Thursday 31 August 2017

Bangladesh revisited

 The last time I travelled to Bangladesh was December 2015..... 

Of all the trips it was hardest.

Culture shock, despair at the poverty, frustration at the lack of basic health care, anger at the level of wilful ignorance in the West, fear of the scale of human disaster and a preoccupation with my own inadequacy were left behind on previous trips. They were replaced by a love of the people, their shiny, warm smiles, generosity and hospitality.

A mantra helped me transition from furious to helpful. It “discovered me” as I stood at the banks of a river alongside a community of people who had lost everything in heavy floods: “You can’t fix it all but you can do something and something is better than nothing”.

2015 wasn't hard because of any of that though. The shock wasn’t new.  

It was practically hard. The advent of terrorism in modern form meant I was vulnerable in ways I hadn’t been. My visit meant diverting good people trying to do important work to keeping me safe. Add in a couple of natural disasters it became clear that a planned visit for November 2017 was going to create more problems than it solved and the plan was ditched.

On a train station guarded by police for our protection - 2015

Short of collaring friends and families for money I was running out of ideas to help.

Enter stage left (which means I didn’t see them coming) Beyond Limits, their staff, the people they support, the families of people they support and the families of the Directors.

Staff and people supported at a briefing on where the money goes

Read the blurb about Beyond Limits you’ll learn it’s an organisation that supports people who’ve been failed by the system. It supports them to have an extra-ordinary life. Just to be clear, the organisation helps people whose life might otherwise be spent in “long stay” hospital on account of somehow or other not quite fitting in. The organisation helps people find belief, hope and faith in themselves. It offers them space to discover who they are and to live that without apology or reservation. 

The kind of values that drive the work (whether in a formal values statement or not) are belief in people as people, willingness to commit to others, preparedness to take the tough road, the ability to celebrate success, belief in family and tenacity, tenacity, tenacity.

So, here’s how it goes.

In 2015 Beyond Limits staff, people supported and families got behind fundraising efforts to support a donation to an orphanage for girls. (I ought to say that none of the trip costs were ever fundraised, if you travelled – you paid). They did tonnes of things, a jumble sale, a sponsored walk, a painting auction, a cake sale, a ball and so on.  One member of staff even collared her husband in to fleecing his builder colleagues on pay day. But! Most humbling was the degree to which people who had had shit lives got behind people on the other side of the world whom they were worried might face shit lives if they didn’t help. Consequently the Beyond Limits community helped  me to raise funds take to donate in 2015. Job done.

                                                                                                    Heather, trying on a sari

Or so I thought?

·      Who knew that when you’ve learned the importance & power of tenacity the hard way, you recognise when it’s needed and put your shoulder behind what could have been a cursory effort more tenaciously than most?

·      Who knew that when you’ve had to exercise tenacity, stay brave and keep believing in your own life believing in belief stays with you. So you get behind and stay behind a cause even when “the trip is over”?

·      Who knew when you say “community matters” you mean it – no matter how big the distance between parts of it?

·      Who knew that when we say family matters family get behind us because we matter and so what matters to us matters?

After December 2015 Beyond Limits got in touch to say people supported had raised more money and how would they get the money to people in Bangladesh?

Then they got in touch again to say they had more money and could I hurry up and sort it out…….Please…..

Doreen got in touch to say her family were arranging (as best I understand it) a “Party in the Park”. They raised an inordinate amount of money split between a number of Charities of which YPSA (see below) is one.

YPSA is a non-profit social development organisation in Bangladesh that helps an enormous range of people including people with disabilities, sex workers and their children; communities impacted by natural disasters and orphaned children. Their reach is immense and their impact unquestionable. They are the recipients of numerous international awards and despite gruelling work at home they find time to contribute their learning to the global stage.

I’ve been lucky to visit them twice and fortunate too that their Chief Executive MdArifur Rahman understood and wanted to help support a connection between two sets of people fighting to live in ways most of us take for granted. He held his hand out to make a connection and give people value from across the other side world. He navigated a political quagmire to produce the permissions Beyond Limits needed to transfer the money safely to good use.

In systems in which Beyond Limits and YPSA do their work there’s a lot of hyperbole about values.

Everyone knows what to say but the lived evidence is sometimes lacking. The Beyond Limits and YPSA communities teach us a lot.

Lets go back and hear the messages in this story:

a)    Every life has value
b)   It’s possible to commit to people like family no matter the geographical distance.
c)    There’s dignity and equality in giving.  There is dignity and equality in receiving.
d)   Communities matter. Some communities are BIG. They scan the globe.
e)    People who’ve learned tenacity have deep wells to draw from.
f)     When we make space for people to have a life they’ll do more than exceed our expectations.
g)    Sometimes the greatest gifts come from unforeseen directions.
h)   Family is everything

Thank you to:

·      The people Beyond Limits supports, their families and staff
·      Doreen and Maxine
·      Doreen’s family in Carlisle for adding your voice, efforts and confidence
·      MdArifur Rahman who knit the ties and found a way to get the money from a group of people who needed to give it to children who needed to have it.

A group of children at one of YPSAs schools

Small boy with cerebral palsy getting physio, his mum, the therapist  and the equipment available to help him & others

Tonight I am reminded that the world made beautiful for having such beautiful people in it. I am so grateful to be part of this community.

 User led organisation for people with disabilities supported by YPSA

 Self styled wheelchair and the man who created & uses it

Thanks so much for your humanity and tenacity.

Judith North



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