Over ten days ago, I asked the question, “what do I have to show for all this?“. Things have been tough here. A few days ago, I waived a family member goodbye at the airport. Having come along to help me with this project, this family member ended up being hospitalized for both Dengue Fever and Typhoid. It was just too risky for her to continue to stay here. I haven’t got sick – but with the Muslim month of Ramadan (a period where Muslims don’t eat or drink any liquids during daylight hours) now in full swing, it is hard to move around the city. Dhaka seems to shut down way too early to really go anywhere.
But, I finally do have something to show for all this. And it starts with this photo:
This is a photo of a single mother of two I met while visiting a rural village in Bangladesh. Her husband died of a stomach related illness. She was not only left with two kids to raise on her own but also was left with loans from her husband’s medical expenses. When I went and saw where she was living – a small straw mudhut – I was taken aback. People in North America have more garage space for their cars than this lady had for her family of three. Not only that – but there was no electricity and only a small window near the floor which only served to prove how dark the inside of the house was.
I wanted to make a difference in her life. I knew I had money and stuff that I could give her that would help her. But making a difference is more than just being a parachute Santa Claus. I started talking to her. How is she doing? How is she paying for her son to go to school? Does she have medical expenses from her husband left over? How can your kids read in such a dark house? I tried my best not to tell her what she needed – and tried to figure out from her what I could do to help to make a difference in her life.
Maybe it’s the Fighting Irish in me, but the first thing that I decided to do was come up with a game plan.
More after the jump…
I decided that the most important thing was to make sure that it was as easy for her to send her kids to school with minimal burden. Right now, only her oldest son was going to school (grade one or “class one” here). Schooling – luckily – is already free in Bangladesh. But even with free schooling, many poor families don’t send their children to school because they feel that the children are better off supporting the family by working instead of studying. After talking it over with my own family, we were able to make arrangements to be able to pay for her children’s school supplies (pens, pencils, papers, etc).
The second thing that I decided to do was to make it easier for the oldest son to actually study in the house. Even during the day – the house was darker than Bruce Wayne’s Bat Cave. Even if the mud hut was wired – they couldn’t afford electricity. They also – from the looks of things – didn’t have/couldn’t afford candles. Luckily, one of the few things I brought with me from Canada was a camping flashlight. The flashlight (which cost me less than $7 Canadian) runs on a hand crank generator which powers three LEDs. Which meant they could run it without having to worry about batteries and (since it ran on LEDs) they wouldn’t have to worry about replacing the bulbs.
Finally, with over 14 million people in Bangladesh at risk of contracting malaria – mostly in rural villages (source: World Health Organization, Bangladesh) – I decided to give them a mosquito net. I was actually in this rural village distributing 50 locally made mosquito nets (more on that in another blog post). But after meeting this lady and her two sons – I decided they deserved something even better. A Swiss-based company called Vestergaard Frandsen manufacturers a product called PermaNET. This is a more high-tech version of mosquito nets most people use in this country. Its tear-resistant, dirt-resistant, long-lasting, and when its no longer needed it can be disposed of in a way that’s not harmful to the environment.
Most importantly, PermaNETs are treated with a long-lasting and wash-resistant insecticide designed to kill mosquitoes. If a mosquito brushes up against or touches the net – it dies. This actually works – I use one myself and often find dead mosquitos on the top of the net. Here’s a photo of one that I found dead on my own PermaNet during my trip to Madhupur:
Apparently, it can also kill cockroaches (my one true phobia). After giving them a PermaNET, the next day I was told that the mother found a dead cockroach on top of the net when they woke up. Without the net, the cockroach would have most likely been crawling all over them as they slept.
The best part of all this is that the manufacturer of the PermaNET (Vestergaard Frandsen) has agreed to donate a few other things for me to distribute while I’m here. These are really great guys and I definitely will be talking about them again. I only hope that – despite my difficulties doing this project in Bangladesh – I will have the opportunity to distribute all that they have donated to me. [Full disclosure: I am not hired or paid by these guys. This praise was not required as part of their donation.]