While in Bangladesh for The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s roundtable meetings, PWRDF partners were invited to visit the headquarters of the Church of Bangladesh, located in Dhaka. This national church, which is a merger of Anglicans and Presbyterians, is small numerically but over the past 30 years it has organized and maintains 40 social development projects and 35 primary schools. These projects assist Indigenous rural families and the vulnerable poor who live in the slums of the Old City area of Dhaka. All of this has been accomplished through the work of partners such as PWRDF.
After meeting with women from the capacity building project that PWRDF is partnering in, we visited a drop-in centre that the Church runs for street kids. Here we met 30 boys ranging in age from 7 to 15 years old. These children have either left home because of abuse or neglect, or have been abandoned. They scrounge for food, shelter and work such as pushing a rickshaw that is too heavy for the driver, delivering goods or water and doing errands.
The boys told us that when they come to the centre they first wash themselves, are then given food to eat and also have the opportunity to learn to read and write a little. They also draw or paint pictures if they want. With the help of the centre, a group of them entered a graffiti designing competition and they won! They were happy to tell us about their lives and wanted us to take their photos. Asked what they wanted most of all, everybody except one, said it was to go to school.
I was most concerned about these boys. Could it not be arranged for them to go to school? The workers in the centre explained that these children are transient, they may come to the centre regularly for a week or two but they travel around as their needs take them and they would not be able to cope with school without family support. The drop-in centre provides them with psycho-social support and assistance if they have medical needs. Occasionally the leaders are asked by a charity, such as Christian Aid, to identify a boy who would make a good candidate as a “sponsored child” enabling him to go to a school in a supportive environment. We met such a boy. He was well clothed and looked cared for. When asked what he wanted most, it was to become an engineer.
These children seemed happy to have this centre to come to and appreciative of the support they receive. Some of them took turns singing to the others and the sponsored boy performed a skit, taking the parts of a schoolteacher and a student in conversation. Nobody translated for us visitors but the other boys were delighted with this skit. Throughout our visit there seemed to be a sense of community among them all.
There is no doubt that the Church of Bangladesh is working to bring “good news to the poor”. Most of these young boys are probably Muslim but in this caring Christian setting, they are being helped in their day-to-day lives, they are respected and cared for with dignity.
I give thanks that we are privileged to partner with the Church of Bangladesh.
Denise Hambidge is a member of the PWRDF Diocesan Unit in New Westminster and a former member of the PWRDF Board of Directors.