Early start to visit Mahasthangarha www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahasthangarh an enourmous historic site that is thought to be the oldest known settlement in Bangladesh. The area we first visited was overrun with locals who had moved in and were using the historic brick and stone work for their houses. Eventually we found the museum, only to be ushered away by a security guard concerned that we were there to rob the place!
First on the day’s work agenda were interviews with a variety of beneficiaries of UNICEF funded health and education projects within Bogra city. Even within a city, awareness of these projects was variable, and this led on to who was accessing the services on offer. As with projects in rural areas, awareness was largely spread by word-of-mouth, and to a lesser extent through fliers. With such tight knit communities and family units it is no surprise that word-of-mouth is so effective but it is not reaching all people.
Outside the temperature and humidity were rising – it was roasting. Our final interview was in a lady’s house made from corrugated iron sheets that made the perfect conditions for an oven. The temperature inside must have been well above 40°C and could have been touching 50°C. The conditions were on a par with our first interview in Brahambaria right at the beginning of our trip. Sweat just poured of us all, I think even my eye balls were sweating it was so hot. Only the lady we were interviewing seemed comfortable with the conditions, after all it was her house.
Of her own fruition she had taken on responsibility for raising awareness of community projects within her neighbours, and would even give up her own time to accompany those who were unsure to the clinics. How long she will continue to do this act of good for was unclear as she was receiving no appreciation from the project officials for bringing them new ‘customers’. She wasn’t looking for money, just a simple ‘thank you’. It is a salient lesson on the value of appreciation when motivating people.
On route to our last stop in Bogra we saw the police administer some street justice to a poor rickshaw driver who made the mistake of bumping his front tyre into the back of the police pick-up truck. A nasty and unnecessary attack on a man who was just trying to earn a living.
What came next couldn’t have been further away from the bullying behaviour of the police. At a wonderful UNICEF funded school we met the most charismatic and excellent Head teacher. He was a true innovator, using creative ways to bring younger children in to school and to bring lessons to life. He clearly knew that creativity and enjoyment was the best way to attract, engage and inspire his pupils. He even demonstrated how he had converted a Bengali poem into song: he had such a fab voice!
What a great example he was of the importance of leadership and ingenuity that is required to solve the myriad of problems in this country and to propel it forward. In many ways he reminded me of my first science teacher, Mr Mitchell, who when I was 12 lit the spark that got me in to science. I could have stayed talking with the Head for so much longer than our itinerary allowed for.
True to form the school kids crowed around us, posing for pictures and wanting to know who we were, where we were from and why we were there. Great inquirers and bundles of energy. As with all the schools we visited, I wished that we’d more time to give something back, to more fully answer their questions, and maybe even to play a quick game of cricket. Perhaps next time.
Final rural destination was village we had to walk from the nearest road, across the paddyfields, to reach. Such beautiful ‘countryside’. We met with a father and his young son who has suffering from lymphatic filariasis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filariasis
In respect to this amazing little boy I will not show any photos, but it was really shocking to hear their story. Over a ~10 year period they had been repeatedly let down by healthcare professionals who had mis-diagnosed and wrongly treated him. As a consequence his father had pretty much conceded defeat. The boy outwardly seemed ok, but I think the obvious difference between him and the other children crowded around us must have been having some sort of impact on his life, and if not now, then would do in future if the filariasis was left untreated.
It was only three days before in the Chars that government officials were preventing filarisis by giving the local children, albendazole for free, as part of a global elimination programme. Now we had a boy, who if given the correct medicine, would likely make a good recovery. We left the father with information on the medicines his son needed – I need to find a way to check whether the father followed through the advice.
Another early evening storm decended, but this time no fallen trees delayed the long drive (~5hours) back to Dhaka.
Once again driving at night added a new dimension of terror. More near misses than I can count. I used to worry most about the trucks, now it was the buses that set a new level of craziness. As GO put it ‘they think they are F1 drivers’! This was the main highway between Bogra and Dhaka – at one point had we to literally stop our mini-bus to avoid a head-on collision with a bus overtaking another bus on our side of the road. Oddly it was becoming fun, something akin to a 6 hours adrenaline rush.
Our time away from Dhaka was over, and the rest of our time in this wonderfully, crazy, beautiful, country was to be spent in Dhaka.