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