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Registration of the new students

Busy day today started by a visit to the nursery with all those cute chicks. Each time it's pure joy to see their smily face when they see us. That's definitely the best way to start a day! Then we went to the office located in the school were the registration of the new students was happening.

TDP has its own school for 150 children and sponsorises 491 others to attend local schools. Maria found out that the level of education was really different so she decided to bring back the sponsored kids in TDP school. Then, pushing the reflexion further, she decided to give up the 100% bangladeshi curriculum for an international one. Firoz, our Education expert, has decided that we will follow the Cambrige curriculum adapted to Bangladesh.
But none of the children are on the same level. So, as the official scholar year is starting from July, they have decided to dedicate the 5 coming months to put all the children of what Firoz calls an Education Fast Track. It means that each child will be evaluated and pushed collectivaly and invividually if necessary in order to be ready for July.

This Education world is totally new for me and I realise how it can be an extremely powerful weapon against poverty. Here, families are begging us to take their children as they know it's the only path to escape from their misery. Yesterday for example, we had a father coming to the school with his daughter. He said she wanted to go to school but as she is working in a garment factory (she is 13 years old), he wanted us to compensate the income of the family. It seems that the mother has some blood pressure problems and the father, selling vegetables on the market, cannot sustain alone the family. We told the father we wanted to meet the mother to check her health with our doctor in order to give her a treatment. Then she would be able to work from home with a sewing machine replacing the daughter's income. Let's see what will happen!

This example Showcases quite well what we believe in. We could have told the father that we will pay the family in order to have the daughter in school but we don't believe in this way. We want to teach them how to manage their own life, make their own money and that's the principal task I have decided to dedicate myself.

02:05 Posted in Scolarship | Permalink | Comments (0)


The Dhaka Angel

Something amazing happened this afternoon. After a meeting with Ali, our "media Angel" from 7 days to plan an interview and send a journalist to Dhaka in March, I had another meeting with Tim to discuss the project and give us his donation. We spent an extremely nice time discussing marketing as it's his job and how he could contribute being my "strategy feedback" with the marketing campaign and the brand we want to develop for the sustainability project.
Then I recieved a call from a gentleman who wanted to handover his donation. I told him to meet me in a cafe as I thought he would be happy to discuss the project. The cafe was closing down and he told me he was in front of it. I came out and a car was waiting. We recognized each other and he told me he was in a rush so he just gave me the cheque. I begged him to tell me who he was as we wanted to say thank you but he literally told me:
"No Flo, I want to stay anonymous. Ok, you have my name but I don't want publicity. That's my way of doing it and that's it."
Then he left. When I read the amount, I could not believe it. 100 000 Dirhams! No typing mistake, one hundred thousand Dirhams. My god! It's amazing....
Even if we don't give your name, thank you mister anonymous from the bottom of our heart. Also thank you to Ali from 7 days as it's through one of your article that this Dhaka angel found us. Also thank you Tim and all the donators. Because of you the project is moving forward but also we meet incredible people who teach us the pure and real sense of giving!

19:15 Posted in Donation | Permalink | Comments (0)


The McMillan Family Visit to The Dhaka Project

Theresa’s Story

Our family, The McMillan’s, are privileged to have met Maria Conceicao to learn about the Dhaka Project. These talks developed into an interest in providing any help that we could to contribute to her work.
Besides helping to write proposals, provide medical advice and raise awareness about the project among our friends and colleagues, we visited The Dhaka Project at the end of November 2007.

We have 3 children between the ages of 11 and 15, all of whom were very excited and a little anxious about visiting Dhaka. Like most expatriate children living in Dubai, they weren’t sure what to expect while in Dhaka. Maria’s encouraging words and palpable love for the people in the Dhaka Project led us to believe that helping out with the Dhaka Project would be a wonderful opportunity to give and to learn.

Prior to our arrival in Dhaka we packed about 400 kg of school supplies and clothes for the families in Gawair, a small community in Dhaka. Once at the airport, Maria was able to add an additional 100 kg. So we arrived in Dhaka with a total of 500 kg and 25 bags and boxes! Despite our concerns, moving through customs was no problem; possibly due to the fact that there were many officials traveling through the airport to assist those affected by the cyclone that had recently hit the more southern parts of Bangladesh. Upon leaving the airport, The Dhaka Project Staff welcomed us and loaded our parcels into vans, just as our own family might do! What a relief to have had their help. Once at the guest house, our children (and us adults too) were exhausted and slept! As mentioned in previous accounts, the guest house was very comfortable with internet up and running!

Over the course of 6 days Ron helped with teaching the Project Medic and updating him on more recent approaches to medical assessment. They went to purchase medical equipment and in particular, an otoscope that the medic could use to examine ears and throats to look for infection. Ron also began to discuss with Maria the changes that would be needed in the new building that, at that time, she had hoped to house a medical clinic along with the school on the upper floors. As you know, these plans have since changed and the building will be entirely a school!

I worked primarily with the nursery and school staff teaching about health and safety, hygiene, and infection control. Our girls worked and mostly played with the children in the nursery, preschool and school. Much fun and learning was had by all!

The Dhaka Project is a wonderful example of a community development project that addresses aspects of life that contribute to the health and wellness of this community. When developed in an impoverished community such as Gawair and the slums of Dhaka, education, clean water/sanitation, hygiene and safety, employment, supportive community environment and housing all serve to improve the health and quality of life of the community there. The activities of the Dhaka Project can serve as a model for development in similar areas of the world. It is through Maria’s advocacy that these things are possible!

Besides the beautiful people here, I would say the one thing that I notice most is how Maria treats the children and their families with kindness and respect, without preference. She's very strict, very fair and very kind. Truly this has been a most wonderful experience and privilege. It's a blessing really. We are so grateful to the people of Gawair, the project staff and to Maria for her generous time in teaching us the meaning of giving.
Bye for now and we hope to return soon!

Ron’s Story M.D. F.R.C.P.(C)

From a medical perspective, in terms of the children, the families and the population that the project is trying to reach, there is an urgent need for high quality medical care. This would require establishing a medical center within the Dhaka Project to serve this population. There would be a need for significant funding for medical supplies, equipment and provisions made for staff recruitment, education and training. There presently exists a basic first aid station within the primary school staffed by a dedicated Medic who provides, in addition to first aid, some primary care including immunizations. We inspected a 3 story building that could possibly house such a medical center. However this building may be required for the school and then the nursery would be suitable for a larger expanded medical facility.

On a personal note, I was impressed with the Dhaka Project overall and the commitment and dedication of Maria and the staff to the children as well as the training programs for the parents. It was a great experience for all of us. The children exude happiness and are in a very nurturing environment for health and education. I would love to return and assist as needed!

Catharine’s Story (Age 15)
It is very easy for one to find out the current events of the world. Occurrences such as war, poverty, and natural disaster can be read, watched, and heard. They are they incredibly easy to access; one look at the daily newspaper proves this. I commend those who are able to report these articles to the public, however feel as though while sharing these stories, they neglect the most important part: The people involved. Newscasters can easily read out statistics, but to really know the people involved in such events we must get to know them. We must find out how alike we really are and how our global neighbors live their lives. This was the fuel behind my November trip to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations in the world. Its location and under-development have caused its people to experience serious hardships. Some of these include natural disaster as well as poor quality of life. When I traveled to Bangladesh in November, it was for the soul purpose of helping and teaching but also enjoying and learning from the people who lived there. I have never in my life done something like that; however doing such a thing always seemed natural. My family and I traveled to Bangladesh in order to volunteer with a growing charity called the “Dhaka Project”. The project began when Maria Conceicao visited Dhaka, Bangladesh for the first time. She was surprised by the poverty in the slum areas, and since then has been seeking ways in which to end it. She begins by bringing these former slum dwellers into stable housing, and then providing them with schools, training centers, housing developments, and other amenities. Her practical approach is leading the way and creating self-sustainable families and communities.
With Maria’s encouragement, 500 kilos of donated goods, and unimaginable excitement we set off for what would become one of the most memorable adventures that my family and I would ever embark upon. The Dhaka team met us at the airport as soon as we arrived, and were helpful and compassionate ever onward. They helped us throughout our entire stay, as well as seeing that all of Maria’s goals were reached to perfection. We stayed in Dhaka for 5-6 days, and for those days we focused simple teaching, community development, work and play with kids, and also office stuff. It was an exciting and worthwhile trip that I will remember forever.
The world of Dhaka was different, but during my stay there I learned more about our similarities than anything else. People are people, we are all incredibly the same and therefore need to defend and protect one another. Its our job as human beings, as members of a common family. Poverty can be conquered. This rings true in Dhaka, and can therefore ring true in the world. If we all make an effort to make poverty history, our joined effort can accomplish more than imaginable. If we can make small steps toward this goal, then they will eventually measure miles in the race against poverty. Giving back to the world in this way was amazing. I learned so much and am excited for my next mission.

Elizabeth’s Story (age 13)

The world of Dhaka was definitely a different world than the one I live in. I had a grat time contributing to this project, and seeing the way poor people in the world live. Being with all the kids was one of my favourite parts of going the the Dhaka Project. They are smiley, smart, fun, beautiful kids, who need love from everyone, and all have dreams for themselves. Those kids and their open arms made my trip that much better. I really enjoyed helping maria plan activities for the kids, such as “Let’s Clean Bangladesh Day”, hygienic sessions, movies, and dance parties. I loved making their lives a tiny bit better, making friends that I will never forget.

Claire’s Story (age 11)

Well when we got off the plane and went into the airport, it was very different. Much more different than the Dubai airport! Then after we went through customs we went outside and some people drove us home. Their names were Jewel, Rusell, Nayan and Mr. Azar. They were very friendly and the driving was CRAZY! Then we got to the place that we were staying at and my family and I all had a nice nap. The next day we went to see the kids in the nursery! All of them were so loving! And during our time at Dhaka we went to different schools to see and play with the children but also to just see the schools. Dhaka was a very special and different experience. I felt good being there because I was helping the kids and I was helping to build up their community to make it a better place. I learned that kids can be so happy with the smallest things. They were so eager to learn and happy to be able to go to school. I would love to visit again.

Everything is possible in life

Even sometimes the most unexpected!

Run Tanvir Run

Tanvir, why do you run marathons?
I run because I can

Why for Charity?
I run for charity, because I must


06:35 Posted in Events | Permalink | Comments (0)


Just wanted to share with you

Beverley is the kind of angel you meet once in your life and will since then always follow you in your adventures. She sent us an email yesterday and we wanted to share it with you as it is so true...

"Just had an idea. Don't know how much of the school construction is over, but if it still at the brick building stage, might be inspiring, for all the hundreds of children who are part of these first years of TDP to each write their names on a brick. It doesn't matter if it is plastered over but one day you will be able to tell them, they wrote their names in the history of the Dhaka Project. And their own future.
When I met Mariam, the young Uni student I wrote you about, it was after 8 years, she was still in school when I met her for the first and only time before this. And the first thing she tells me is that when I spoke to her 8 years
ago I inspired her about what she wanted to do with her studies and life. I don't remember but she did. Children remember things that make them feel inspired, they take responsibility for their lives.

A friend told me how years ago when a friend and his 10 year old son were visiting, it was raining in London all day so she took them for a ballet movie. 8 years later that boy returned to London, stayed with her as he studied ballet and he told her that years ago when he visited with his dad, a woman took them for a ballet movie and that's when he knew what he wanted to do in life. That's when he found out he was back in the same house with the same person who took him for that life-altering movie."

Please share with us your ideas. We need you!

11:45 Posted in Quote | Permalink | Comments (0)


Opinion of Tauhid Ziauddin

We talk about the situation of the country, the poverty and the problems of this country and am sure we wish there was something we could do in our capacity to help. I am across one such
opportunity and would like to share it with you.

On 12th Jan I visited The Dhaka Project headed by Ms.Maria Conceicao, a cabin crew of the Emirates Airlines. The project is located in Gawair near the Zia International Airport, Dhaka. I was very impressed with
whole arrangement. The project mainly deals with educating slum children in hope to provide them with a better future. I was very impressed with young, eager slum children who spoke to me confidently and even answered some of my queries in English. This initiative taken by The Dhaka Project will hopefully help change the lives of young children in the slums from one of despair and poverty to a better and secure future.

At the moment the project works with about 700 children of various age groups starting from pre-school to high school level. The children are provided with education and vocational trainings. The different schools of the project offers after school activities like music, different types of games etc.

This ambitious yet noble initiative which involves providing food, medication, education & shelter requires continuous funding & support from all corners. I invite you all to visit their website www.thedhakaproject.org and extend your help and support to this project. Support in form of cash, food, clothing, footwear, medication,
cleaning products, study materials, office supplies, volunteers and anything that you might think of is welcome. You will find Maria’s contact details at the website, if you want I would gladly coordinate your kind support to the project.


Tauhid Ziauddin


School bags from Rotary Club

Thank you so much to the Rotary Club for the generous donation of 500 school bags and 500 set of stationary. You can see how the kids were thrilled with their new bags and stationary...We are building a new school opening on the 1st Feb and those came some handy...They are sooooooooooooo excited and cannot wait to go to school ...


07:00 Posted in Donation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Running the Marathon

Dubai has been running and running those last week in order to be ready for the Marathon that took place last friday. We will give you some feedback and input of the runners who dedicated their efforts for the Dhaka Project.
Maria sent from Dhaka, where she was running another kind of Marathon (having the new school ready bu the 1st of Feb) ;-) best wishes and encouragement from the kids.


And we have decided that next year, we will have students and staff ready to run in Dhaka at least the 10 kms, in parallel to the Dubai Marathon!

06:40 Posted in Events | Permalink | Comments (0)


Flo in Dhaka

Here it is. I have made up my mind or I finally found the courage to announce mu decision. I am moving to Dhaka full time in couple of weeks to work full time on the project and specifically on the self sustainability for the adults. The idea is to open a guest house with 20 rooms and use it as a training platform for the adults of the community in order to give them the basis to find a job in Dhaka or abroad in the hospitality and tourism industry. We are going to develop through this project what we call Humanist Tourism. But I will tell you more later as it's at the phase of incubation in my head and right now I need to focus on how I am going to move there in couple of weeks. I am deeply happy but honnestly also scared as it's a huge decision. Not being scared would for me mean not beeing aware of the impact of the decsion and I think it could be dangerous for the project. Maria and myself have great plan and we know it will happen. We just need to put things in place ;-))).

14:20 Posted in Dhaka By FLO | Permalink | Comments (0)


XL Magazine

Great article in XL Magazine. Thanks to Akash Loungani.


Read XL Article.doc

07:00 Posted in MEDIA | Permalink | Comments (0)


Blood Collection at TDP


2 days ago, the playground of the actual school has been transformed is a huge Blood collection center.
One purpose of TDP is to create for the children, a database with all their information.
That's why a blood collection has been organised for all the children and the TDP Staff.
It has been organized by the Dhaka dental college sandhani unit through the TDP active supporter Doctor Musa in relation with the fantastic organisation DROP OF BLOOD DROP OF LIFE.
Part of their purpose is to collect, donate and organize blood grouping programs. They also distribute free medication for poor people.
The 12 doctors and dental students have been working really hard all day collecting the blood of 657 children and all the staff members.


12:05 Posted in Daily Life | Permalink | Comments (0)




As per the previous post the new school is on the track but the expenses are huge and we need more money.
Just to give you an idea of what we are purchasing now as school and students supplies
(it is just a small part of it)
800 chairs
50 blackboards
all the books and stationaries for 1 year curriculum for 750 kids
3000 uniforms
800 sweaters
1600 pair of socks
800 pairs of shoes
800 sport outfits
etc etc etc.....
2 ways for donations right now as we are still waiting for the paper works for our registration in Dubai through the Humanitarian City.
You can call Florence in Dubai +971 50 4517 440 who will collect your donations in cash. In exchange she will give you a receipt. Or you can transfer directly some money to Bangladesh following the instructions there
I remind you that 100 Dirhams make a big difference in Dhaka. Just to give you an idea, 100 Dirhams = 1800 Taka which is the average of one month salary...
Any of us can help, we can, you can.

11:55 Posted in Donation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Emirates Airline Foundation School - THANK YOU

We are so happy and proud to announce that our new school will get the name of Emirates Airline Foundation School.


EK Foundation has been supporting us since couple of months now and we have to say that what is happening in TDP regarding the new school is because of them. The cost of "renovation" or set up of the building is 170 000 Dirhams without any equipment and not even thinking of providing all the supplies needed by the kids.


The school is opening in couple of days and we wanted to say thank you also to Delta Partners Group as their donation is going to contribute for a big part to purchase the school and children equipment.
Also a big thank you to Trish Murphy and her donation ;-) which went directly to the school expenses.



11:50 Posted in Dhaka By FLO | Permalink | Comments (0)


Alex - 12th Jan 2008

Of course, first thing I do is go and check on the site. Progress is good and I have a look on the roof level (which is flat and ready to be built on). We have thought about building some more structure on the roof to make a canteen with the best views in Gawair!! Progress is being made, so I am happy. The rest of the morning I have been in the office, assisting with admin, writing documents and letters. I also sat down with Masud and made him a flow chart of how purchasing, receiving and stores work, giving him and overview of what to expect when he gets to the Sheraton. At lunch I went to check on the site and was happy to meet Onay there, it seems he believes, just like me, that as long as we keep on top of the work team and keep checking, there will be no slacking!! We discussed the idea of putting a structure on the roof and he thinks it will be no problem. Luckily he had a spare architects drawing of the building on him, which he gave me. Back at the office I sat with Firoz and Maria, looking at the architects drawing and working out how many children we can fit in each class room and all the supplies and equipment we will need to fit out the school (from chairs to printers and computers to UPS/IPS and generators). We have put together a list for Maria and Masud to take to Sheraton tomorrow when they go for a meeting with Trevor and discuss a training schedule for Masud. We have many problems with suppliers here, few will deliver goods, most try to over charge us and are unreliable. So having training and getting assistance from the purchasing department in Sheraton who can also point us in the right direction for good suppliers will be a huge boost to the project.
Must dash now as I have to finish off the last of my chores, say good bye to pupils and staff at the project, pack and head to the airport…until the next time!!


Alex - 11th Jan 2008

First thing to do on a Friday is visit the site and check the progress, thankfully they are working and not sleeping!! Today we have a meeting with Trevor, the GM of the Sheraton hotel, whom I met on my last visit. He has been a great source of support to both Maria and the project for a long time now. At 10.30 we head over to the Sheraton and met Trevor, who was charming and relaxed as always. Visiting him in the Sheraton feels a world away from the project as we sat by the pool and had pizza and ice cream. Trevor is a star and has always offered assistance to the project, today we asked his assistance in training a purchasing manager to international standards. Thank fully he agreed to talk to his finance manager and ask him if he would assist us. I was hoping for a weeks training for Masud, our new purchasing manager, but Trevor thought a week in each discipline (purchasing, stores and receiving) would be about right…and of course he had no complaints from us!! Thank you Trevor.
On returning to the project I headed straight to the site to check on the progress…and there has been progress, the walls are growing higher, rooms are taking shape, but most importantly, electricity is on the site! The electrician had borrowed some power from a neighbour and was installing temporary lights and powerpoints!!!


Alex - 10th of jan 2008

When I was here in December we started new advanced school project, so I went over to the site to see the progess. It seemed to be going slow. The delay had been finding a good contractor who would do the work without ripping us off. Here they see foreigners and think the project is made of money, so they charge extra high rates, it doesn’t occur to them that we run this on a shoe string and do it to help their country! Thankfully a reasonably priced contractor had been found and work had started 2 days prior to my arrival. After conversations with the site foreman I got up to speed on the general brick work, electrics, windows and plumbing. After meeting Murad, another local Dhaka project supporter, we managed to get 10 extra men on site and a late shift, so work continues until 1am in a frantic dash to get the school ready for the new school year which is now days away!
Maria is exhausted today. She has been here for 10 days already and I know the challenges of working in an environment like this can really wear you down. She is short staffed as it is, even though she has interviewed about 100 people in the last week, it is a real challenge to find quality staff. A lot of qualified people don’t want to work in this area and/or don’t want to work with the poor, their parents have sacrificed a lot for them to get a good education and so there is huge family pressure to work for prestigious large organizations and not small projects working with the poor – which isn’t so glamorous. Sometimes we even employ people, but they don’t last for a day or two due to family pressure. So Maria has been fighting against the clock, working understaffed and with loyal, but under qualified staff, to get the new school ready for the new school year because she has to return to Dubai to her job, which is the platform for everything that has been achieved here.
The main work of today was being on site, making sure the work is progressing in the new school. In order for them to work late shift, they need lights…unfortunately it takes weeks to get the electricity connected here in Dhaka, thou Maria went to the electricity authority and apparently they will do it in 5 days…we wait in hope! So, we went to the school and borrowed twenty rechargeable lights from the children so that workers could continue after dark. The children normally use these lamps for studying, but as the school year hasn’t yet started they can spare them for us for a few days! Together with Shimul, a teacher at the project school, we went back regularly through the day and early evening to check on the progress and push the foreman to get the fastest work possible out of his team! We also met the architect Onay so now we know who to call if things aren’t up to speed!!!


Noosh feedback con't

Saturday 5 January 2008
e107afa74f5e62dd2b55fce376a77f5b.jpgToday I went out with Nayan to distribute shoe boxes filled with gifts from the children of the Dubai British School, an activity they repeated after its success last year. A pile of colourful boxes was awaiting me as I entered the school building. The children had no clue what was coming to them. The pre-school children received the gifted boxes and were not to open them until they got home. As there were not enough boxes to give to all the children in the school, Maria had decided to open all the boxes and divide the gifts evenly between all the children. They were so excited! My task was to take picture of the children receiving all the goodies. A bundle of smiles and laughs roared the building. Wherever I came with the camera, I could expect loads of hugs and kisses.

We yelled: Thank You Children of Dubai!!

When I got back to the guesthouse, Maria and Florence were running around being busy and not talking to me about the necessities of the project, I felt brushed aside and a bit useless whilst I also felt that I could contribute in many ways. Late in the afternoon I showed Maria, Firoz and Florence what I have been doing in the north of Thailand in terms of a poverty alleviation project. In that project women create slightly adjusted ethnic products as a secondary income, for which they are paid per finished item. The outcome after a year and a half of hard work is fantastic and the same could be done here.
This opened the doors to Maria and her team and now the road opened for inclusion of my skills in the Project.

One of the issues not yet solved is the sourcing of a supplier for school uniforms. Florence has started the sourcing, but went to shops and suppliers of materials.
As a business owner in the production of toys and decorative items, both commercially in the world of manufacturing in China and in a poverty alleviation project, I have experience that can benefit the project, so I am happy to jump in and offer my help in sourcing the garments for the children. I immediately start up the internet and search for suppliers in Bangladesh, after all a project that serves the community in Bangladesh in general and Dhaka specifically should also provide the commercial transaction within Bangladesh. No good sourcing uniforms from China to save a little donated money when there is a huge garment industry in Bangladesh that is craving for business. By bringing in money to this nation and having as much of the necessities for the Project made locally we benefit growth and prosperity in all possible aspects. So off we go to face this great new challenge. But before I can set off to do so, there is a very rewarding other thing to do on Sunday…

We conclude the day with a nice dinner which brought us back to the guesthouse well after midnight.

Upon getting to the guesthouse we see the truck ready waiting to be loaded with 3000 blankets donated by Emirates Airlines, which will be distributed to the extreme poor of Sripur and Manikhat, two rural villages, a long way outside of Dhaka. Maria intends to go there soon, to enrol families for her Project. Some of the guys of Maria’s staff suggest they’d load the truck with the blankets immediately instead of at 4 AM the next morning. So off they go and I jump in bed for a short night.

Sunday 6 January
Maria calls me at about 6 to get up and drive out on the truck to meet a new, impressive experience.
After a 6 hour drive together with Russell, Firoz’s brother and 2 other guys that work for Maria, we reach the village of Sripur, where we are going to hand out the blankets. A crowd gathers shortly after our arrival and before I know it, we are surrounded by a mass of poverty stricken people.

c6154840beee03458ac402c47ac34dfa.jpgThe struggle of life is very visible in their skinny bodies, their bloodshed eyes and their torn and dirty clothes. My smiles of sympathy are once again answered with the warmest and most welcoming smiles, showing broken and rotten teeth, stained red by the habit of chewing beetle-nut, a habit I first got acquainted with during my volunteering in Papua New Guinea, some 12 years back. I was told than that chewing the beetle nut, packed with a beetle leaf, lime and some other herb, gives a high. I guess that is what one needs when living under these conditions. This struggle to survive yet another day, every single day of their lives is the reality to more than 1 billion people in the world. Just imagine waking up in the morning and facing the same torment that left you feeling weak and exhausted the day before, 365 days a year, without any break.
Not the breath of fresh air, not the crack of yummy smelling, freshly washed white bed-linen, no, nothing like that, instead you wake up in a shed containing 1 room only, which houses your entire family on a wooden or stone “bed” with rugs. Hard as the stone itself, because a mattress is for the rich, the walls are no more than dried mud, or if you’re lucky and relatively wealthy, they might be made of a steel plate. Warmth is only provided by the bodies of the other family members who all share the “bed”.

The crowds gathering are staring at me, what a strange appearance I must be for them.37073bddb1b85928ed849fe687661954.jpg

Here I am, tall blonde woman, dressed Bangla, but by no means comparable to them. Kids start to laugh and giggle, the youngest burst in tears of fright. What a sensation! People just stare at me, some smiling, most just staring. If they’d had a camera, they’d be taking loads of pictures of me. So that’s what it feels like when all those tourists visit your country and stick their cameras up your face to catch your exotic looks! Well, as much as I am now feeling a bit of shame for all the staring and photographing I have been doing all these years, I think it is quite funny. I joke to the guys that every Western woman who needs to boost her ego should come here. No lack of male attention here!!! Hahaha.

Once the crowd has gathered, they are all lined up in categories; women and children first, older men second and the other men last. The village elderly has provided a list of the poorest who are to receive the blankets. These people have been given a piece of paper with their name on it and some form of ‘not to be copied’ marking, which they have to hand over to receive the blanket. It works very efficiently and within 2 hours we have distributed about 2000 blankets here. Time to move on to the next village, Manikhat, for another 1000 blankets.

702bf0168caf84c7841f7200b1433534.jpgWhen we get there, we find a similar scene, a growing crowd of very poor people, eager to receive a blanket to stay warm at night. 62e7a46e2f004aac31dd0098327cdbe3.jpg
It may be hard to imagine the necessity, but being here in January, I can tell that a warm winter jacket isn’t a luxury here at night and living in a shed with a night temperature of about 10 degrees makes a shivering night without the comfort of a something as simple as a blanket,
a bare basic commodity in our societies of the developed world.

For these people:
Finally, a piece of luxury Finally a night to be spent in the comfort of warmth.

95dc2b514207b6b9e1f096df1d1a4e6a.jpgJust looking at the gratitude in their faces makes your heart stop for a while, thinking about all the things we take for granted every day, spending our consumptive lives without a single thought about what life is like on the other side of the scale.

In sharp contrast to the well organized method of distribution used in Sripur, we find a growing chaos here. 3 Hours after we got there, not even 20% has been distributed. The crowd just keeps growing and the noise becomes so overwhelming that it starts to get a bit threatening. Darkness falls and we are surrounded by shouting people, stretching out their arms to get a gift. Since there are many more people than blankets, it is no option to just hand them out to all those present. The village elderly keeps trying by calling the names of those entitled to a blanket, but the noise is such that no one can hear him. When we find ourselves in total darkness and still not even 30% distributed, we decide to pull out. This is not going to work. A very touch decision, but the only one to be made. This situation proves what the development literature writes, giving out freebees is not the always the best thing to do, as it brings out the greed in all humans, regardless the social status. It is painful to see, especially since you’d want to help all those surrounding you, but incapacitated by number of gifts to hand out we have to pull out, leaving so many empty handed. I need to withdraw and pull out my iPod, find a spot on the truck between the cartons and just sit there staring, trying to give this overwhelming experience a spot in my heart, as my emotions are running a-wire on me.
As we pull out, the people start to jump away and become slightly violent. I am glad we can go, as I have gotten a bit frightened. But what to do now? We still have about 700 blankets left on the truck. Firoz’s brother, Shahalam, and Russell decide we stop at another village on the way to had out the remaining blankets. Shahalam thinks of a great system upon arrival. All the people are to cue up and sit down. Here too, women, children and elderly first as we have only a limited number of blankets to give. All are to remain seated after they get their blanket. Within the hour we are out of blankets and can leave with a feeling of relief. Back towards Sripur for a village meal at Shahalam and Firoz’s mother’s and then onwards back to Uttara, where we arrive at 3AM. What a day! One that will go down memory lane and will be thought of and spoken about often.
Anoesjka Timmermans

Alex back in Dhaka - 9th of Jan 2008

I arrived back in Dhaka, sleepy eyed from the night flight from Dubai. It’s a smooth process now, I know where to go for the visa, how to get through immigration quickly, which carousel the luggage will be on. As you exit the airport there is customs, where non-tourists have to hand in a declaration of any items they are importing. Normally I am traveling with suitcases and get waived through as a tourist or foreigner or both, they are really looking to tax Bangladeshi people bringing back high value and electronic items. However, this time I bought a big bundle (full of shoe box gifts from school kids in Dubai), plastic wrapped, just as the Bangladeshi’s do…so the first customs man let me through, but another one realized that I had far too much luggage for a 4 days stay in Dhaka. I told him it was gifts for kids, he said it wasn’t allowed, I said they have no commercial value and I’m not paying…so then we had a small crowd of customs officers debating the situation in Bangla, with most saying it was for the kids, its fine, but still this one wanted me too pay…luckily I was first through immigration and was in customs when it was quiet, but suddenly there was a few hundred people from 3 flights heading to the customs officials…with their hands full a couple of customs officers told me to go and the one who wanted to charge me tax looked on, wanted to stop me, but had his hands full and so I was free to head into the morning sunshine of Dhaka with all the gifts for the kids and having paid no tax…woo hoo!!
I quickly dropped off my bags, changed and headed out to the project to see what was going on…I arrived at the school to find a big tent put up where the children normally play cricket and badminton…was it a party?? Sadly no…well at least not until later…inside were hundreds of children forming orderly queues. Dr. Musa, a local dentist and great supporter of the Dhaka project had arranged for volunteers (mostly dental students) and bought all the supplies to be able to do a blood test for every child and employee at the Dhaka project to find out everyones blood group! Here we go again, the children are already more vaccinated than me…and guess what, I have no idea what my blood group is either…so I joined the line!! So now I can tell you, my blood group is A positive!!
Back to the blood tests, myself and two volunteers went off to visit the nursery and pre-school, were the children are too small to come to the big tent for the tests, so we take the tests to them. We were armed with my only ammunition to stop them crying…a big jar of sweets! As it turned out, very few of them actually cried, most were more distracted by my camera than anything else…in fact some of the teachers and catering staff were more scared of the needle than the kids! In the evening, with the big tent still up, the kids put on a little party/farewell send off to another volunteer from Holland called Anouska, so it did get used to a party after all!!


Really hard to go

Really hard to go, really hard to say goodbye to Maria at the airport and to leave them also. By "non" chance I caught a bad cold just the day before leaving and I believe that it just gave me an excuse to feel so bad.....

I arrived in Dubai at 2am and at home at 3am but impossible to sleep. Happy to find my bed but too many things in my mind avoiding me to fall asleep. I knew that it will be difficult to come back here after this trip and I confirm ;-) I guess the lack of sleep is also one of the reasons I am feeling so down.
I found in Maria a younger sister as we find in each other many similar things. But I can tell you that she has a fire burning inside her that I cannot explain. She is a caterpillar that nothing will stop. Why? Because she knows where she goes and she can see the kids in couple of years, graduating from University.
Maria is far from being perfect (thanks god ;-)) and she knows it. She does not need people telling her what she has to do or criticise the way she is doing things. She needs people around her to support her, understand her and share her joy and her fears, people who do things with her or show her that they also can achieve.

An entire Community has found dignity because of this young lady. The journey is just at the beginning and it's a long one but if you are ready.... welcome on board!


12:35 Posted in Dhaka By FLO | Permalink | Comments (0)

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