A beautiful smile needs no translation

After yet another night with very little sleep for most of us, we were to be checked out and picked up from the hotel at 8am. Of course, I accidentally hit snooze and slept until 7:20, so my breakfast was small and quick.

At about 8:15am, we were all in three cars and driving towards Mirpur in Dhaka, to visit the Bangladesh Protobondhi Foundation, though we had no idea what it was.

After squeezing through some tight and busy streets, we made it to the right place, where so many children dressed in bright colours were waiting patiently for us. We were showered with orange flower petals and beautiful, bright smiles as we entered the building, to discover it was a foundation, or school, for developmentally disabled children. It was incredible! We were shown through the many rooms, catering for the many children there with various disabilities.

Due to time restrictions, it was all a bit rushed as they wanted us to see the whole five-storey building. In one of the rooms, a young girl asked for the flowers that one of our team had received. Willingly our teammate handed the bunch over. This was followed by a couple more requests, until the original girl started telling each of our team that other members of her class didn’t have flowers. We left this room having made the children smile by giving them the flowers that they had originally given us—it was fantastic!

The girl that took leadership in distributing our flowers (photo: Heleen Vink)
The girl that took leadership in distributing our flowers (photo: Heleen Vink)

We were ushered to the top floor of the building where a dance presentation from the various classes had been prepared for us, with a sign behind them shining “Welcome IKEA Foundation”. It was amazing to see all that these children had devoted to this short visit! We were truly touched! Seeing how they smile regardless of the situation they are in, in the environment they are in, it is clear- this centre truly is changing the worlds of these children. On top of this, we could also be proud, as IKEA’s Soft Toys for Education campaign is playing a direct part in this!

Young boy painting using his mouth, as he doesn't have control of his hands (photo: Heleen Vink)
Young boy painting using his mouth, as he doesn’t have control of his hands (photo: Heleen Vink)

We were then given beautiful gifts that the children had made themselves, and due to time restraints, a quick presentation about all that the foundation does. Rushing down the stairs, as a power outage refused us the use of the lift, we stopped at their little shop to make a few purchases of things the kids had made themselves, which would also directly support what the foundation does.

Rushing to the small domestic airport to catch our flight to Cox’s Bazar (a smaller city in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh) proved easier than we thought, even though we still only arrived 50 minutes before take-off. A very eye-opening airport and flying experience, which began our afternoon into the south of the country, before we were off to visit another school and training centre for children and teenagers—specifically focused on those who work on the beaches selling products to tourists.


    Colin Ward