Mother to Mother
Helping slum dwellers in Dhaka.
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” This founding principle of The Resurgence Trust is the inspiration for the many grassroots initiatives all over the world that are collectively creating a sea change in the way global communities understand and relate to each other. The more we connect, the more we realise our shared humanity.
In 2010 Saffia Bullock travelled to Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, to visit her husband, who was working on a drinking water project. Wanting to find out more about the plight of people begging on the streets, Saffia was taken to Jheelpur slum by the established Bangladesh Association for Realisation of Basic Needs (ARBAN). Jheelpur is a squalid place, where shacks of corrugated iron are raised up on creaking bamboo platforms above the sewage and waste that collect below. The slum dwellers are squatting on government land, from sheer desperation for somewhere to live. Many have been there 30 years, drawn to Dhaka in the first place in the hope of finding work.
Saffia saw how families cooked in communal kitchens, struggling to raise enough heat to boil water from the rags they used as fuel: offcuts from the ubiquitous garment factories where many work. She was drawn to a tiny, wrinkled baby held by a young sibling, thinking the infant was newborn, but was disconcerted to find that she was in fact six months old, malnourished and sickly. Thinking of her own healthy children back in the UK, Saffia knew that as a mother she had to do something to help these struggling mothers in Dhaka. Instead of cursing the darkness, she decided to light a candle.
On her return home, Saffia shared photographs and stories with her friends, who were also moved to help. “The feeling was that as parents in the UK, we have so much support,” says Saffia. “If our child stops breathing, we call an ambulance and will be taken to a modern, functioning hospital. If your child stops breathing in a Dhaka slum, you may have to helplessly watch him die.”
ARBAN UK was set up and registered as a UK charity. In coordination with ARBAN in Bangladesh, the trustees started to fundraise to build and run a clinic in the slum. By December 2011 a space had been found and walls started going up. By April 2012 a doctor had been appointed and the clinic was operational.
In November 2012, Saffia returned to Jheelpur with another trustee, Jo Jenkins. “When I first saw the clinic, I felt very emotional,” Saffia admits. “After months of hard work fundraising and hours spent thinking about this place, it was amazing to see it.” Jo and Saffia were delighted to find a well-organised and well-resourced clinic. Sessions are held for three hours a day, six days a week, giving slum dwellers access to basic health care.
Saffia and Jo were deeply humbled by the sense of community pride in the clinic, with people volunteering to work as a team to keep it clean and functioning. The mothers who endure such difficulties living in slum conditions are encouraged and uplifted by the knowledge that mothers in another country are thinking about them and care enough to try and help. ARBAN UK has built something really positive. The challenge now is to raise enough funds to keep it going.