A few weeks ago, my Nana (maternal grandfather) and I ventured out to Mohammadpur, Dhaka visit BRAC Limb and Brace Fitting Centre (BLBC)- which in case you didn’t know, is a partnering project of Jolkona. Adnan and Nadia were kind enough to extend the offer-so I took on the chance to check it out! We reached the center at about 10 am, a bright, beautiful morning. The center was right across the street form the National Cardiac Institute and surrounded by various orthopedic centers-seemed like the ideal location. Upon arrival, Nana and I were warmly greeted by Dr. Ripon, the director of the center. He lead us to a large outdoor lobby, with seats on the left side, a few handrail structures in the middle, and entrances to smaller rooms and offices on the front and right-side walls. I made awkward eye contact with a few of the beneficiaries, who (understandably) didn’t know how to quite greet the newcomers. After a few nervous smiles and rushed assalamwalaikums, Â we were in Dr. Ripon’s office.
Over a cup of tea and biscuits, Dr. Ripon expressed some of the reasons why he started his work at BLBC. To him, there was nothing greaterthan providing individuals the chance to reclaim their lives after a devastating accident or illness. In his own words, Dr. Ripon views his work as a nesha (addiction)-he can’t stop. Many of Dr. Ripon’s patients are financiallyÂ poor with little hope of regaining the simple chance to walk. Without this ability, there’s no opportunity for self-sufficiency and work-which only asks for poverty. BLBC single handedly provides these very people the right to earn an income through the gift of walking.
We took a tour of the center right after. First, we visited the rooms in which the artificial limbs are constructed.Â There was an array of tools, plastics, and machines-each being carefullyÂ operated by the trained technicians. According toÂ Dr. Ripon, all the technicians at BLBC are trained outside of the country (Thailand)Â toÂ buildÂ quality prosthetics for their patients. Next, Dr. Ripon took us out to the front lobby where patients were practicing how to walk with their newly acquired limbs. At the BLBC, each patient is required to complete a two-week training session to become accustomed to walking. This way, each patient leaves the center fully moving and recovered.
ButÂ this is allÂ rather…obvious. I’m not here to blog about what you and I can easily read from a brochure or website.Â I’m here speak of what I saw next.
Minutes later Dr. RiponÂ ushered me to the front gate of the building-there was something everyone wanted me to see. First,Â I an empty rikshaw.Â Â Then I saw a man, presumably the riksha-wallah (the one operates the rikshaw)-a tall man, in his 40’s, wearing the usual shada genji (white t-shirt) and lungi (a cloth worn around the legs-commonly worn by south Asian men). Dr. Ripon pointed at his leg and asked the man to pull up his lungi a few inches, and underneath I saw a beautiful tan plastic leg.
I climbed up on the rikshaw, and minutes later I was outside of the building, the wind blowing gently on my face and hair. The rikshaw-wallah was flawless with his movements, not a grunt, limp, or abnormal maneuvering of his body. He just rode, rode the bicycle with every swift turn of his legs. Of course, I was on the rikshaw for fun…toÂ confirm with my own eyes whether heÂ could actually ride it. But for this man, each push of his leg was food for his family, clothing for his boys, jewelery for his girls, and a sari for his daughters wedding. Each push was a reason to see over the horizon, toÂ hopeÂ for possibilities, to climb out of poverty. Each push, each push, both with his real and artificial leg.
“Amra amader Ripon Bhai amader jonno oneg korse”-“our friend Dr. Ripon has done a lot for us,” said theÂ Riksha-wallah asÂ we were heading back to the center. I agree, I can see thatÂ Dr. Ripon has done plenty for these people.
I think what I take home from the BLBC visit is it’s 100% successful. The treatment is simple and virtually free of medical complications.Â I’ve seen hotel sex workers, injecting drug users, HIV/AIDSÂ patients at health clinics where full recovery isn’t this certain. Of course, these centers are no less, but after viewing the trauma, the negative stigma, and the neglectÂ for so many marginalized communities inÂ Bangladesh….the BLBC storiesÂ rang music in my ears.Â There was not a fragment of hopelessness in these patients, not a tear, not aÂ utter of complaint.
But then again, why would they be hopeless?