Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Dear friends, I returned last week from possibly my best ever visit to our children. I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to go alone – not that I would want to deter any of you from coming with me, but it is easier to bond with children and staff on one’s own. Ali and the children were in great form, and relishing the improvement in both the political situation and the weather. Almost the first thing I did was to travel to Valumia in the wonderful auto-rickshaw, with all the small boys. Valumia is flourishing, with lots of vegetables, fruit and fish. I was able to authorize the building of an access road so that we can get vehicles onto the land, and this is well under way – I myself helped pass 2000 bricks from the trolley to the land where the road is taking shape. As you know, it has been difficult to travel during the past year but Bangladesh seems to have calmed down since the election. I had told Ali I wanted as many awareness programmes as possible, and he had arranged three in primary and high schools. These are not only to instruct the young on how to reduce the danger of giving birth to disabled children, they are also to find new children who could benefit from coming to live with us. At present we have only 44 children aged between 6 and 13, and we have space to double that number. An Australian friend had discovered Fred Hyde, a truly remarkable man from Brisbane who – aged 95 – spends six months each year in Bhola. He first went out in 1980 to run an orphanage of 100 boys in the south of the island. Since then, in the last 20 years, he has built 41 schools. Last summer we talked on the telephone and briefly discussed the possibility of working together but soon realized this would not be an option. Luckily, though, Fred was in Bhola and agreed to summon the head teachers of all his schools, along with staff from the orphanage, to meet Ali and some of our disabled children. Fred, bless his heart, had told me he’d only heard of about 3 disabled children in the years he’d been in Bhola and figured his part of the island was healthier than ours. It came as a surprise to him that all his head teachers knew of at least one child who could benefit from our care. These schools are all south of Bhola’s largest town, Char Fassion, and therefore over 100 kms from us, so it was good to have introductions to so many schools in a part of the country Ali does not know well. Ali and I took a busload of teenagers, as well as Sima and Sonali, to Barisal, to visit Valerie Taylor’s local Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralized, which opened last July. It is an impressive setup and we were treated royally. Our older children go to CRP in Dhaka for training but we hope, once the Barisal centre has accommodation, they might start in Barisal and move on to Dhaka. I always worry about our teenage girls going from tiny, peaceful Bhola to the enormous and busy Dhaka, although Ali always makes sure there are at least three going together. Our day in Barisal was a joy. We lunched, as usual, with Ali’s nephew’s family and I was amazed to see Ali enveloped in a bear hug on arrival by a tall and beautiful woman. Turned out to be his older sister, of whom I’d never heard! Since we had no small children, we were spared the childrens’ park and went straight back to the ferry – over a wonderful new bridge so there is only one ferry involved, rather than the previous two. Having said that, it turned out the ferrymaster had gone home to rest, deciding there were insufficient vehicles to warrant running the ferry, so we still had over two hours to wait before leaving the mainland! However as I said to Ali, the bonus was we caught the sun setting on the river and still got home in good time. All the children seem to enjoy the primary school. The small children have a couple of hours each morning, the older ones go from 12 till 1.30 and again from 2 until 3.30. I always enjoy walking the little ones to school. All other lessons at home seem to be going well, although our busy schedule interfered with most of Ali’s famous and noisy lip reading classes. Judging by the performance our three best lip readers put on at awareness programmes, however, Ali does appear to have worked miracles with many of the deaf children in the last year. Sima’s physiotherapy, assisted by the blind girls Rozina and Supia, is thriving. She has a number of outpatients, although it is difficult to persuade mothers that regular visits are essential. At home, Sima gives two sessions a day to those in need and the two small CP children, Nayan and Ruma, have made huge improvements since last year. They are two of my very special children, always happy and smiling. I was pleased to see that the 6.30a.m. exercises, which I had introduced a year ago, are still taking place and Ali said they are especially important now: March 26 is Independence Day and our children always shine in the parade! Our own babies are growing fast – Shathi’s Nabanita (Ripa) is over three but is being overtaken by Monira’s little boy Kador at eighteen months. Ali told me the children of deaf mothers are usually late talkers, but Kador has definitely bucked that trend! We decided it was time for these two mothers to return to work so we asked them to do the cooking three times a week, freeing the teachers to teach. I suggested whichever was not working could look after both children. After initial rebellion, they agreed to do this and everyone seems happy with the arrangement. I celebrated my birthday with the children. I bought an enormous cake and ice cream for 70. Asma and the girls were up late making decorations and a fantastic montage on the white board. I was dressed in a beautiful sari belonging to Surma. There was lots of singing and dancing, and it was deemed to be the best party ever. I’ve certainly not had a birthday party like it – the only thing missing was the champagne! We had our traditional picnic at Valumia, combining it with catching all our fish. All the men and boys, and a few of the girls, spent several hours trawling a net up and down the pond, while the girls cleaned and gutted the harvest. It was a long, wet and messy morning and I was happy to sit in the shade with my kindle for much of it! We had our customary drawing competition, with prizes for the best small boy and girl and the best older boy and girl. I always hope for another little masterpiece such as Tasnur’s picture several years ago, which became our Christmas card. This year there are two possible contenders, from Hassan and Salma – I need to consult with fellow trustees but hope to have another Bhola’s Children card for next Christmas. Watch this space! It is always hard to leave the children, but they are already looking forward to seeing Anne and Simon in April. Meanwhile I am pleased with progress on the business side of the operation and hope it will not be too long before our excellent committee in Bangladesh find a deputy manager to relieve Ali of some of the work and responsibility. Please keep your fingers crossed for us in this endeavour.