Meet the children!

6:00 a.m., another day in Bangladesh. It is still quiet when I wake up. The orchestra of horns has not started yet; the sun is up and so is the temperature.

Today we have a long day ahead. We will travel 40 kilometers north-west to Dhamrai, a rural area outside Dhaka. It will take approximately three hours. So after a good breakfast, we are off.

Dhaka is wakening and traffic is stuck already, but after 1.5 hours we reach the rural area of Dhaka. Beautiful green fields, water, blue skies and a lot of building brick ovens dominates the view. We see children swimming in the ponds next to the water lilies.

At 10:30 we arrive at the Kallyni inclusive school, a nonformal school for able-bodied and disabled children. This school is run by BPF (Bangladesh Prothiboudhi Foundation), one of the partners of Save the Children.

Warm welcome - by Sabina Vis
Warm welcome – by Sabina Vis

It is so impressive. They wait for us in line, girls left, boys right, and salute when we walk by. We get a flower chain and a bouquet of flowers. These are handed over by children with a disability. And then I break, tears just start to flow. And not because it is so sad, but it is so beautiful. These children are part of society. They are integrated in mainstream education and not hidden in the home. And they are so proud and joyful that we are there. It is overwhelming.

The girl who made me cry - by Petra Hans
The girl who made me cry – by Petra Hans

After a real coconut milk refreshment, we go outside, where the children are waiting to perform their national song for us. After this everybody goes back to class and we walk down to the “clinic”. Just an open space with a roof on top where an educated psychologist and speech therapist work with the disabled children and their parents. One girl is being assessed to see how she scores on the Denver test. She is 3.5 years old, but has the ability of 24-month-old. Based on this assessment, the family will be helped to ask for services from the government to help her develop in a good way. All these women are so determined and passionate to help these children in a good way.

And then we enter a room that is only 3 by 3 metres. Nine metres squared, one physiotherapist and nine mothers with their disabled children. She teaches the mothers to interact with their children and practise with them, massage them to get stronger muscles and improve their speech. We meet Laxmi Rani. She is 3.5 years old and until 2 years ago, she could only lay on her back. Thanks to BPF she can sit, stand up and even walk now. This is so impressive to see. She looks so proud when we applaud her.

Then we meet Mukta Akter. Mukta is 22 and disabled. She limps when walking. She started in the school when she was a young girl. She went to school till grade 5, went to a mainstream high school, and got enrolled in university. Now she has her bachelor’s degree and teaches in school herself. Because of these stories I feel proud that we, through the IKEA Foundation, can make a difference for these children.

Girl in class - by Sabina Vis
Girl in class – by Sabina Vis

They also planned a home visit for us. We did one some days ago, so I was set for the same kind of experience, but it was not. We drove up into this little rural village, were no tourist has ever been, I am sure. We got out of the car and walked through little cramped houses with dirt on the floor and a cow only one metre away, to meet with Ismut Ara. Ismut is 13, blind and severely disabled, mentally and physically. When the community workers went door to door to do a survey, they found her naked and tied up all alone in the house. Her father had left the family, her mother was working in the field and nobody took care of her during the day. You cannot imagine this when you see her today. She is so cheerful and happy to meet with us. She is laughing, waving and making all these sounds.

BPF helped her mother get government help for Ismut. This means she gets 300 taka (€3) per month. Since this is not enough, she also got a goat to support her in her own livelihood, as well as training on how to stimulate and develop Ismut.

The whole village is gathered around the house to meet us. And this was not all. We went to the mainstream school where children are enrolled when they finish Kallyni school. They did a roleplay for us. We were watching the play and the rest of the school was watching us. It is funny, at first the children are a bit reserved, but when we left, we had to shake hands, tell our names and got a big goodbye wave party.

Children at school - by Sabina Vis
Children at school – by Sabina Vis

Finally time for lunch. They know how to cook here. Even the plain white rice is delicious. We keep saying how good the good is, but for them it is nothing. Really easy. It is heartwarming to see how they want to please us. It is 14:45 when we get in the car again to go to the next partner. But not before we have a dance performance and gifts and a lot of pictures taken.

Waving goodbye - by Saskia Rejhons
Waving goodbye – by Saskia Rejhons

I am exhausted. All these children, all their stories. I need some time to digest. I get some time in the car, because we end up in a political parade and traffic is stuck again.

Around 16:30 we are at NFOWD: National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled, a network that brings all NGOs together to cooperate and get changes made at the government level. The presentation is really interesting, but tough, since it has been a long day already. I am hopeful for the future of Bangladesh, that organisations like this are determined to make things happen within the government so the disabled children get attention on that level as well.

At 18:00 we get back in the car. Again in a traffic jam and now my limit is reached. I really dislike this today, and I just want to be back at the hotel. But I cannot, so I sit back, look out of the window and think about all the amazing people I met today!

    Saskia Rejhons