ali enveloped in a bear hug on arrival by a tall and beautiful woman. Turned out to be his older sister, of whom I’d never heard! Since we had no small children, we were spared the childrens’ park and went straight back to the ferry – over a wonderful new bridge so there is only one ferry involved, rather than the previous two. Having said that, it turned out the ferrymaster had gone home to rest, deciding there were insufficient vehicles to warrant running the ferry, so we still had over two hours to wait before leaving the mainland! However as I said to Ali, the bonus was we caught the sun setting on the river and still got home in good time. All the children seem to enjoy the primary school. The small children have a couple of hours each morning, the older ones go from 12 till 1.30 and again from 2 until 3.30. I always enjoy walking the little ones to school. All other lessons at home seem to be going well, although our busy schedule interfered with most of Ali’s famous and noisy lip reading classes. Judging by the performance our three best lip readers put on at awareness programmes, however, Ali does appear to have worked miracles with many of the deaf children in the last year. Sima’s physiotherapy, assisted by the blind girls Rozina and Supia, is thriving. She has a number of outpatients, although it is difficult to persuade mothers that regular visits are essential. At home, Sima gives two sessions a day to those in need and the two small CP children, Nayan and Ruma, have made huge improvements since last year. They are two of my very special children, always happy and smiling. I was pleased to see that the 6.30a.m. exercises, which I had introduced a year ago, are still taking place and Ali said they are especially important now: March 26 is Independence Day and our children always shine in the parade! Our own babies are growing fast – Shathi’s Nabanita (Ripa) is over three but is being overtaken by Monira’s little boy Kador at eighteen months. Ali told me the children of deaf mothers are usually late talkers, but Kador has definitely bucked that trend! We decided it was time for these two mothers to return to work so we asked them to do the cooking three times a week, freeing the teachers to teach. I suggested whichever was not working could look after both children. After initial rebellion, they agreed to do this and everyone seems happy with the arrangement. I celebrated my birthday with the children. I bought an enormous cake and ice cream for 70. Asma and the girls were up late making decorations and a fantastic montage on the white board. I was dressed in a beautiful sari belonging to Surma. There was lots of singing and dancing, and it was deemed to be the best party ever. I’ve certainly not had a birthday party like it – the only thing missing was the champagne! We had our traditional picnic at Valumia, combining it with catching all our fish. All the men and boys, and a few of the girls, spent several hours trawling a net up and down the pond, while the girls cleaned and gutted the harvest. It was a long, wet and messy morning and I was happy to sit in the shade with my kindle for much of it! We had our customary drawing competition, with prizes for the best small boy and girl and the best older boy and girl. I always hope for another little masterpiece such as Tasnur’s picture several years ago, which became our Christmas card. This year there are two possible contenders, from Hassan and Salma – I need to consult with fellow trustees but hope to have another Bhola’s Children card for next Christmas. Watch this space! It is always hard to leave the children, but they are already looking forward to seeing Anne and Simon in April. Meanwhile I am pleased with progress on the business side of the operation and hope it will not be too long before our excellent committee in Bangladesh find a deputy manager to relieve Ali of some of the work and responsibility. Please keep your fingers crossed for us in this endeavour.