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Working together to support deafblind children in Bangladesh

15 July 2014
Posted by Bethan Williams

Rimu, a little girl, with her teacher, reading a book about birds

I've been working with Sense International for the last two months as Senior Programme Manager and for the this week have been lucky enough to spend the week visiting our partner, Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), in Bangladesh, alongside a colleague from Sense India.

It was my first time in Bangladesh having spent most of my working life in Afghanistan so I was looking forward to the opportunity to get out of the city and visit some of the children and their families that CDD are working with. My remit was basically to monitor how the project is going, and provide any necessary advice to the team on how improvements could be made.

Rimu holding a bright pink rubber ballSo armed with project documents, lots of questions and a Lonely Planet Guide to Bangladesh I landed in Dhaka a week ago. The first thing that struck me, after the wall of heat and humidity, was the flags... Argentina and Brazil flags everywhere all over the city and as we later discovered, all over the Bangladeshi countryside as well.

Saazad, our colleague from the project team at CDD informed me that for the past month, whilst the World Cup has been played, the country is divided into Brazil and Argentina fans. As the visit went on we saw slightly fewer Brazil flags but at the time of writing, Saazad, an Argentina fan, was confident that they would be victorious in the World Cup final.

The second thing that struck me was just how wet it all was. I mean yes, I was visiting in rainy season and obviously I've read about flooding in Bangladesh but it really is very wet indeed. Whole fields are covered in water for six months a year and as I learnt from some of our partners, the rains mean that some of the poorest communities are cut off from the road for months at a time and can only travel to local markets and even schools by boat.

Jubayer with his familyThe third and final thing that has really made an impact on my over and above the everyday chaos of Dhaka was the striking progress that has been made in the lives of the deafblind children that CDD are working with through supporting them and their families and communities.

On my travels I met Rimu, who is only three and a half years old and was born with cataracts in both eyes and severe hearing loss. One year ago, Rimu's family managed to gather enough money from a local wealthy individual plus a donation from a doctor in the hospital to allow for Rimu's cataract operation.

Unfortunately though, she was so malnourished that the hospital said they could not operate. As part of our project, the field educators administer nutritional support to deafblind children. After six months, Rimu was strong enough to have the operation and is now able to see.

When we visited the field educator produced a bright pink ball which was Rimu's favourite and as a typical three and a half year old, she caused a few disruptions to the subsequent community meeting by throwing the ball to the other children and hoping that they'd throw it back to her.

In one community I met Jubayer, who was born with limited hearing and vision, and Liton who has cerebral palsy. I sat in on a community meeting, where we talked about the provisions for children with disabilities by the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that the parents are getting all the support they are entitled to.

LitonI also heard how Liton's mother has been provided with income generation support and is now able to earn a small wage to help support her family, who currently survive on the food, fruit and vegetables from their fields.

What struck me most was how the community were all working together to ensure a better future for these two children, and this was intensified when it was explained that since Jubayer's family is Muslim and Liton's is Hindu, they rarely mixed together before the educators started working with them. They now meet regularly to share what they have learnt and work together to explore how best they can help their sons to further develop.

For the children who I met this week, just learning a small amount of communication through either signing or speech, and the supply of glasses or hearing aids, has really opened up their lives and allowed them to start making sense of the world around them.

I feel truly privileged to have been invited into the homes and communities of so many families this week and to have learnt about their children and how their lives are changing thanks to the work of their field educators. What struck me overall was the hope that people hold for the future, as one of my colleagues said of Rimu, ''the world is all ahead of her now'.

Bethan Williams in Bangladesh


Bethan Williams is a Senior Programme Manager at Sense International






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First published: Thursday 1 January 1970
Last updated: Thursday 1 January 1970