Touch down in Bangladesh
We have arrived at Dhaka after what seemed a never ending journey of about 20 hours travelling; luckily the planes were not packed. We were met by our car and this began the start of my amazing trip for the Paul O’Grady Show, one where I would be able to learn more about the people and the places that are Dhaka.
The journey from the airport was full of oohs and aahs seeing the unfamiliar sights and sounds and the hustle and bustle of the people going about their business. My first thoughts are heat, colour and beeping horns. We get to our hotel and shower and meet up with Fariha, our Save the Children interpreter, and so begins our journey into the lives of the people and children living in Dhaka and being helped by Save the Children.
Wednesday, and we meet with Fariha and Anna, our colleagues, for a meeting to give us a security briefing and tell us about the customs etc. of this unfamiliar place. Our first day and we are to go to two factories and see the children, where they work and the work they do.
We are all given the traditional dress of the local people, for comfort and also as a form of respect to our hosts as we chat and meet them. I must say that the clothes are really comfortable and you begin to understand just why they dress this way.
The heat is oppressive, it’s humid, hot and feels air-less, but all these thoughts disappear as we travel along the busy roads. There are horns beeping, beggars begging, funny little three-wheel taxis and rickshaws all weaving in and out of the traffic.
We eventually stop and our journey takes the form of a rickshaw; these are very precarious things – a small seat and a small foot rest. As we weave through the narrow streets passing the rubbish and mud strewn around, I fear that that this may be my last journey. The drivers are very slight in stature and you wonder how they have the strength to peddle these bikes.
Eventually we arrive at the Lalbagh Centre; this is set up by Save the Children who provides this space for the children to have time out from their work in the factories and either play, read books or take part in social activities in general. It is a safe environment where the children can come together, with the help of some of the team.
It’s a bright, cheery place with pictures and books lining the walls; they sing songs and seem to love this child-friendly place. It is the only place these children can come to actually be children. The children have prepared a special song for our visit and we all sit round patiently waiting for them to begin. We are treated to a lovely song and all the children, no matter what their age, join in.
Of course it is expected that I should sing in return but not having any sort of voice I decide a nursery rhyme is my best policy. I do my best with “The Grand old Duke of York” trying to put in some actions that the children can join in with later. All the children join in with the ‘up-and-down’ and think this is very funny!
From here we walk to the factory, not a factory as we know it, but a building of many tiny rooms and passageways, dark hot and air-less. It’s here we find a young girl called Jhuma with a group of other girls sat on the floor assembling jewellery. These girls must be aged between nine and fourteen, all sat on the stone floor, working busily away. Jhuma chats to me and tells me that she works 12 hours per day and makes over 1,200 pieces of jewellery; pieces that go together to make earrings and bracelets.
Other workers- some adults, mostly children- scurry down the passages. This factory has many tiny rooms, all holding little children who are busy working. No lights as we would expect, but this being one of the more enlightened owners who have initialised many improved working conditions and taken on the Save the Children ‘code of conduct’, shutters that open to allow in more air, and fresh water, as well the time each day to go for an hour or two to the children’s Lalbagh Centre. The children seem pleased with the conditions and are glad to be able to work to support and feed their families and other siblings.
It’s a heart breaking sight to see those young people, children working so hard just to survive. Our next visit is to a steel factory, smaller than our last factory but equally oppressive. Here the workers, many of whom are children working on machinery. There are strips of sharp steel lying around on the floor and children busily making tifin tins of lunch boxes. There are pieces of sacking on the floor but, I think this is for our approval. It’s here that we meet Rubel.
He is a beautiful small boy of about 10 who is working here; this is just one of several jobs he has done over the past few years. His family have been forced to leave their home due to the flooding in the South. He tells us that his father works, and he has brothers at home. Here Rubel works with machinery which emits heat and dust. If anything there is less air and more heat in this room ; the walls are crumbling and dirty but as with the other factory, the tiny fingers of the children is the main reason for their employment. They work to help their parents pay the rent and buy food.
We come out of these places and return to the Lalbagh Centre but the images of those dark, hot, smelly rooms filled with children will never leave me. The sweat trickles down my back, my head aches with the lack of air, but these children seem content with their lot, or maybe it’s because they have never known anything better. We make our journey back to our hotel, weaving around the local traffic. The group are all overwhelmed with the sights and stories of the people we have met and it is a very sombre group who meet for dinner.