The project has been a huge part of my life since my mother first travelled to Bangladesh in 1977, and I have probably met many of you, the supporters, during the years as my mother has asked me to carry various objects or provide basic IT support. I have had the pleasure of spending most of the last 3 years at the village (this week is my 3-year anniversary of arriving), fulfilling a life goal set over 23 years ago, when I left Bangladesh in 1993 after volunteering at another project for 6 months. Whilst I have returned, for short periods, to Bangladesh frequently over the years, this time I originally came for a year but the village has a way of grabbing you and making you want to stay. I am employed as the project’s Child Development Specialist as I spent 15 years working as a teacher in schools in Inner London with specialism in the Early Years (0-5 years old), Child Protection and Inclusion.
The following is a typical Tuesday.
Sunlight streaming through my window wakes me up around 6am; I leave my room and go for a walk around the project, taking advantage of the brick path that was recently built so the mothers and children can regularly exercise. The early morning sun and the lush greens of the plants is a wonderful sight and a great way to clear my sleepy head whilst the rest of the project wakes up.
The length of this perimeter walk is about a kilometre so I am trying to see how many circuits I can do in 30 minutes, I can do 2 now and would like to get to 3 (but I blame the fact I like to stop and appreciate the nature rather than my lack of effort!)
After normal life tasks (shower, food, and a cup of tea) I go to Assembly at 8.30, which is the start of the day for children and staff. The children do some exercises which, much to the amusement of my colleagues, I join in with some and then we all sing the (first verse of the) Bangladeshi National Anthem (which, again to the amusement of my colleagues, I know but do not fully understand). I miss the morning briefing as whilst my Bangla is good, it is not that good.
And so, my day starts in earnest. My first job is to go and spend time with the youngest children at the project and the mothers who supervise them. Three years ago we prioritised the play opportunities for these children, as we changed the length of stay for the families to three years and realised that some children coming to live with us would never enter the school.
So, we now have a play programme that we run for 2 hours every day that allows the children to learn and develop through play and helps the mothers to develop their parenting skills.
The sessions are supervised by Sadiya, our Early Childhood Support Worker, Piara, the Programme Organiser for baby House (who incidentally joined us as a mother back in Indira Road before we moved to Sreepur) and Halima, (another ex-mother) who also helps in Baby House. At 10 o’clock we sing a song I learnt in England called ‘On Bonfire Night’ that the children love, much to their mothers’ bewilderment as the children join in and it is in English. Only on Tuesdays, we finish with a small version of the project’s Cleaning Programme - tidy up time. At 10.30 I go to the shop near the entrance to the project that is run by the mothers and have a cup of tea and some chanachur (we call it Bombay Mix, I believe).
After this I play with some children on my way back to my office, as the school tiffin break is from 10.40 until 11.10, which usually involves some form of physical play and a lot of laughter; this play is especially important due to the lack of male play partners available to these children at a critical stage in their lives. I usually end up chasing the stragglers back into class.
Then comes the less interesting bit… office work. As the time I stay here lengthens it seems I end up with more paperwork as we develop and oversee different agendas (Pat assures me the same was true for her). This is great as it means the local staff are taking more responsibility for the management of the project but means I spend less time with the mothers and children (who, unsurprisingly, are much more interesting and fun to be around than paperwork). The staff know that I am in my office during these times and so I usually end up in consultations with staff or review meetings on some of the safeguarding interventions we have developed over the last year to help the parents keep their children safe. If not in these meetings I always seem to have enough work to last me until lunch at 1.30pm. I must admit if I get bored I do go and wander around the project and find something else to do from cutting vegetables in the kitchen (I am not very good, but improving!) to playing with the babies.
I eat in the staff dining room each day (except Friday when Pat treats me with lunch at her house) and so my diet tends to consist of rice, rice and more rice with seasonal vegetables and eggs. I eat with my hand which is surprisingly easy once you get the hang of it, although I am still unable to master eating fish due to the number of small bones. I return to the office around 2pm to check my personal emails, etc. (if the electricity has not decided to stop…which can happen a lot here).
The afternoon starts at 2.30pm and I tend to do direct work with children, mothers, or staff during this time. Every Tuesday I help run the parenting programme for the mothers in Baby House; we are currently creating a 10-session programme (run over 20 weeks) to help the mothers develop their parenting skills with young children. The programme focuses on responsive caregiving as the basis of an effective mother-child relationship and the development of play skills (using elements of The Solihull Approach for those of you who are interested). These sessions are extremely interesting as we get the mothers to talk about their children and their experiences of them, identifying what their child does that makes them happy (and what their child does that challenges them!) and to share strategies as their children range from 3 months to 4/5 years old. We also play with the toys that the children use to develop the mothers’ knowledge of them and practice the language they can use in the morning play sessions.
There tends to be a lot of discussion (and laughter) in these sessions which is exactly what we want; the mothers can be the best resource and support for each other in the daily challenge of parenting (although Sadiya, Piara, Halima and Rina do an amazing job too!) At the end of the session we (the staff) review the session and plan the next week’s session based on what we felt went well and what did not go so well.
On other days I work with the school as we are currently restructuring our school (again in response to the change in the length of stay). To find out more about that you should keep your eyes on the SPP blog (https://sreepurvillageblog.wordpress.com) as our communication coordinator is going to write a post in the near future about the changes we decided on and why we made them.
At 5pm I go for a cup of tea in the clinic with some of the staff who have worked here the longest; I think they feel they need to look after me as they phone me if I do not come to remind me that I am supposed to be with them and they are always have some form of snack to feed me when I arrive. After this I go to the Physiotherapy room to do some exercises in the gym we have there, before returning to the office to plan what I will do on the following day. At that point my day is over…I go back to my room, read a little, go for dinner at 8.00pm and then to bed (after a shower) at 9.30pm. On Sundays I Skype with my Mum (in lieu of a roast dinner!)
Ignorance and wrong beliefs surrounding disability, compounded with a negative and derogatory attitude of the community (including family members) have contributed to the marginal development in the disability sector in Bangladesh.