El albergue

El albergue

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where we are

As many of you may know, I came to Bangladesh under the auspices of an NGO that has as its goal the rescue, healing, and restoration of women and children in the sex trade.  Erika and I both came to help out under Lisa, who is in the process of starting up a new branch of the program in Khulna, the 3rd largest city in the country. (interesting side note: I heard that Khulna is predicted to be under water by 2020)  This new branch is a safe home for young girls, and when it opens will take in 12 residents.  It was hopefully going to be able to open this August, but a couple of months ago it was decided that it would be better to wait for another year and spend more time preparing.  So there isn't quite as much work for this particular project as Erika and I had been vaguely planning on beforehand, although we did get to put up some fun decorative touches and come up with a couple of possible floor plans for the bedroom and main living area/all purpose room.  So, the two of us have been working mostly with another NGO, in who's guest room we are staying and who's offices are directly below the soon-to-be-opened safe house upstairs.  This NGO also has a heart for women and children affected by the slave trade, but they work mainly on the prevention side, helping poor mothers feed and provide for their babies so that they don't have to sell them to keep them from starving.  They have a feeding program that brings malnourished babies and expectant mothers up to healthy weights, they train local midwives how to properly deliver babies, and they work in conjunction with the government in the administration of vaccinations among the poor.  Currently, they are trying to develop sewing-type projects that they can farm out to mothers in need and then sell in the States, at the same time helping the mothers earn a living wage to keep themselves and their babies out of the sex trade and raising a little to keep the program running.  Over the past two weeks, Erika and I have been getting to know the 6-7 Bengali women who comprise the staff as we have been helping mainly with the design and prep work for the Christmas cards they hand embroider every year as a fundraiser.
The floor with the offices for this NGO (where our room is) is right above a number of schoolrooms that the local church uses to teach two schools - paying students come in the morning, and slum students with scholarships from an organization similar to World Vision come in the afternoon.  So all day, almost every day, the sounds of children laughing, shouting, and reciting lessons in unison forms a continuous happy melody in the background as we work.
Also in our compound is the other half of the schoolrooms in the building immediately adjacent to ours, with the pastor's house upstairs.  In the middle of the grounds is the church, which just last week celebrated the arrival of a new sound system (before I think they only had one or two small speakers).  Walking down the path behind the church, you pass a long building in which several staff live.  One of the families has a small chicken coop out front, and as you walk by, all of their awkward adolescent chickens kind of flop around and make funny, almost-chicken noises.  At the back of the property rises a hostel for boys, providing boys and young men a safe place to stay when they come into the city from the villages for school and whatnot.  Small houses crowd up to the back wall of the compound, and we're sandwiched in on two other sides by the police station and a field that the neighboring Coca Cola factory uses to store empty bottles.  As you walk out the front gate that looks like a red sun rising out of a turquoise sea, you immediately enter the street, across which you see the shipyard, where they saw and chop huge logs into smaller pieces by hand all day and often into the night.  Just behind the shipyard is the river, whose ebb and flow (the ocean and it's tides are very close) are visible by the direction in which the occasional clumps of floating vegetation go by.  If yout want to go downtown, were things are more bustling, you just have to turn right and go on up the street, but if not, you can just stay put and listen to the shh shh shh of saws, the thunk of hatchets, and the jingling bell of a passing rickshaw.

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