Being in Bangladesh over the last few days has been a whirlwind!
London to Delhi…Delhi to Dhaka. Straight in from the airport… drop bags and a hurry to the stadium to watch India vs Pakistan in Dhaka with jet lag. Love it! Watching cricket in the subcontinent for a cricket fan is such an amazing experience… and what better game than India v Pakistan and a packed house! Naturally I got involved in a few shoulder shuffles and dancing. The night was completely topped off with great coverage for WASH United around the stadium as one of the ICC T20 charity partners.
The next day again we were on the move, up and out for a 6 hour drive to Sylhet where the women’s tournament is being held and we would be delivering a number of coaching and educational clinics. I love driving in the subcontinent… it is simply FULL ON. The car swinging from left and right and beeping every other second. Over and undertaking especially on the highway…Amazing! I have never understood why we stay in the lanes in England… a bit like queuing for a bus!
Driving through the Bangladesh country side made me really think of the issue… In the 6 hour hour journey we found one suitable place to stop for the toilet, and even then it was not my usual comfort zone to say the least. The traditional Indian toilet, the hole in the ground in a tin shed at the back of the petrol stadium. No sink to wash my hands and a pretty decent queue. I also couldn’t see any pipes for waste disposal as you do in the UK and I didn’t want to even ask where it was going! As much as I was glad to find somewhere to relieve myself, I made sure I didn’t drink anymore for the rest of the journey, so I could make it to the hotel in one piece! The country side wasn’t like in England. The streets were long stretches of tin houses and farms and there were hundreds of people outside, working on the rice farms, carrying water or goods on their backs and washing in the rivers. I just kept thinking … where do these people go!? The cost to even start building sanitation facilities with such high populations is unimaginable.
Arriving into Sylhet was again action packed. We dropped our bags and headed straight to a local delivery partners office, IDEA for a late night meeting to set up the programme. I have had a chance to work in sports development for a number of years now and what I saw astonished me.
From the outside as a tourist you can misjudge what seems like chaos with things such as the traffic, and things sometimes don’t seem to run to strict timings. But I had never had the chance to witness something as touching as this. A late night meeting 7:30pm on a friday night, the whole team from IDEA stayed behind to help us set up the project. I watched Ananya (Programme Manager, Wash in Schools) work her magic, and within two hours the project had been brainstormed, the school and Kishoris (projects with girls not in education or employment) and a local press conference had been mobilised. Local community volunteers, teachers and community leaders where engaged and ready to help. I developed a level of respect for the local people. In the UK to have organised something of this magnitude would have taken MONTHS! I am used to sitting in meetings after meetings with people saying, “No this cant happen, or No you have to jump over this bit of red tape” or people wont want to give up their time if it is outside of the 9-5 grind. To organise 7 days of full on activity in the space of 10 is something special, and for people to buy into the project with passion on a level I have never ever witness before really touched me. Everybody around the table was ready to work together to make it happen and refused to see things as challenges. I realised how stiff we can be at times in the UK, as much as infrastructure and high level organisation can can have it’s benefits, there is nothing better than being able to make things happen with passion.
I have been getting excited about getting involved with hands on projects working with the girls. In Sylhet we are focussing on Menstration and Hygiene Management MHM for young females and breaking down some of the taboos, making sure the girls have knowledge to manage their Menstration in a health way. Some of the stories I have heard have been astonishing. For example the culture in some parts of Bangladesh, when a girl gets her first period is that she is locked in a room for SEVEN days!! She can only eat rice with no salt and is not allowed to wash for for the whole time! Talking with some of the girls they commented that it felt like they had been put in jail!… and I am not surprised. It was so much fun to spend time on our first coaching clinic. The day was attended by the Australia women’s cricket team who shared experiences. The girls were from the Tea Gardens, and many had not been out before and had put on their best clothing and had the biggest smiles across their faces. But for me, more importantly educating and getting messages over which can help improve their health and quality of life is what it is all about.
Last but not least, we convinced a rickshaw driver to let me take his Rickshaw for a spin… If you havent seen it … check it out. Next stop.. a motorised rickshaw!!!
Till next time… and if you have read this far please feel free to comment, tweet share and all that social media “stuff!”