By Peter Coelho
This past Golden Week a team of nine people, including five ALTs from Hiroshima, travelled to Bangladesh with Habitat for Humanity’s (HfH) Global Village Project. The Global Village Project provides volunteers with the opportunity to travel to areas where HfH is active, meet some of their constituents, and help build homes. We travelled to Bangladesh for 11 days and had an amazing time, both with the work we did and, in particular, with the people we met and got to know in that short time.
We spent 3 days in the capital city of Dhaka, and the rest of our time was spent in the town of Satkhira in the south west of Bangladesh, near the Indian border. The Satkhira district is quite rural and very different from the busy capital, but by no means a backwater, with a population of around 400,000. In Satkhira we stayed at the Rishilpi Development Project. The Rishilpi is an Italian organization that is connected with the local Catholic Church and provides a number of services to the surrounding community of Satkhira – as well as the dormitory that we stayed in, the Rishilpi housed a medical clinic, a school and facilities for producing handicrafts. It was a great place to stay and we were able to meet quite a few people who came to take advantage of Rishilpi’s services. Among the highlights for some of the team members were playing with a group of handicapped children who lived at the compound and touring some of the work facilities where people from the town made handicrafts for international sale.
Our HfH assignment was to continue working on two separate homes that had been started by previous HfH teams. At both sites our jobs primarily involved supporting the masons by passing bricks, mixing mortar and breaking bricks. There are no quarries in Bangladesh so the bricks are shattered into small pieces and mixed into the mortar to provide additional strength. In addition, at one site we helped labourers complete the roof of a house at one site and built a one-room extension from the existing foundation. We worked for five days, starting at about 9:30 and finishing around 3:30 or 4:00. Working in the heat and humidity was a real challenge, but the staff were vigilant in keeping us rested and hydrated.
We didn’t work as much as we had expected. Due to the intense heat, this may have been sensible, but some of the team were a little disappointed that we weren’t able to participate more actively in the construction. However, the flip side was that we had ample opportunity to talk with the families whose houses we were building and with people from throughout the neighbourhood. The relationships that developed through these times were the most compelling and valuable part of the trip. People were incredibly friendly and welcoming to us in all situations. We had been forewarned about being too open with people, particularly women, but we found people welcoming and eager to meet with us. Getting to know our Bangladeshi hosts was my favourite element of our trip.
I would strongly recommend participation in a Global Village Project. It is a tremendous opportunity to learn about the housing situation of a particular region and, more importantly, to develop relationships with people living in the area to which you travel. The experience was a powerful one and well worth the efforts put into it. Give it a shot.