I oversee fundraising in the UK for The Sreepur Village so before my trip I was feeling fairly confident of what to expect and see in the heart of Bangladesh or so I thought I did. What I didn’t expect to see was over 700 smiling faces, children content to play with just a leaf and mothers willing to do the smallest of jobs so that they could have the biggest results, like feed their families.
So, here is my blog highlighting why The Sreepur Village charity is such a worthy one and why it will stay in my heart forever.
My husband and I arrived in Dhaka on Monday 12th March after what was essentially 24 hours travelling if you take in the time difference. Mat, the child development officer, met us with the driver Gaza and we started our route to Sreepur. Having been told this drive can take up to 3 hours (and once before the roads were fixed and traffic it took someone 8 hours) we were quite surprised at how quickly our two-hour journey took. It was certainly was eye-opening.
The traffic in Dhaka was noisy and the journey a little nerve racking. All the buses had huge scrapes down the sides where they had jostled for positions on the road.
Once safe and sound at The Sreepur Village we were greeted with a cup of coffee with Pat, founder and overseas director, before going to our room to unpack. Whilst it was basic, it was in fact luxury compared to where the mothers slept and, with a mosquito net over the bed, it actually served us a treat and was more than comfortable.
Once we had unpacked we met with Nayeem, communications officer, who took us on a whistle stop tour of the village. I think I had pictured a village with a small green area but what I explored was so much bigger, bigger than you can ever imagine and I look forward to showing you, through my blog, the many wonderful pockets of colour, culture and charm that this village has to offer.
At 3pm we came back to our room for a mini siesta which actually turned into a 15 hour sleep and meant we missed dinner with Pat and Mat! On the plus side we were fully charged and ready for Day two where we would meet some of the 500 children and 200 mothers, and see through their eyes the joys of living in one big happy family.
At 8.30am we went to the square where the younger children all gathered for assembly and this is where we were introduced to them and given the warmest of welcomes. After assembly it was cleaning time, where all the children, mothers and staff work together to give the various areas of The Sreepur Village a thoroughly good clean. They brush up the leaves and collect rubbish, leaving Sreepur to sparkle again.
At 10am, we met with the Senior Management Team for their daily briefing. This is an opportunity for the senior staff to plan the day ahead and to explain what special duties they will be performing that day. When I refer to special, I don’t just mean out of the ordinary but that every single job that is carried out here is regarded as special and not just normal.
That afternoon, we met up with Nayeem and Humayun who took us to see where some of the mothers make our paper that in turn make our handmade cards. To think that our cards start from straw jute and that when we say handmade we really do mean handmade, as from every little detail from the very beginning to the very end is intricately and lovingly made by hand.
From the paper-making section we continued our tour to the weaving section where our handwoven scarves are made.
With temperatures of 90 degrees and above, and a lot of walking, I was delighted to stumble across The Sreepur Village beauty parlour, where I treated myself to the most amazing facial and foot massage, and at only 1,000 taka (£10) this treat could become a regular thing! Here our mothers are training in beauty therapy treatments so that when they leave the village they can apply to hotels and parlours for jobs, or offer treatments to their communities. (We are currently looking for funding on this project please contact us for more details).
Whilst I was having my pampering session Lee, my husband, played football and other games with some of the young boys, who were fascinated by the tattoo on his hand! (which is my name in case you wondering!)
Both feeling invigorated, we went for a walk around The Sreepur Village where we bumped into Milon (the resident artist) who took us to see some of his artwork which is truly amazing and it made me smile and feel thankful that through our donors we were able to provide the children with such a talented art teacher.
Finally at 5pm it was playtime and tiffin time. We watched the children and mothers tumble out onto the playing field where they interact and play with each other, and for our tiffin, which is a snack, we had a lentil biscuit and a piece of star fruit, which although a little bitter was actually very nice!
Tonight, we are meeting with Pat for dinner and won’t be missing it this time.
Today after assembly we went to the houses where our cards are made, here they make the all-occasion and Christmas cards for Sreepur cards which are then sold through various outlets worldwide.
These outreach programmes help the women earn extra money for their families. The concentration and patience that goes into making these cards is amazing. The women get paid per card and make on average between 50 to 100 cards per day depending on how simple or complicated they are. We watched two to three women work in teams, each responsible for a certain part of the making.
There and back we drove but then walked through what really was rural Bangladesh – undulating rice fields and chickens and cows roaming about.
After returning to the village and having lunch, we went to the local school to watch a show performed by the local children and four students of The Sreepur Village. We were welcomed like celebrities! Our vehicle pulled right up to the stage and we were greeted by the head master and the teacher employed by The Sreepur Village. People were ushered from their front row seats to allow us to take their place and watch with a good view the much-anticipated show. We were introduced from the stage in both English and Bangla and just like the paparazzi, people were wanting to take our photos as well as take sneaky selfies which was both flattering and amusing.
After a lovely cup of tea made from fresh mint, ginger and lemon and a meeting on our new nutrition and agriculture programme with Shamina, our health care professional, it was time for the mothers and children to have their playtime and gather on the playing field. Lee played catch with some of the children whilst others were more interested in taking selfies on my phone. And they all found it hilarious when I was squirted with the water pistol!!
After assembly and the senior management team briefing we were invited to the baby playground. Their little smiley faces with not a care in the world really tugs at your heart strings. We were then taken to the baby house where, as a surprise, we were asked to open the new Anchal programme. Some of the mothers that were there spoke about how this programme will help them and also help their children in learning how to play with their peers and teach them how to share. I had the honour of declaring the new programme open and cutting the ribbon. To celebrate we all popped balloons.
I spent a couple of hours before and after lunch wandering around the village, playing with children, who all LOVE a selfie!
Then it was onto an afternoon of meetings for me whilst Lee painted a classroom. Firstly I attended the monthly mothers meeting. All of our mothers are given a voice at Sreepur. The four new mothers of the last month introduced themselves to us, where they came from and why they are here. There is an award of an extra 25 economy tokens for the mothers who have really worked hard and gone that extra mile. This was all followed by discussions and votes on various subjects. I had to leave early as I was meeting Pat and Imran for a brief on my time at Sreepur. At 5pm, I was led back to the mothers meeting where they danced and sung for Lee and I, and rather embarrassingly I was also made to dance but still it was all good fun.
Finally it was on to SVT To pack all of the stock I am bringing back to the UK - 92kilos and 4 suitcases later....
Fridays are the start of the weekend in Bangladesh so we managed to squeeze in a bit of a lie-in today!
After a walk around the village Nayeem and Shabnam took us to the house of one of our ex-beneficiary mothers. Whilst with us she had been trained on candle making, a skill she confidently took back to her village in rural Bangladesh and now continues to make and sell to her community. She sells these in packs of 12 for 30 taka. With this money she is able to feed and provide for her four children. When she left The Sreepur Village she was able to build a house for her family and buy a cow. The cow is currently being fattened up ready to be sold during Eid where she can make even more money to support her family.
Nayeem and Shabnam then took us to visit a beautiful local lake with stunning views where some of the local older boys of The Sreepur Village had met up and were splashing around in the water. It was then off to a local tea hut for a ginger tea and some biscuits.
After it was back to Sreepur for playtime with the children and some lunch.
At 5pm, Nayeem took us off to Sati bazaar. We walked and then travelled on a local tuk tuk which was a very bumpy ride to say the least. There were stalls upon stalls of fresh veg and fish, the fish so fresh it was still flapping around on the tables!! Men sat on the floor selling bottles of milk freshly squeezed from their cow that very day. The market was so full of colours and smells - some good and some not so good. We had another cup of tea and then it was back to Sreepur for our last supper.
But before reaching Sreepur we made a stop at the Halfway house, this is where our mothers live for 3 months before finally integrating into an outside community.
Our final day and time to leave The Sreepur Village. We packed up and said our goodbyes before heading to Dhaka. Here we visited our Dhaka office, drop in centre and over night shelter for boys and girls. We met with Subrata, our Bangladesh based Fundraiser who gave us a tour of the shelter and, not forgetting, Tommy Miah’s tea bar and chicken shop which sit either side of our building.
Out of the blue, at the tender age of 13, Chia found herself sitting on a bridal stage, about to marry a man who was 35 years old. Her parents had arranged the match, finding the man from their nearby locality in Bhairab.
He was a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) businessman who occasionally sold vegetables and fruits on the street. Chia's aspirations and youthful dreams were abruptly interrupted by this sudden marriage. Instead of books, she found herself with kitchen utensils in her hands. She went from feeling like a princess to becoming a servant overnight.
Sumi's journey is a testament to her resilience and determination to create a better life for herself and her child. Her success serves as an inspiration to all those facing adversity, reminding us of the transformative power of support, training, and the opportunity to rebuild one's life.