Final day in Dhaka today and there is a mix of emotions going through my mind. We spent the morning reflecting on our journey so far over the week – what we have learnt from our ISV (int study visit – the theme for which was youth leadership and participation), what we were leaving behind and what we would take away. It really gave me time to think about how much I have engaged with the community here and the issues, the week has been intense and the work has been hard but I have really enjoyed it. The thought of even leaving immediately seems to produce a large lump in my throat and my eyes to water. It’s crazy how immersed we’ve all gotten in just six days. The warm welcomes, the chatter of different languages and accents and the sincere humanity that each and every person has is just phenomenal. I have never ever met a group of people who are so caring and kind, and living based on those virtues.
Later during lunch, the programme facilitator – an amazing young man called Nazmul – let two of us tag along to the Extreme World Poverty Day 2012 event which was a 5 minute drive away and the visit was short but pressed further into my mind how big the need is here and also, how much is being done to correct it. There were some astonishing and very innovative examples of social enterprise being used, and it seems that SE is being adopted by charities and development workers due to it’s sustainability.
During the car ride home we were talking about some of these statistics shown above which use the ‘shock effect’ to grab your attention. This is always problematic for a number of reasons. For example, there is one fact that shows 45% of Dhaka’s people are slum dwellers but who is categorised as a slum dweller? It could mean a broad number of things. The other problem that I learned about in Botswana was that it puts forth a negative view. And this is exactly what I was thinking about during the rest of the afternoon and something that I have noticed again and again. We might view them as poor according to our yardsticks but do they? Are they asking for our donations bought by pity? I’ve seen more smiley faces here than I do in London. So who is really poor and who is really rich?
After our afternoon discussion and reflection I was watching some construction workers build a hotel opposite us. Everyday I’ve been looking out over the roof of our hotel and watching the city as it lives and breathes. One thing I have noticed, something I find staggeringly surprising is these guys are ALWAYS working, always busy, always moving whether it is day or night. At night they have lamps, lanterns and torches shining them forward. We sleep, they work.
It unsettles me to think they are putting in all this blood, sweat and tears for what? the equivalent of 4op a day? And even then we will be the ones to come and enjoy that hotel, stay in the nice air conned rooms with free wifi. I’m not sure where the sense is, if there is even any at all. And even on a smaller personal scale, it makes me think about things like I enjoy food, dinner everyday, without really appreciating the effort going into it because when it arrives, it arrives packaged and ready. I just have to consume. I wonder how many people’s unseen hard work I live off? And do I repay that…?
Coming from a rich western country it is very easy to pity those who don’t have as much. But we shouldn’t base it on what wealth they have in their hands. That’s only one small part of it. We can call it extreme poverty and create these facts and terms that shock us and move us to do more. But there is a core part of what these people still have that none of these things can ever touch or buy, and that goes well beyond material wealth.
It is the look of happiness, of contentment, of humility and sincerity that sits in their eyes despite the challenges of the journey they’ve been on. They go through so much, yet they still complain so little and get on quietly with their lives. Living within their means and enjoying the small moments of happiness. Things like sitting after a long day, drinking tea with friends by the river.
And trust me, when you see that look. Your privilege begins to peel away, and an even better journey begins.
I am going to really miss this place and these people.