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Im honestly honored to be part of your amazing project. You guys left a really huge mark in my heart and have influenced my every move now that i am back in Dubai. Although the time spent there was short but what i have learnt would last a lifetime.
- I have learnt the 1 Dirham is equal to 18 Takas which can buy 9 bananas for the children
- I have learnt that nearly 30 dhs can buy a child a uniform
- I have learnt that 3,000 dhs can build a family a brick home that would shelter them from monsoon season.
- I have learnt not to sweat the small stuff
- I have learnt not to wine and be grateful for everything I have
- I have learnt to be more passionate in what I do because some people never get the chance do what they enjoy or like.
- I have learnt to smile more
- I have learnt to be part of a team and to work together in sync
- I have learnt that a simple donation can do such a big difference
- I have learnt that even something simple such as face paint can brighten up a Childs life
- I have learnt to give and not expect anything in return
- I have learnt to help people forget about their problems even if its for a second
- I have learnt to love people I have never met before
- I have learnt to give attention and praise the children, students, and peoples abilities and give them more self confidence
- I have learnt how to say thank you and I love you and Bangla (thank you = Dhonobad , I love you = Balobashi)
thank you for making me a better me :)
Miss you all so much!


Anas Feedback


Anas came last week from Dubai with Mariam and Bader
Let me to try to recall how all of this started. Well I 1st found-out about the Dhaka Project & Maria through the 7 Days paper in Dubai, then I found her on facebook and that’s how the contact started. Since then I’ve always mentioned my interest in going to Dhaka to my mom and wife, who both are always interested in visiting these places and providing help to those who need it, therefore I was talking to the right people =) !

Recently Mariam (my wife) got an assignment for providing community service in one of her courses and this gave us the right opportunity to visit Dhaka. She mentioned the idea to her teacher, who loved it and there we were preparing & coordinating with Maria to visit her as soon as we can.

Letter of invitation received, visas issued, tickets purchased, got absence of leave in the last minute from work (wasn’t that easy of-course), Maria notifed and off we were.

Day 1 (26/02/08):

We arrive after a delay in mid-air because of bad visibility, therefore that got us behind around 2 hrs. We go through the airport, which wasn’t that difficult and as soon as we were out we find Maria waiting for us with one of her trademark smiles. She takes us to the Dhaka Project Guest House and we loved it. It was more than we expected; cozy, very good space, hot water, AC (this is mandatory for me of-course =P ) and very clean. As soon as our bags were in the apartment, we were off for a tour around the Dhaka Project, while Maria and her team explained to us how it all started from 2 small houses and where they’ve reached now. Now they have 2 schools, one that is divided through different areas (all close-by) and is called the TDP (The Dhaka Project) School and it caters for 150 students. The other, which is one big building, called the Emirates Airlines Foundation School, which caters for 450 students. Not bad huh !

That was Phase 1 of the day. In between we had lunch @ the preschool and then it was Phase 2. In Phase 2, Maria & her team took us around the slums of Dhaka where they had found the kids who are students in their schools now. Honestly you should just see the slums! It was so interesting to see. Very interesting, especially to me. I love visiting these places, absorbing the surroundings and imagining the different lifestyles that are being led in our world today. The conditions that these families and children live in, it’s just crazy and to see where and how Maria & her team have brought-in, not only their children, but their families too, to the project is simply great. They take care of them all and it’s lovely to see and imagine the future of these kids. Giving them education, knowledge and the confidence needed to start their lives and the opportunity & chance to become doctors, engineers, pilots, navy personnel, etc… is just great to see. These people @ the Dhaka, in my opinion, are changing a whole generation, which will change the whole country and “inshala” provide a good change to our world.

By the end of the day we had to visit the Special Burn Unit & Plastic Surgery Hospital. Seeing the poor conditions that the burnt patients were living-in, I don’t want to even know how they perform plastic surgery (and this was supposedly the best hospital around)! We started giving the patients some blankets and some stuffed toys & booklets for the burnt kids. At-least for most of them we could see that we got their minds off their pain for at-least a couple of minutes and that was definitely worth it.

We concluded with……PIZZA HUT ! A tomato & cheese pizza, with extra cheese, ooooohhhh, tasty! And that was all I need =P . After that we headed back to the Guest House and what can I say; it was a long day, we slept like babies =) !

P.S. I have to say this, for all you photography lovers (me being one of them), Dhaka is such a photogenic city, the colors, the place, all very beautiful !

Day 2 (27/02/08):

Maaaaan we were tired. We hadn’t slept well for 2 days. We actually slept around 3 hrs, which was in the plane, other than that, NO. So I wake-up as scheduled @ 7:30 am, see (Florence or Flo as we call her, a very very sweet lady), who came to wake us up. I check-on Mariam and Bader, our friend, who is accompanying us on the trip and well, in-short we asked for an extension of sleep ehaha, we were still exhausted! So we wake @ 10:00 am now, go to the old-school, Mariam starts to face-paint the kids, they loved it! Me & Bader head to the market, which was far, to purchase some paints for some art paintings that Mariam has promised for the old & new schools. After purchasing the paints we come back to the old-school where Mariam is doing more face-paintings. Sooo, we start painting the old-school outer wall, while Mariam is doing her face-paints. We get each student available to paint on the wall and write what they want to be and place one hand-print next to it using the color of their choice. The statement would say “I will be a …….”; we got a lot of pilots surprisingly (I’m guessing the influence came from Maria, who works in Emirates Airlines actually =P ), other than that there were dr.’s, engineers, etc. The idea was Maria’s, who wanted the kids to believe in what they want to be and imprint their goals in their minds from this young age, which I thought is a great idea.

That used-up the whole day. It was a looooong process. Oh & by night-time the place was swarmed by mosquitos. I HATE mosquitos (yes I’m sure everyone does)! And I was wearing shorts, yes that really doesn’t help, but I did so because I was supposed to arrange a football match between the students and the teachers, but that was postponed to Day 3 (and yes I love Football) =) !

Day 3 (28/02/08):

This day we got-up early to watch the kids @ the assembly @ the old-school, which we missed the day before. We reached there while they were in their lines. It was really nice to see how organized they were and the best part is when they sang the last song, which was in Bengali, although I didn’t understand it, it was simply lovely. Then we had a long day ahead of us, we went to the new Emirates school, where we had to organize the new uniforms and shoes for the new students that were attending. It might sound simple, but it wasn’t, let’s just put it that way. We had a BIG number of students coming and we had to have everything organized as quickly as we could. The shoes were all mixed, all kinds of sizes, male & female. That’s what I started with and it took me a good amount of time. I’m sure we had over 200 boxes there. After I finished sorting the sizes, separating them in different piles and placing female & male shoes separately along the team, I went over to help Mariam with the uniforms. Then the students showed up; all with no measurements or sizes that were known to them, so it was our job to find them a suitable one. The kids came, 1st got their uniforms, then shoes, and then they had a small snack of 1 banana and 1 piece of bread. This activity all together took-up most of the day.

When we 1st arrived Maria kept telling me “Did you notice the difference between our new kids and the ones we’ve had for some time now?” Honestly, I didn’t completely realize it the 1st two days, but on this day, WOW, I completely saw the difference! Some of the kids were so scared, didn’t know what they were supposed to do, the way they sat, the way they ate, as if they haven’t had even a small meal for a week, they would eat sooo fast and I was telling them that it’s ok, they can take their time, there is no hurry, some couldn’t even look me in the eye, they looked so afraid and insecure. It was sad to see their state and how they were, but it was also really good to know what The Dhaka Project can do for them, how it can mold them, train them and educate them.

On this day we were mostly with Flo and she was great mashala, so thanks for all the help Flo =).
This was mainly day 3.

Day 4 (29/02/08)

We slept an extra hour or two on this day, just to get some good rest. This was our last day in Dhaka.

On this day you can say, it was our tour day, we went to the school, then lunch, then we headed to a nice big store (a bit far), where we could shop for some souvenirs/clothing.

Then, by the end of the day we headed back to the school, where to our surprise the kids had prepared a show for us. It was very nice, very cute and very very thoughtful. They did some dances and a fashion-show, which were all fantastic =). Then we took a lot of pictures with the kids, who kept telling us to promise that we will be back and so many of them wanted pictures with us. It was all lovely. The way the kids get attached to you, even in a short time, is just heartwarming.

And for dinner we all (the Dhaka Team) went for dinner @ a restaurant; interesting conversations, laughs and all.

The whole experience was simply great. The kids were beautiful. Maria has a great team working with her and that’s what makes the Dhaka Project successful. So THANK-YOU Maria, Flo, Jewel, Nayan and all the team (including our Rickshaw drivers) that made our experience such a wonderful one.

I hope and say that inshala we’ll see you soon =) and I promise to pray and do my best to aid The Dhaka Project in as many ways I can.

Lots of love…



Bader feedback Day 3

This is the 3rd day … I guess in this day I was really shocked and okey I know that maria and flo said that the kids in the school are in a better shape which I didn’t kinda get it or realized it because we are soo used to kids having more meat in their bodies … but in the 3rd day when we went to the school at 8:30 in the morning to arrange the uniforms for the kids and to arrange the shoes and dresses.. it was soo much work but it was worth it after seeing the smiles on the kids… after arranging everything and the kids started to come to give each kid a uniform and shoes according to their size.. Me , anis , Miriam and Florence and the staff. were their from the early morning arranging everything.


Then I realized that oh my god! These kids are really skinny and starving (the new comers to school) they were soo skinny and starving and so frightened .. the sizes of the uniforms were 16,18,20,22,24 size 16 is like a a combination of two tissue boxes and to some kids that was to big for them !!! That shocked me … away from that … after given them the uniforms they have to take their meal which was two slices of toast and a banana … at this time what I have seen, I never experienced it In my life and it caught my eyes on tears.. These two girls caught my attention. one girl was eating the two slices of toast and the banana in the same time soo fast that she choked while eating .. and the other girl was hiding in the corner of the room and eating the slices of toast in small portions you can actually feel that she was soo frightened that the toast might go away and finish .. And she will never get it again … it really broke my heart seeing that. After that day I started to notice that the kids of The Dakha Project are much healthier than the kids that live in the street and it is actually making a difference to the lives and community that they live in..

Bader feedback day 2

The 2nd day was sooo long and sooo tiring … we haven’t slept in the previous day … we were supposed to wake up early in the morning at 7:30 to be in school at 8:30 for the school assembly to watch the students and the teacher and to document everything we just couldn’t we have asked for an extension of time to sleep till 10:30 … so when the time came to wake up we as in (me Bader, Miriam and anis) we felt soo refreshed … anyway.. we had headed to the market me and anis .. While Miriam went to the old and new school to see where to is the best wall to draw on … soo we went to the market to buy some paints.. but then we realized that we haven’t exchanged money … so we exchanged and went to the paint shop we bought some paint … but we couldn’t find all the colors, soo we make an order for the next day to be delivered to the new school .. before going to school we were starving , so we went to the nursery school to have lunch over their … the food is amazing .. you cant doubt that and the best thing after lunch you have the tea and milk!i still dream of it !! ehehey :P I went to the school and we all thought of making something that might influence the kids for their future.. What a better idea than all the kids putting their hand as symbol for who they are and imagine every day when going to class they see their hand prints and what they want to be..


But is really funny and I noticed that almost all of the students want to be either doctors or a pilot … I guess that was influenced by Maria … the entire process of taking kids and making them align behind each other and to choose the paint color they which to choose and what they want to become, took the entire day.. but after finishing the walls of the school … it looked really good!! And I was soo proud of it.. every body hand put their hand print on the wall including the staff and students and every body put what they want to be in the future. Seriouly the feeling u get after working with such amazing and talent kids its amazing!!!! hope everybody goes over their and try it.


A new album

Have a look on the right side of the main menu to our new album. That's couple of pix from the stay or our wonderful Dubai volunteers, Mariam, Anas and Bader. Thank you guys for the amazing time you gave to the kids and the team.


Feed back from Bader

Hi! my name is Bader al Ayoubi , I am a Kuwaiti volunteer who came from Dubai, I have arrived on Feb 25 , since the very first step i reached to the Dhaka airport, maria was in the airport expecting us, as soon as we reached the to the guest house which maria kindly accepted us to live in .. we were out in the streets and slums. we have seen the entire history how the Dhaka project started from two small rooms and into something exceptional. Back from going out into the streets and slums maria had taken us to places that you can never think of. Poor people living in the streets and slums having nothing to live in except a towel and hardly anything to eat. maria had showed us how people used to live before they were adopted by the Dhaka project,.. it's like a before and after image but in real life (which is scary and really touches your heart). There are no words to describe how maria had changed and influenced so many homeless children and even older people .. there is so many parts of the project i don't know where to start ... from cleaning the streets ... teaching people to take care of themselves .. proper clothing... to the very simplest hygiene cleaning like brushing there teeth ... away from cleaning.. children are being thought manners to be respectful to others ... and to become something important in their lives and to have dreams and goals ... being thought in school to learn English giving the students the ability to become something important in their lives. what i have experienced in one day can not be written down .. their is no words that describes it.. you have to come and live that to know what am talking about ... the love that maria and the Dhaka project given to people and care and the way people are being changed ...its amazing ... and i am defiantly coming back again .. and again and again ... this is only my first day in the dakha project can you imagine that... i will be writting shortly about my second day ..


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.


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!!


Firoz point of view

4th January,2008
History begins with the imaginations of human heart, the desire adds fuel to passion. I am not a professional writer, hence the limitation of words is inevitable in my writing. But I know one single thing that I am wording a history which is just knocking at the door and unleash the potential of human capability. I have been always a visionary in my life and insecurity was just a byproduct of my dreams. Of course I have not accompanied a very smooth childhood in my life and youth had not been that easy either. I always had a panic of losing things and this badly caged me with in a box that the society, friends and family. But for the first time this has happened to me that I am not scared of losing anything which has made my imagination an intruder in any possibility, like trying things that a general heart would only fantasize but would not venture to step in. I have to make a confession that it has been purely prompted by the strength of love, pure love with no contamination with undeniable divinity. All of a sudden I have realized my ability to love unconditionally. So I thought I will pen it down which could possibly inspire all crazy hearts to try things which is absolutely unorthodox in nature.

Noosh in Dhaka

2nd January 2008

Upon arrival in Hong Kong my anxiety started to get a hold of me. What was to be expected in Dhaka? A friend in Hong Kong fed me negative information about Dhaka, leaving me quite anxious by the time my flight left.
Arriving in Dhaka gave me a first fabulous impression. A truly friendly Bangla employee of the airline collected me from customs and helped me clear customs, get my luggage and delivered me to the very warm and loving person Maria, who came to get me from the airport well after midnight.

After a first night at the Skyline Hotel, it was time to meet the Dhaka Project, at last. A moment I had been looking forward to. My expectations were based on my volunteer experience in Nepal. There sources were minimum and the situation in which the children were housed and educated were of a bare minimum standard. Thus I expected to find something similar. At noon Maria took me to the Project. We walked over from the guesthouse through narrow, very well maintained and clean paths with garbage bins on the side of the lane. Maria pointed these out to me and told me the Project had provided the bins and educated the community. Quite a task I bet, but it has a great result. The area looks nice and clean.

dd67831b16f92b7ef01d4444cbc9691c.jpgWhen we reached the school, to my great astonishment I was met by a group of nearly 200 children chanting a ‘Welcome Anoesjka’ with the biggest smiles on their faces. My heart melted instantly!

Before I new it children were hugging me, grabbing my hand and giving me the warmest smiles I have seen in my life.

After this great welcome, I was taken through the school and again, I was astound at what I found. A well maintained school building with nice little table/chairs in 6 classrooms downstairs, all in fresh paint. Upstairs my amazement grew as I was shown the learning department for parents of the children in the project, empowering especially the women by teaching them the skills needed to generate income in the garment industry.

So good to see that it is not only the children who are given a solid opportunity for the future, but also their families. On the other side of the building I was shown the training centre for the beautician industry. 75fddb77653049006a9252ebf38caf08.jpg
Girls here learn the skills of manicure, pedicure and beauty treatments. Another sector that is good for employment on a local basis and provides opportunity for the future tourism industry.

Not only does the project educate, Maria also takes care of the children’s health with an on site doctor, who works from a fully equipped clinic in the school/project building. A stack of vaccine passports for all the children showed the vaccination programme all the children are on, the personal record cards keep track of their health. Next door a fully equipped dentist makes sure that the children’s teeth are kept in good condition.

Having seen the project’s primary education centre, I was now introduced to the staff, which has just been expanded with a highly skilled and educated Bangla volunteer, who is now in charge of changing the school curriculum from Bangla to International standards, allowing the children enrolled an even better chance for the future.

What a fantastic first impression. As if that wasn’t enough, I was overwhelmed by emotions once again upon meeting the pre-school children and the toddlers in the day-care centre. Again a storm of smiles, giggles, hugs and kisses was blown over me, leaving me dazzled with love and respect.
Looking at these kids, the way they are taken care of, the toys surrounding them, the sparkling eyes and clean faces and bodies, it was hard to imagine that I am actually in one of the world’s poorest countries. The children I had worked with in Nepal were covered in sores when I first arrived and were allowed a bath only once a week, wearing their clothes for a full week. Here the kids look nice and clean, well taken care of and in great health.
All this would have been impossible without the work of the Project.


What an achievement! I am in awe, and will be much more so when I learn what it takes to get there….

Friday 3 January
6d2855d5f603891e3b3097474e7d2427.jpgToday is a day off. One of Maria’s staff, Sufiyan, is tasked to take me to see the ‘old city’ of Dhaka today. We drive off to the Sadargot harbour, which is like a bus station on the river. Hundreds of little and big passenger boats move to and from the mourning points or sit and wait for their passengers to arrive.
It is a hectic place where the poverty of the country is very visible. Dirt and garbage everywhere, people in dirty and very simple rags of clothes, life on the streets surrounding the harbour is as can be expected in a country as poor as Bangladesh.

After a day of sightseeing and getting a good impression of the city and its different neighbourhoods, which rank from the slums at the bottom end to a very classy embassy area in Gulshan, with wide lanes, beautiful colonial buildings and lots of nice green trees and gardens. Once you leave this small area of richess though, you are right back in the reality of Dhaka, with its super hectic traffic with its inevitable choking pollution, gazillion rickshaws and tuk-tuks, colourful women with beautiful smiles and men dressed in longis trading and producing all sorts of produce from little shophouses that line the streets.

Once back in the guesthouse, I am beat and ready for a nap. No one is home, so I get to stretch out, do some study work and reflect on the first 2 days in Dhaka. Nothing shocking so far, impressive yes, beautiful too, poor yes but with that typical Asian dignity, a massive suffering carried with pride.

During the day I have been hassling Sufiyan to tell me about his country, its education system, the marriage arrangements, family life and customs. It becomes apparent that education is very basic in the public schooling system, with a very high percentage of fall-out due to the poverty. Marriages are still 90+% arranged by parents, making sure kids stay within their ‘social class’, however the kids do have choice between the marriage candidates presented to them. Family is a very key component of life. Whatever the parents decide, a child has to follow, regardless the age. Even adults must respect the parent’s wishes regarding their activities, involvements and employment. So if a parent says no, the (adult) child must follow suit. Tough, especially if a local adult wishes to enrol in a charity project, working with the bottom end of society. Not a posh thing to do for local high classers. But a primary necessity for a charity organisation that focuses on educating the poorest. Imagine a situation where you have slaved yourself through life in order to allow your children to go school and university and than your child chooses to spend precious time working as a volunteer for the poorest people of your city. Noble, but at the same time not done for many of those parents who gave so much of their lives in order to enable their children access to high income employment, safeguarding the old age of the parents and a better life for the next generation(s). Now that is the culture in which Maria finds the great challenge of sourcing and contracting educated staff.
Anoesjka Timmermans




I've known Maria for quite a long time. I know from the very start that she's a cabin crew and she's doing charity works. I was not familiar with Dhaka Project at that time. One day she asked me if I want to be a part of the Dhaka Project wherein I will teach and help girls in Dhaka to learn how to do beauty works. It was like a music to my ear when I heard the offered because since I was little I wanted to help others and most especially this project is very big and I know in my heart that just by teaching them, it will make a big change in their lives. That's why I immediately asked permission to my boss/owner - Aruna, if I can go and help the Dhaka ladies. I didn't expect her response to me because she immediately agreed and she wanted to go as well with me.

My boss and I gathered some money so we can buy things that they needed to start for a beauty school. We didn't expect that we got that money to purchase all the things we need. So many clients donated for the project.

We went to Dhaka even without knowing anything about the place and the people. We were shocked on what we saw. ....... We all know that Dhaka Project helped a lot of families and all we need now is your support to help them more. Without your help this project won't be possible.

Thank you so much....

Grace Dass
Aruna's Hair and Beauty Salon




Cristiana volunteer feedback

What biggest cultural differences have you found in Dhaka?
There, everything is different. Having more than 90% Muslim believers they only stop working on Fridays to pray; there are no 2-day weekends as here in Portugal.

What happiest moment have you had there?

For me, the happiest moment has been, for sure, when I met ''my daughter''. Toni is a girl, like so many others who study and are the wings of our project, very sensible and needing cherish but having a strong personality what made me believe in her potential.


And what has been your saddest moment?No doubt, the worst moment was when I had to leave Dhaka. I was afflicted all the last day and it was hurtful to me to leave the kids, Maria and all the team and staff who work with her.

What is the real dimension of The Dhaka Project in the field?
The Dhaka Project has a nursery, a day care centre, a preschool, a primary school, a used clothes shop, a grocery store, a carpentry, a fleet of rickshaws to rent, a cooking school, a sewing school, the doctor, the dentist, the beauty centre where ladies have formation and from later go to work in hotels. Before arriving in there I had never imagined about so many activities in the project. But after being aware of this reality so different from ours, I think Maria is right and think like her: “We are already doing a lot, but why not to do a bit more?”. This is the Dhaka reality, growing, believing that it is possible to rescue those kids out of the streets and don't get stuck to values, numbers, when the reality is quite different.

What has moved you to sponsor that child...?
My love for Toni was a 'love at first sight'. She is a very special baby-girl and very similar to me, with a strong personality but at the same time a sweet of girl. We had days in which, whenever I was in the nursery, she was all the day close to me kindly and in a dear mood. But she had her bad days too, specially when she didn't feel in a good mood.

What would you say to a volunteer who was about to go now?
In first place I would say him/her to take all possible info about Toni to me. Then I would say to have a traveler's appointment with a doctor, tell the doctor how many days I would stay there, to have him prescribing adequate medication. I would recommend that in any case drank water not bottled and sealed, because in many places traders sell water-bottles refilled from domestic taps.
And I'd recommend him/her to play a lot with ours kids in the project that is what the need more, besides all needs, they need tenderness and affect too. Finally I would ask if I could hitch a lift...

Which are the most urgent needs you found there?
The kids and the people working with the project are relatively well, they have their basic needs satisfied. For that, in my opinion, the most urgent need is our continuous support to Maria, sending donations to the field, so that we can help all those who are already there and, at the same time, be possible to keep rescuing children from the streets.

How is it to live with the fact of the drinkable water be a rare luxury?
The water is not drinkable but people born there have always drank it and the have health problems due to it though their body system reacts in a different way from ours. But it is difficult to keep potable where it rains from May to October due to monsoons, there are rubbish everywhere and where there are no sewers.

Which is the average level education of Bangladeshi people?
The right answer would be, the life school or the streets school. Our kids study until the end of basic teaching and then the secondary schools are not accepting those who wish to continue studying because they come from the streets what is appallingly shocking.

Have you known any case of success of a family who have done the transition and being now out of the Dhaka Project? How is their life after leaving the project?
Maria, sometimes gets jobs for some families there in Dubai and those are our success cases, the only they need is to learn English to go to Dubai. But, some stay even in Dhaka working for beauty centres in hotels, as drivers, etc.

How is the climate?
The climate in Dhaka is hot and humid having monsoons from May to October, with lots of rain and floods. But above all hot, very hot weather.

Are there any first need goods?
Yes! There are first need goods! In Dhaka, cooked rice is a first need goods.

What airline have you traveled with to go to Dhaka?
I traveled with British Airways. But I know that the airline company that Maria works with, the Emirates Airline, flies to Dhaka. However, Emirates doesn't fly to Portugal so, you would have to fly to other country where Emirates has flights to, and once from there you could travel with Emirates to Dhaka. For example, United Kingdom (London).

Which has been the situation in Dhaka, you felt you most made a difference?
It is very easy to feel we make a difference in Dhaka. They are people much in need, specially the children, who we work more directly in our project.
An English spoken class, in which we teach them how to use board papers, scissors and all that sort of material let them very happy. Some are creative and able to draw anything different, but many draw the Bangladeshi rose, the Tomb of Dhaka and the most draw their country's flag.
Once, in the street in Dhaka downtown faraway from Gawair, where The Dhaka Project is situated, a gentleman riding his motorbike, stopped; he asked in English where I was from, I replied I was Portuguese and explained why I was in Dhaka, he said he knew the Project adding he was a policeman, not being in uniform because it was his day off, saying 'thank you for visiting my country' and asking if I was enjoying Dhaka.
All them, in any age, are highly proud of their country, their culture and their lives and when I made an effort to pronounce any word in Bangle, or whenever I used their tunics much longer than ours, they felt proud for that and show gratefulness for visiting and helping The Dhaka Project.

What are the ages and the ratio boys/girls?
In The Dhaka Project we have the nursery and the day care centre with children from their early years until 4 years, respectively, after this they are transferred to the preschool where they are until they are 6. Then they begin the primary school until the end of the basic teaching. There are more girls than boys but the difference is not much significant.

Which is your main advice to the next volunteers?
Live and respect Dhaka, all has its own rhythm, they are a people who live the same routines for years and years, try to create new routines.
Teach English to kids and adults.
Give lots of comfortable lap and much tenderness to all in nursery.
Take pictures of my girl Toni :), this is a tuga* volunteer knack :), I only wish to see how she grows up.
Play much, run and jump in the preschool.
They are a sympathetic people, but cold, their misery doesn't allow them all this joy and happiness we try to 'leave' in the children, even for a short for a short time, but they always recall the volunteers, when we show them their pictures.
All you think is not correct in the field, or worth to be changed, report it to Maria if she be in Dhaka, or to one of her team members, she began the Project with them in who she much trusts, and propose changes.
And now as big as Dhaka hug to the two volunteers who are going to Dhaka in December.

* funny and friendly reference to Portuguese dwellers.



Feed Back from Alex

Sometime in the summer, Maria said I should consider visiting the project, just for the weekend, to see the work that has been done there. She knows I work too much and probably wouldn’t have much more than a weekend to spare. It sounded like a great idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that there’s no point flying all that way for 2 days, so I decided to go for 4 days…a few days later I realised 2 days in the office for the week wouldn’t make much difference…so I replied to Maria that I would come for a week! I think she was a little shocked that I was taking so much time off work…and to be honest, so were my colleagues and so was I! The only thing I hadn’t thought of was the weather…just before leaving I saw long time Dhaka Project supporter Manuel De Souza who told me that it was knee high water from the monsoons and I would need some Wellington boots! But who has Welly boots in Dubai? Never mind, I would just have to get wet…even if I’d had some, with all the luggage Maria had for me to carry over to the project there was no way of fitting them in…although I was smiling at the thought of walking through Dubai airport in shorts and welly boots!

Flying in towards Dhaka, the early morning sun still rising, the view was a tapestry of lush green country dotted with ponds of lakes of water…it looked quite idyllic until you remembered the floods from the monsoon had washed away slum houses, made people homeless and increased disease and sickness. I was truly spoilt when Maria picked me up from the airport with Solaiman, because they had a people carrier with a/c rather than a rickshaw.

I was staying in the Dhaka Project guest house, conveniently located slap bang in the middle of the project. Maria was worried that I wouldn’t like it (being too used to business style hotels) and had gone to a lot of effort to clean it and get it ready for me. In fact, she still thought I wouldn’t like it and should stay in hotel…but it seemed fairly pointless to come all that way and stay an hour away, wasting 2hrs a day in traffic…and the guest house to me is much nicer than a hotel. Its warm, cosy, clean and convenient…I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. I spent the rest of my first day being given a tour of the project by Rasel seeing the amazing results that have been achieved in only 2 short years. Its phenomenal.

619d348e5b0c63ff6d7ca10ae4f29b80.jpgThe 200 children in nursery, pre-school and primary, sewing school, cooking school, beauty salon school, clothes shop, internet café, welding and carpentry shops, Dhaka project rickshaws, general store and of course the Dhaka project cows and calf! Walking into a class room, all the children standing up in their clean blue uniforms greeting me in perfect English, it was heart warming to see.

In the nursery the children soon formed an orderly queue to take it in turns to be lifted up as high in the air as I could…with beaming smiles they would rejoin the end of the queue for more, rather like a human fair ground ride!


Seeing what had been achieved, the levels of education and most importantly the endless smiles and happiness evident on the faces of the children makes you realise why your there…and I knew Maria would have a week of hard work for me!


Every morning Maria would meet with her team, Rasel, Solaiman, Jewel, Noyen and the volunteers to dish out daily to do lists.

My first job was to go shopping…how hard can that be? No, problem, it shouldn’t take too long…or so I thought! Of course you can’t get any suppliers to make regular deliveries of food and general supplies for running the project – that would be too easy! Rasel and I set out on a rickshaw for a day of trekking around various areas of town, haggling and seeking out the products on our list – because we didn’t dare return to Maria with it incomplete! We bought sacks of potatoes and daal, tables and chairs for the school, bicycles, spices, cassette players for the class, water, school shoes for the kids and even a microwave…and there I was wondering how was this all supposed to fit on a rickshaw? 5fb483c549fb7af8f56292e4ab685b6a.jpg

Luckily, we ended up in an area of town called Tongi, which has a very peculiar and unique odour to it which clings to your clothes like smoke at a bonfire…only not so pleasant! However, its great for buying supplies at very good prices…and it turns out that you can rent trucks here too! So as we worked our way back through Dhaka to the project we stopped and picked up everything on the way…finally making it back after dark…we had just about completed the list, but had searched high and low and couldn’t find one item on the list – baby cots for the nursery. Thankfully Rasel managed to find a carpenter locally who could make them in a day or two, so at least we could tell Maria we had completed the list! I ended the day dehydrated, exhausted and stinking after having run around like a headless chicken all day, but Rasel and I were very happy we had completed our list and wouldn’t be in for a grilling from Maria (thou she is Portuguese, you could imagine she was related to a strict German matron)!

For the rest of my stay at the project everyday was packed full with chores: distribution of supplies, painting one of the nurseries, doing admin, such as helping with the accounts and helping write proposals. 3ceeee690a565ca548c52fa00de6c744.jpg
Admin is definitely not something Maria has much time for when she is in Dhaka, and I’m sure not something she enjoys…thankfully an angel arrived in the form of Christiana, a volunteer from Portugal…who just so happened to be an auditor by profession, thou Maria had no idea until she arrived. She was an amazing help to Maria in getting to grips with a backlog of accounts and admin work to be done.

In Dhaka, Maria is like a woman possessed, quite unlike the Maria I knew from Dubai. She works morning to night, running around like crazy, dealing with people from the community, parents of the kids who need help, task mastering the rest of us to ensure the to do lists are done, working on new initiatives like planning a new medical centre, somehow managing to cram in admin work and getting to spend some quality time with the kids whose lives she has changed forever. I don’t know how she keeps it up, its exhausting just watching her! Not to mention the frustrations of getting things done in Dhaka…constant power cuts and losing all her accounts and admin work when computers crashed and mis-communications common to a country like that – for example, she requested fire extinguishers to be purchased, but what turned up were actually gas masks!! During my stay, there were some angry protests which resulted in a curfew, riot police were out in force and there were some clashes…this meant the power was out and telecoms were down, I couldn’t call out, but received a call from my office where my colleagues were worried because they heard someone had been killed in the riots. But like any big city in the west, this was isolated to certain areas and we were perfectly safe and saw no trouble at all, it just restricted the things we could achieve and jobs we could work on, slowing everything down once more. Blood, sweat and tears comes to mind…things can be so frustrating there…a small task, easy to finish in a place like Dubai, can take days in Dhaka.

Coming from a business environment, to me, Maria definitely works in an unorthodox way…and we had some heated discussions on what we each thought was the best way to get things done, but what really matters is that she gets results, not how she gets there, and the results are evident.
In a country where people often live on less than $1 a day, 80% of the nations exports are textiles and you have trouble persuading parents to let their children go to school (because they could be working), where rubbish lines the streets and slum houses seem to line the endless water ways, where many adults seem to have lacked hope their whole lives and so don’t dare have any ambition, it is striking to see the Dhaka project flower from the blood, sweat, laughter and tears that Maria has poured in from her heart over the last 2 years. The fact that she did this whilst still holding down a job is a testament to her dedication and to the patience and support of her employer. You can see the hope and ambition in the children’s eyes, they dare to dream where their parents didn’t and you ask them what they want to do when they grow up and they wish to be pilots, doctors, teachers and of course, after Maria, air hostesses.

Two things struck me in my last few days at the project. On my last Friday, Christiana and I went into the centre of Dhaka to see some sites, the parliament and opposite it, the shrine of President Zia. What struck us both was how clean and perfect the huge park surrounding the shrine was, no litter, nor dirt, just perfectly manicured lawns and paths surrounding the shrine with its perfectly clean walls. Its so easy to think it’s a waste of effort to try to make a difference in a place like Dhaka, you will never be rid of the rubbish and dirt, but it can be done and their shrine to President Zia is proof that it is possible for Dhaka to be clean. Secondly, I took some soduku books to Dhaka, to teach some of the children how to play this game that seems to have gripped so many in recent years. I sat down with one of the pupils who was 12 years old and is hungry to learn. Two years ago he was in the slum, had never been to school, couldn’t speak speak, read and write English and I’m assuming couldn’t read and write in Bangla either. Yet he learnt how to play soduku in less than half an hour. His methodical and logical manner in working out each problem, meant that after making mistakes and learning the rules on the first puzzle he completed the others perfectly with no mistakes…I’ve since learnt that he finished the 3 books I left him within days! He has hope, he has ambition and thanks to Maria he has the opportunity to develop to his full potential. What an outstanding achievement.

Having spent a week on the project, full of so many different and opposing emotions, I was both happy to be heading back to Dubai, but also very sad to be leaving. Since returning to Dubai I have looked into how other charities spend their money and was saddened, shocked and a little angry to discover statistics varying from 30% to 90% spent on head office, admin and overhead costs. One of the beauties of the Dhaka project is that 100% of the money goes to the people who need it. Maria doesn’t draw a salary, because she still has her job, in fact she even pays for all her flights to and from Dhaka herself. Don’t expect corporate style reports and professional feedback – you have to pay people for that – so if you want to see expensive marketing and huge admin support, definitely work with another charity. But if you want to know you’re donations really go to those who need it, then this is the project for you…just don’t expect Maria to respond to everybody in person, if she did that, there wouldn’t be any time left to push the project forward! If you are someone who can find time off to be a volunteer there, I’m sure she would be only to happy for the assistance and I can highly recommend it as an incredibly rewarding experience…I surprised myself in going for a week, but have a feeling I may yet surprise myself again and return!