It is the images of the children – and especially the girls – which will stay with me forever.
Those of you who have been following me on Twitter, or who read my blog last Sunday, will know that I have spent the past week in Bangladesh with the children’s charity Plan, on a trip organised by Plan UK to visit some of the many projects run by Plan in the country. In the course of the three days I spent there, I was able to see vocational training for girls in the slum of Dhaka, visit a factory where girls work after graduating from their training, visit a shelter home for girls, see in practice a rural early-years programme on the veranda of a tiny village dwelling, followed by an adolescent peer session exploring gender issues and the role of girls, attend a session enrolling my family’s (now) sponsored child into the Plan sponsorship programme, visit a village school (which included a discussion on how the village had become child marriage-free with the help of Plan), visit a Community Health Clinic, visit the homes of two girls who had been affected by child marriage, see a session of informal education for child domestic workers, and visit a school for urban school children which was essentially constructed of sheets of corrugated steel but whose children were amongst the most cheerful I have ever encountered.
This visit gave me a deep and moving insight into the lives of the poorest children in Bangladesh, and I will reflect on some of the issues to emerge over the next few days and weeks, in subsequent blogs. But, as I said at the start of this blog, it is the images of the children which will stay with me forever.
The girl in the shelter home for girls, herself only in her early teens, who was organising the younger girls and who, despite having nothing, and having experienced the most profound poverty and deprivation, walking miles each day to fetch rotten vegetables for her family, is determined to become a teacher and help others.
The calm and collected girl, far older than her years, who had been married at the age of 14, tortured by her husband and husband’s family, and only through the intervention of her own family, shaming her father-in-law at his place of work, had been able to escape, 2 years later.
The glimpse, as we sped past, of a naked toddler by the roadside, playing in her family’s makeshift but permanent dwelling, as her brother collected water from a pool and a monkey wandered past the area where her mother was cooking. What future will that child have?
The young girl who had the school council role of ‘Minister of Education’ at Lokmipur Primary School – articulate, forceful and not prepared to accept anything other than a quality school – and who made her point effectively to the village leaders and parents.
The child domestic worker aged 14, who has been working in a family in Dhaka since she was 10 – working 7 days a week, from 6am to 9pm, with only two hours a day free to attend a centre for education, and yet who is pleased to be receiving around Â£5 a month to help support her own family back in her village, and to save for the future.
All of these children – and more – I will revisit in my next few blogs. They share one thing in common: although they are so poor that it would take your breath away to think about what we have in comparison to what they have, they are positive and determined to improve not only their lot in life, but the lot of others. Plan is doing an amazing job, working with communities to help change attitudes to girls and women in particular, reducing the impact of poverty by demonstrating alternatives to, for example, child marriage.
We owe it to all these children and their families to support this work. Please do – www.plan-uk.org