Bangladesh and the ripple effect of the idea of hope.
Night flights. This strange quiet takes over. And the light changes oddly by the hour. Not exactly sure where I am. Somewhere over the Atlantic heading west. Chasing the sun. The contrast of day and night becomes evident. Daylight over Greenland while becoming night in Dhaka and Bangladesh. It all tends to mess with my head and I can’t really sleep, thinking about all the contrasts I’ve just witnessed.
Bangladesh. One of the most densely populated cities in the world. Some numbers suggesting over 100,000 people per square km. Twenty million people in one city (New York only has 8 million). Over time here you lose the sense of individuals and gain an appreciation that the city is functioning as one giant organism. People and families working together to overcome normal day-to-day challenges similar but much different in scale than the ones we face at home.
The traffic is so dense. Between the cars and the 500,000 rickshaws, it can take hours to move just 3 short kilometers. Now you would think this all would make you angry and combative. While people looked tired at times, I never saw anger. In fact, I remember being stuck in one location for 20 minutes. It was bumper to bumper for 20 kilometers or more and 40 degrees outside. I noticed a man pushing a rickshaw. The rickshaws are often used for transport of materials not just people. So you will see a bike with a flat bed attached and materials stacked often 20 feet into the air.
On this day one of these rickshaws was stuck on a mud road in traffic causing a bit of an issue. However, instead of creating chaos and anger, competing rickshaw drivers laid down their own bikes and cargo to help push him out of trouble. They pushed and pulled and struggled in the sweltering heat, jeopardizing their own position in the traffic to help a stranger. In a mass of humanity beyond most of our comprehension, these daily acts of kindness still exist and are precious to this place.
These city streets are full of poverty, homelessness, and chaos, but oddly there’s less despair than expected. There seemed to be a sense of hope and togetherness connecting everyone. When we visited a group known as “the pavement dwellers,” we found children, some orphans, some with mothers, some with no identity. These children have no one. Some have no name and lay their heads on the streets of a vast city to sleep at night. You can’t witness something like that without it reaching deep inside you.
I don’t often go to the orphanages in Haiti. I know this will sound selfish but it’s just so heartbreakingly hard. But for some reason I am drawn to the pavement dwellers’ shelters, one of which Team Broken Earth sponsors. They help to take children off the street, give them meals, clean water and a place to stay at night. They even begin primary education. While it’s uplifting to see what partnerships and help can do, how many of these children, just like the ones we saw, are out on the streets not getting the help they need, the help they deserve? I have to look away. Some of the team play with the children and it’s amazing but I often have to take a knee in a separate room. I see my own kids in each of their eyes and every professional wall I have, every sense of decorum just crumbles. I can hear their laughter. There’s nothing more beautiful than the laughter of children. But here I am. Separated. Tears in my eyes. They’re just playing the way kids do. And I feel helpless.
This past week we did a lot of good. I know that. Some people have suggested to us that these trips are not useful, the problem is too big, too far away and that there are better ways to help and contribute. To be honest, sometimes I have listened to them. I want to thank those people for keeping us honest.
Seeing the group of obstetricians and nurses from Newfoundland teaching with simulation to a group of 70 obstetrics doctors and nurses was rewarding enough. It helped fight back the sting of those comments. But it was when I heard the CEO of a Bangladesh pharmaceutical company express the degree of impact this training will have… that’s when it really hit home. He said that the thing about Bangladesh is that teaching and education are immediately scalable. In a country of 160 million, these 70 Team Broken Earth trained providers will have an impact immediately on thousands of lives. That was overwhelming and will forever silence the critics in my head.
I love the approach into St. John’s airport. The cliffs towering above the white-capped ocean. I can’t wait to get off the plane. Squeeze my kids so tight for so long. The faces and the laughter of the kids in Bangladesh still in my thoughts. There are not 50,000 homeless children on the streets of St. John’s. The contrasts are more than theoretic, they are real and they weigh so heavily on us. But we know where taking little steps can lead us. Team Broken Earth started as a group of three and have now expanded around the world. And now teaching a course in Bangladesh will literally save and help thousands of lives in the near future. The ripple effect of the idea of hope is what balances the internal conflict of contrast. We need to all help keep pushing the rickshaw, keep that ripple expanding far and wide.