Coming home after having walked the streets of Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh was quite confronting. It felt like a reversed culture shock. The streets in the Netherlands were so quiet and traffic so organized – where is everybody? Where is the pulse and busyness? Everything is so grey – where are those amazing colors? Opening the front door to my house and remembering the way families live in the slums of Mohammedpur, Dhaka – it makes me feel humble and privileged.
This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. My most precious memory brings me back to the evening we were special guests at the cultural program of the Rakhaing Development Foundation (RDF). The Rakhaing people are one of the ethnic minority groups in Bangladesh with their own script and language. Not only does the foundation provide mother-tongue-based multilingual education for the children of the Rakhaing community, it also makes sure their cultural heritage is secured. This evening we were treated to a selection of their traditional songs and dance, performed by the children and their teachers. A fantastic evening! By the end of the night, we were invited on stage while all the children joined us and we sang together. Although we did not speak each other’s language, we were connected through music!
I found it quit difficult to respond to my colleagues, friends and family when they asked me about the trip. Where do I begin explaining? Obviously there are still a lot of challenges in Bangladesh and it is not possible to stop child labor overnight. But I strongly believe Bangladesh “shall overcome someday”.
The changes that are made by the heroes of Save the Children and their local partners like CPD, BPF, MUKTI, RDF and Shishur Khamatayan make a positive contribution to the lives of so many children every day. At UCEP (Underprivileged Children’s Educational Programs), one of the largest partners in Bangladesh, we learned the costs for one child to complete grades 1–5 at their project is only EUR 500. When a child completes grades 1–8 and additional vocational training, their income increases by 450% and instead of having to work in the informal sector with hazardous conditions, their opportunities in the formal working sector and therefore a better life improve drastically.
We, customers and co-workers at IKEA, can contribute to this positive change by supporting our annual Soft Toys for Education campaign. I hope that by having shared this experience with you, it is clear how important this campaign is and you feel motivated and inspired to contribute to it this November and December. I am sure I will and I will think about the amazing children we met in Bangladesh!