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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,  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 financially 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. There was an array of tools, plastics, and machines-each being carefully operated by the trained technicians. According to Dr. Ripon, all the technicians at BLBC are trained outside of the country (Thailand) to build 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.

But this is all rather…obvious. I’m not here to blog about what you and I can easily read from a brochure or website. I’m here speak of what I saw next.

Minutes later Dr. Ripon ushered me to the front gate of the building-there was something everyone wanted me to see. First, I an empty rikshaw.  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…to confirm with my own eyes whether he 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, to hope 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 the Riksha-wallah as we were heading back to the center. I agree, I can see that 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. I’ve seen hotel sex workers, injecting drug users, HIV/AIDS 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 neglect for so many marginalized communities in Bangladesh….the BLBC stories rang music in my ears. There was not a fragment of hopelessness in these patients, not a tear, not a utter of complaint.

But then again, why would they be hopeless?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve reached Dhaka safe and sound! Over 24 hours of traveling (19 hour lay over in Singapore, eek!), 5 delicious Muslim meals, 7 carry on bags, 100 pages of President Obama’s autobiography, and one Nikon D40, alas, I’ve made it.

I sort of craved the smog, the heat, the odor of rotting street trash, the erratic harmony of rikshaw bells and car honks, and the monotonous pleas of street beggars. And oh boy, when I got the first whiff of sooty Bangladeshi air, I knew I was home. It was a pleasant reunion.

On the 9th, I had the pleasure of spending my day with Deni Robey, Americans for UNFPA Vice President of Public Affairs and Nicole Paprocki (check out her blog at http://www.americansforunfpa.blogspot.com/ ) to visit a women’s empowerment organization in Bangladesh named Tarango (meaning river waves in Bengali-symbolic of women rising with the waves). Words cannot fully express what I saw and felt that day. I felt hope, I sensed beauty, I saw community, and most significantly, I was surrounded by progressive minded women. The women seeking aid from Tarango are flawless. I use the term flawless because they truly are. They are kind, ambitious, patient, and endlessly warm to everyone around them-with a sense of humor too! But they’re not only women- they’re also mothers, wives, and even grandmothers-incredibly proud ones. From what I saw, Tarango was obviously more than a place to work, it was a haven for women seeking community, friendship, and basic human rights.

Meeting Ms. Kohinoor Yeasmin, the current manager of Tarango, was also deeply influential. She spoke vibrantly about the women in Tarango, the work being done, and most importantly, the work she aspires to accomplish in the future. She’s a modest dreamer. Every time she outlined a potential plan, she always concluded with, “but it’s only a dream right now.” But every reality starts with a dream, and I’m certain that Ms. Yeasmin-with her caliber and passion-can make all her dreams true for the women in Tarango.

On a side note, later that afternoon, Deni, Nicole, and I had the chance to have lunch with Mr. Fuad Chowdhury- a renowned film director in Bangladesh. He gave us a quick tour of his company, United Network Limited, and explained a bit of what he did. His work ranged from directing advertisements, to short commercial films, to even Bangladeshi Sesame Street episodes! But most remarkable of all was his involvement in producing documentary films. He took the time to share one of these films, “Nodeer Mohonai Barisaler Mehndigonj” (Mehendigonj of Barisal at Estuary of Meghna). It was a beautiful short film about how the people of Mehendigonj are seeking national and international aid to stop the river erosion for the rehabilitation of those affected. I brought a copy with me and am hoping to share it with the Seattle community!

It has just been so gratifying to see Bangladeshis empowering minorities at so many levels!

 
 
 
 

 

 

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere with an estimated 50% of the workforce unemployed or underemployed. A traditional way for women in Nicaragua to bring an income in to their household is making pottery. At least 85% of the female potters are also peasant farmers, or live in families where agriculture is an important part of their livelihood. Increasing poverty has forced many people to leave the agricultural areas or their traditional lives as artisans in hope of better wages in the urban sector. This trend is leading to a loss of cultural traditions, technical and craft skills, and inevitably, further impoverishment. Potters for Peace has worked in Nicaragua for 23 years offering support to women potters of Nicaragua through assistance with appropriate technologies sustained using local skills, education of new processes, and assistance in marketing that improves their livelihood while preserving cultural traditions. With assistance in better production methods, we can avoid the loss of this traditional way of making a living for these women.

With 23 years experience, we have listened to the artisans and buyers to find out what our focus should be, and responded with appropriate programs. With frequent visits and seeing the changes in their workshops, their families and the leadership roles they have taken in communities, we have been able to gauge their needs and respond quickly. We’ve established a Training Center in La Paz Centro where we can bring the artisans to a central location to work and learn improved methods, designs, finishing skills and new technology to improve their production yet maintain cultural integrity. We’ve found that bringing the artisans into a school/workshop environment they can devote all their time to learning over a week long period for an intense training. We can bring in a specialist and maximize the number of people learning new techniques and designs. The artisans in turn go back to their communities and teach others what they have learned, exponentially increasing the number of benefactors from this learning experience.

With a contribution of $25, you will sponsor an artisan to attend a week long training. The tangible impact is an immediate increase in their production, as well as the ability for the artisan to offer more products at better quality thereby increasing orders. Education being the way out of poverty, your contribution is setting an artisan on the immediate path of improving the living standards of their family and community.

(This is a guest post by Beverly Pillers of Potters for Peace)

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