MONDAY, 19th March 2018
A Belated Update from Bhola
Rather belated New Years wishes. The children and I hope 2018 will be a peaceful and prosperous year for us all. Yes, I spent New Year’s Eve with the children and we had a great time. The boys decorated their room to welcome me and everyone was in festive mood, with a large bonfire and music from Zakir’s friend Faisal and his group, who travelled down on the launch with us from Dhaka and stayed on for several days. My New Year’s gift was a new auto-rickshaw, the Philip Westbury sadly having had to be sold.
Dinah with the boys
Fahim and Sibbir
The Dhaka boys, four at the deaf school, four in the training centre, and Hasnur who is now in an excellent school for the blind, came home and all holidays were postponed until after my departure. So we were a full house of 31 boys and 27 girls. We celebrated gold and silver medals in the Special Olympics, the boys will be in the finals in Dubai in 2019. It is always a joy to see the older children playing with the young. It reassures me that we really are a family, always our dream. Whatever happens in the future, I pray that this ethos of Bhola Garden will be preserved.
We are giving a much-needed coat of paint to the hostel building before the monsoon. There has been discussion about our original buildings which are in dire need of repair, so much so that lessons now take place in the dining room. We have an estimate for the total replacement of both flat roofs and, since my return, I am delighted to report we are well on our way to finding sufficient funds for this. My own parish church, Our Lady of Grace in Chiswick, has made Bhola’s Children part of our annual Lent Project. I spoke for a couple of minutes at the end of all 6 Masses on the second Sunday of Lent and am thrilled to say that the money is coming in. Many, many thanks to my generous priests and fellow parishioners.
Picnic on Eunus’s Farm
Back to Bhola and my January visit. We did all the usual things. Kind Eunus allowed us to have our picnic on his beautiful farm and paid for all the food and drink. We also had our traditional excursion to the river bank at Valumia, but this was a bit more of an adventure than usual: Iqbal was only able to find one boat to take all of us who dared and who were not too heavy… I still can ‘t believe they got me into the very flimsy leaking motorised craft, that we survived the jaunt and somehow they hauled me out. I had visions of the headline “50 protibondi and old white woman drown in the Bay of Bengal”.
Zakir and Kamal have reluctantly decided to stop growing vegetables in Valumia, since they are constantly washed away by the monsoons. Instead we have planted hundreds of lemon trees and hope to sell the produce. Thanks to Eunus, we have been able to rent the triangular strip of land in front of the boundary, which will give us more security and space to grow vegetables.
Physiotherapy is going well and it is wonderful to see the improvement it makes to several of our children.
Nervous passengers on a very small boat
A welcome addition to our family is Ismail. He was previously our part time accountant and is now fulltime, living in the boundary with his wife Samira and Abdullah, 6 months old. Ismail is a great support to Zakir and the office they share, on a corner of the tailoring building, is a triumph of tidiness and efficiency – the first time I’ve said that of any of our offices! Ismail speaks good English and is working well with Sandy.
Zakir’s wife Neera and daughters Sara and Nora were with us all the time, and are a great joy. The girls love being in Bhola, and I only wish there was decent education on the island so they could live with us – although Neera would miss the Dhaka shops! Zakir has friends in Bhola, including the Mayor who invited us to a barbecue in his vegetable-storage factory, very cold! but its lonely life for him much of the time.
The boys in their decorated room
And yes, it was cold! The coldest in 50 years, by late afternoon we were fetching socks and jackets, and it didn’t warm up till nearly 11 in the morning. Not a place suited to cold weather, although it was pleasant sleeping under two blankets rather than a mosquito net. And I blessed Jet Airways for their sleep suit which I put on every evening under my salwar kameez! If I go again, it will be late January!
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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2017
Freda Graf reports on her recent visit to Bhola
It was monsoon time when I visited Bhola’s Children which meant high humidity, tremendous downpours and the loudest thunder I have ever heard. There was not a sound from the children, as they were so used to it, but I thought the world was coming to an end! The terrible flooding in South East Asia had little impact on Bhola as they are conditioned to it and have effective strategies in place to minimise the problems. Unfortunately, the rice crop has been wiped out and this will have a dramatic impact on the basic foodstuff, leading to a significant increase in cost. This in turn will impact on our budget and the money we send out to Bhola’s Children.
The children were all fundamentally well despite the usual colds and fevers that are typical for this time of year. It was good to see the children having great fun in the pond, jumping, splashing and playing in the water. All the children are taught to swim which is a necessary skill to have when you live in an area surrounded by water.
I was especially pleased to see Nayan (a boy with multiple disabilities) confidently playing and swimming. He has had intensive physio for the last year from Dilruba, our qualified physiotherapist. She comes to the Boundary for a few hours each week and she has trained our staff in proper physio. Dilruba can diagnose the problems and develop treatment plans for each of our children. She then instructs our staff to look after a group of children. This has made a significant impact on the care the children are receiving and hence the improvement.
The older boys are attending a Training School in Dhaka where they are learning skills to enable them to get employment when they have finished. I visited the school which is very impressive where they teach a range of skills including farming, mechanical engineering, IT and tailoring. The boys seem to be very happy and thriving there. Zakir and I collected the boys and brought them back to Bhola for the holidays.
The carpenter is continuing to teach the boys the basic skills in woodwork and now that the older boys are at school, the younger and the less able children are having a chance to learn.
We had a wonderful farewell party where the children entertained me with singing by a girl with Downs syndrome and a boy with multiple disabilities. The girls danced in unison and it was fascinating watching how a blind girl could almost manage to dance in union with the others. The deaf boys wrote and performed a very entertaining play about a thief who was of course captured by the end of the play.
It was the end of term and the children were doing examinations and preparing to go home for the Cow Cutting EID holiday. By the end of my stay most of the children had gone and an eerie silence had descended on the home. The staff could have a well-deserved rest and prepare for the next term.
I spent Cow Cutting Eid with Zakir’s family in Dhaka and it was a most interesting experience. The day before Eid, there were cows everywhere in the streets and on Eid day I watched them being butchered, very cleanly and humanly. My curiosity about this arises from the days I was an operating theatre sister. The tradition is the meat is divided three ways, to the poor, to relatives and the family keep the remaining third. Many poor people come to Dhaka specially to collect the meat and the crowds gathered outside the rich people’s houses.
Zakir, our Director, has been managing the home in a very efficient and thoughtful way. He has a very good relationship with both the children and staff. He has the skill to be friendly and yet have the respect of the staff. The children love him and he is very good at playing and having fun with them. We do hope he will continue for a long time to come.
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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2016
Freda’s report from Bhola
My annual trip to Bhola’s Children was very successful and worthwhile. It was great to see so many new children and meet up again with familiar faces. The children seem very happy and are working hard at their schoolwork but still have plenty of time for fun and games. The newly installed CCTV not only makes everyone feel more secure, it also has the bonus of enabling Zakir to keep an eye on the classrooms, so the children are now quiet and well behaved.
I was especially pleased to be able to welcome the new qualified physio Dilruba, who has joined our staff. Dilruba is able to provide proper treatment plans and help our existing staff to execute the care correctly. She suggested we purchase an ultrasound machine to treat children with muscle spasm, pain, and help relieve contractures. Thanks to the very generous donation from The Funding Network we are able to agree the purchase and also buy a resistance exercise bike. This will help build up the muscles of the children with deformities.
It was a delight to see so many of the children developing technical skills. They were all very enthusiastic and keen both to watch and take part. It was great to see our new drill being used by the physically handicapped boys who are learning skills that will enable them to support themselves in the future. We are very grateful to Cumbria Overseas Aid Trust (COAT) for their very generous gift.
While I was in Dhaka, I visited the only deaf Secondary school in Bangladesh which was very impressive. It is a government supported school and there is a boarding department run by the Bangladesh Deaf Society. All being well some of our older boys will be starting there in January at the start of the new school year. I also visited the Baptist Mission Integrated School where two of our blind children attend. This school used to be specifically for the blind but has had to bring in able bodied children in order to survive.
Bangladesh has introduced a new law which bans fishing for a couple of months during the spawning session. We thought this was going to mean the fish for our children would cost a lot more. Fortunately, the exact opposite has happened, the Coastguards confiscate any fish caught and telephone us and other homes to collect the fish. Somebody’s punishment is our reward! Our fridges are now full of fish and the children are getting a healthy diet.
The Coast-Guard Jonal Commander, Efram Hossain, visited the Boundary and was very impressed at what we were doing and wanted to help us provide milk for the children. He feels this is a very important for the children’s growth. He and his friends are going to give us three cows which we will keep at Valumia and will be cared for by Kamal and one of our boys. He has provided us with the materials so we can build a cow shed and we can get the milk delivered to the home on a daily basis. So Zakir is off to the market to buy the cows!
I had a very helpful visit to the new Superintendent of Police, although we had no particular issues to discuss it was good to be able to thank him personally for his help and invite him to visit the Boundary. All foreign visitors to Bhola are meet by the police on arrival and escorted to the Boundary. We have to inform the police when we leave the Boundary as the police will provide an escort. The authorities are obviously very nervous since the Artisan tragedy as a lot of foreign staff from NGOs have left Bangladesh. It is rather fun being escorted by very handsome young men!
I also visited the Assistant District Commissioner who welcomed us very warmly. He is a delightful man, helped enormously by his ability to speak very good English. He had spent a year at Northumbria University with his family. His wife is a Doctor and Zakir extended a very warm invitation for his wife and family to visit the Boundary.
The day starts at the Boundary at 6am and it is very impressive to watch the children doing their early morning exercise. This is very well run by one of the older boys Gias, who manages the children in a fun but disciplined way.
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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2016
Weddings in Bhola Garden
We think we should call Zakir “Cupid” – since he joined, three of our female staff and our own Faruk have “tied the knot”!
Faruk has been with us all his life. He was born with cerebral palsy and is part paralysed down the right side. He is now in his thirties and longs to be married. He is the gate keeper and every morning he can be seen sweeping the boundary and checking the tube wells.
A couple brought their daughter in some four weeks ago. She was about 16 so too old for us to accept. But when Zakir saw that she was paralysed down her left side, he proposed for Faruk and both Sharmin and her parents agreed.
In true Bangladeshi fashion no time was wasted, the marriage took place almost at once and the parents went home. Two weeks later Faruk accompanied his bride to her parents’ home for the Eid holiday and, for the first time in his life, had people he could address as mother and father.
Salina is a widow, and the mother of our dear Sonali, now 11 and severely disabled with cerebral palsy. Salina also has a son who is in the local boys’ orphanage and visits us on all holidays.
Since we have known Salina, she has had at least two offers of marriage but neither suitor was prepared to take Sonali as well. Naturally Salina, who is a wonderful mother, rejected both proposals.
Mofiz and Salina
We are delighted to tell you Salina has now found a new husband who is more than happy to be a father to both her children. Mofiz was widowed earlier this year. His children are grown up, he has his own house near our campus, and until recently he worked for Heed Technical Training College. Mofiz proposed last month and the marriage took place yesterday.
Sandy and Freda are both about to visit Bhola and will have the good fortune to celebrate two marriages. I am deeply envious!
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THE FUNDING NETWORK SELECTS US TO PRESENT AT THEIR LAST EVENT
We were so very pleased to be selected by TFN to present our charity at their event on 15th September. We were one of four charities – two UK-based and two working overseas – and we each had a target of £6,000.
Our ask was for a part-time physiotherapist and a carpenter, and we are happy to report that we more than achieved our target. Zakir, who never wastes time, has already taken on a part-time carpenter. Here is a photograph of his first lesson.
To The Funding Network and to all their guests and supporters:
This is a huge thank you from Bhola’s Children for your generosity last Thursday evening.
The committee members of Bhola’s Children Special School Bangladesh, Zakir, the staff and all our children have asked me to thank you for donating so generously.
I was thrilled to have an opportunity to tell you about our charity, thank you for listening and for your positive feedback. We all hope you will want to keep in touch and possibly even visit our home.
Meanwhile thank you again so very much for raising such a wonderful sum of money for us.
Very best wishes,
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THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2016
Received a wheelchairs from CoastGuard
From Zakir, our Director:
I am glad to inform you that we have received five wheelchairs from CoastGuard on 14th June 2016. They handed over the chairs along with support for two other regular schools in a event with many media and other distinguished guests. Myself and Tanvir attended.
We have good relation with them and they have been a good support. They promised more support in the future years.
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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13, 2016
Our children sing farewell to Philip Westbury
Dinah has known and loved Philip for ten years. He was so disabled at birth, he was not expected to live three days. Instead, he lived nearly 31 years.
His mother Helen was the first donor to set up a substantial standing order. When we asked for sponsorship for our auto rickshaw, we painted each donor’s name on it. Helen made up the shortfall and we thought it appropriate to put Philip’s name in full. Philip sadly died just before Easter and the children made this video in the hope of comforting Philip’s family before the funeral on April 15th.
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