On 10th November a group of Commitment for Life advocates will be travelling to Bangladesh to visit Christian Aid partners. The group is being led by Revd Geoff Daintree. We hope to blog about the experience so please do come back and follow our travels. To find out more about Commitment for Life look at our web page www.cforl.org.uk
Saturday 12th November
Having arrived safely last night from the UK and after a good night’s sleep!! We made our way out of Dhaka towards Gopalgonj. The sights and sounds of Dhaka filled our ears and eyes as we laughed and jumped as loaded rickshaws played chicken with coaches racing along the main roads. A whole book could be written on the different types of transport and their loads with but that must be for another day, However the sight of a cart pedal powered and loaded with 3 large chest freezers is something to behold. We travelled south west taking the ferry across the Jamuma River. We saw people going about their day as they probably would have done one hundred years ago but mixed with the latest technology of a mobile phone.
Our arrival at the local CCDB offices was most welcome as were the lovely flowers we received, the first of many we would be offered as a sign of welcome throughout the trip. After a meal we made our way towards Tangi Para. At once you could see the damage all the water logging is having on the landscape. Instead of field you look out over water. Some fields are obviously paddy fields or shrimp or fish farms but in places it is just flooding as far as the eye can see. Driving down embankments with water on each side is quite an experience.
Getting out of the coach we were presented with garlands of french marigolds carefully sewn together. With people taking our arms they guided us off the road and into their village. We were later than expected but they had waited for us. We stopped to meet Lipi Bala working the 880ft deep well on a high plinth so it can still be used when the waters rise. It is one of two in the area, Everything in this Hindu village was well ordered with plants being grown where ever they could. The climate adaption hut was very impressive. Inside were books on climate change and adaptation as well as emergency equipment for when the flooding comes again. This hut is used by the village each month to learn about adaptation and disaster preparedness.
Joining the rest of the villagers we heard from the vice chairperson , Shova Biswas, how CCDB’s advice had been instrumental in equipping for the present and helping them look to the future, Horipada, a committee member told us how there used to be six seasons now there is only one and he described this as peculiar. All made it very clear that the West’s life choices are affecting them and we need to cut our carbon emissions. This is the message we need to take back to the churches. We will tell their story of determination and resourcefulness against the elements whereever and whenever we can.
Sunday 13 November 2011
An early start, with mist still rising over the fields. We made our way through the crowded streets of Kulna and onto the “main” road. Even though it was so early the market in Kulna was in full swing and it seemed as if everyo9ne was on the move. Children in smart uniforms going to school, overcrowded buses taking people to work, Tuc-Tucs and cycle rickshaws carrying goods and people to and from the market and the shops.
Our destination was a Baptist Church in Tangipara. To get there involved a ferry crossing in a crowded boat and a walk through narrow lanes lined with little shops, houses and cattle grazing.
We could hear the singing as we approached and how I wish my church in Exeter sung with such exuberant joy! They were certainly making a “joyful noise to the Lord!”
There followed prayers and more singing and two little girls presented us with tall stemmed flowers. It was interesting that each of the people who prayed spoke of a particular need. Some even stood up and spoke about it.
Geoff preached (very well) an impromptu sermon on a theme about how we can and should serve one another, quoting the example of Jesus as described in Philippians chapter 2.
The service ended with notices, a collection and the Blessing. As always, we were treated to delightful hospitality, so enjoyed coconut juice, biscuits and bananas followed by tea or coffee.
We could see the new church building for which they are constructing and still raising funds.
Then onto the village to see some of the work CCDB is doing there, in particular providing money and guidance for duck rearing and raising the level of the houses – to provide protection from flood waters. We met some lovely people living in the village before going on to the Women’s Forum set up in 1997. They were given 1 million Taka to start up, and had established a Credit Union where each member contributed 40 Taka, and then were able to borrow money for credit purposes to fund income generating projects such as duck rearing, cattle farming, fishing and handicrafts. They also began an education programme.
Women spoke movingly of how being part of the Forum had enabled them to move out of poverty and to have savings for the first time in their lives. We were – again – provided with hospitality; obviously a necessity, before returning to lunch at Gopalganj. There followed a feedback session and cultural programme which was given by a young CCDB group.
A wonderful, inspiring day – so much to think about and to pray for.
Monday 14th November
“Mud, mud, glorious mud” – but only if you are a hippo!
Today we experienced for a very short time some of the extremely difficult conditions of life after flood of a hurricane.
The inundation of saline and river water has destroyed houses and roads, ruined livelihoods, hopes and dreams, and changed lives.
The villages we have visited have been recipients of Christian Aid Disaster Emergency Relief Rations distributed by partner Shushilan. We listened as people told their stories of unworkable fields submerged under green stagnant water; damaged unusable wells; lest employment and homes and total disruption of any semblance of normality.
We walked along mud-covered, uneven, slippery paths for our first encounters but at our next stop the pathway was just too difficult for us to use and so we were taken on “vans” bicycle powered carts, being pushed and pulled along the way.
On arrival we negotiated mud embankments between the water-logged fields where the brick paths have been washed away.
However a greater difficulty was in store because the only way to reach the centre of the village was over a bamboo bridge of just one pole width. Not all of us felt able to make this crossing – which was a choice we had, but not the people who live there!
In the midst of all their troubles our difficulties were of concern to them and we experienced real kindness by way of helping hands as some of us struggled.
It is good that Shushilan are in contact with them.
After a very trying day we enjoyed hospitality at Shushilan’s Guest house – our home for the next two nights.
In the evening we were treated to a performance of “picture drama” by young people who vibrantly highlighted development issues in Bangladesh and Shushilan’s work, through picture and dramatic song. A splendid end to the day.
Tuesday 15th November
We were given a tour of the Shushilan building and extensive grounds (18 acres) and saw for ourselves how much work is being carried out on eco-farming; crab fattening and experimantal work in planting mangrove trees to reduce salinity in the water – all very impressive. However, it was difficult to equate such grand facilities with thedesperate poverty all around, until Mostafa Nuruzzaman, director, explained that a training centre was being built, which would benefit the community, and the building itself acted as a cyclone shelter in time of disaster.
Visits to two villages – Susomoy and Shurosatti – created the same exciting impression that the women in both forums had been empowered by the training they had recieved. Their husbands had accepted the change in their lives, the women were fine to leave their houses and their children would gow up with the same changed attitude towards their mothers and other females within their community. It was good too that Muslims and Hindus could live and work side by side in harmony.
We met the youth forum and i was really disappointed that in such a bright, articulate group no one was interested in becoming a politician in order to improve their country and get rid of the corruption which is so endemic there.
Our last visit to “Mt Ziggurat” was interesting but my over-riding impression was of the kindness of the people who were so willing and eager to give a helping hand up steep steps or over tough terrain.
Altogether it was an inspiring and beutiful day and i shall go home with nothing but good memories of the people of Bangladesh.
Wednesday 16th November
Our Journey back to Dhaka:
We set off at 8am from Sushilan, Manikganj, Shakira District for the long journey back to Dhaka.
We were told it would take 9-10 hours. Our journey took us back through Satkhira, Jessore, Magora, Paturia Ferry Ghat , Manikganj, Savar and Dhaka. Approximately 250 miles.
One of the most striking features I saw during the whole of the journey, is that most of the time there are people on the road all going about their daily business. Children to school, workers to the fields, the bazaar or to work in the villages and towns. I also have never seen so many modes of transport, cycles and motor bikes with sometimes two to three passengers. Buses driven very aggressively! Trucks with often beautiful paintings of the countryside on the back of them. Bullock carts, vans, these are cycles pulling a flat square board on the back carrying people or a variety of loads eg fridges, hay or livestock (goats, sheep, chicken, ducks). Covered vans, carrying children to school. Auto Rickshaws carrying up to six people, run by battery, newly introduced to cities and towns through the country, which is great competition to the poor Rickshaw wallah. The CMG, like a baby taxi run on compressed gas mainly seen in Dhaka. All had to be negotiated through, by our skilful drivers, with constant honking of horns. At 11.15 am we stopped to buy a banana which was small and very sweet to taste. It then started raining which is unusual for this time of year. The rain continued for sometime, and we saw people sheltering under brightly coloured umbrellas, banana leaves and some farmers under large straw hats, similar to ones worn in the fields in China.
At 12.45pm we stopped at a restaurant for a quick lunch and bought biscuits and crisps, very unhealthy!!.
The land is very flat and the roads, are on the whole good . All are built higher than the fields to prevent flooding in the rainy season and it was noticeable that they always lined with beautiful trees of different varieties. I noticed coconut trees, banana trees, date palms, rain trees, banyan trees and many others. As well as towns, we often passed small groups of houses, built of bamboo walls or mud walls with corrugated or tiled roofs and small bazaars selling a huge variety of vegetables and meat, that is unfortunately open to the flies!.
I loved the variety of the greens of the vegetation we passed. There was a mixture of rice fields, mustard seed, maize, sugar beet, vegetables and flooded fields with the dreaded water hyacinth, that chokes the rivers and fields in the rainy season. Nearer Dhaka we passed many brick making kilns and textile factories.
We arrived at the Ferry Ghat at 3.15pm and had no queue which was a great relief. On our journey southward we met a queue about 3 miles long, not unusual we are told. The crossing took ¾ hour and we were able to go up on deck. I counted 7 ferries crossing there and back and there was a lot of silt on each side of the river banks, some of which was being dredged.
Going through Savar just before Dhaka we met the rush hour and unfortunately the usual traffic jams. There is a lot of blowing of horns but very little movement. After a long and successful journey we arrive at our hotel at 6 15pm. Approximately 10 hours with grateful thanks to our two very skilful drivers.
My mind was full of the many images I had seen a long the road. Thousands of people living their lives in a very beautiful but challenging country.