Under a Different Roof
Nate Buhler and Patrick Brown
Our plane touching down on the tarmac, we were greeted with the dense smog of ten million CNGs pumping their way through the insanity of Dhaka traffic and we knew we were far from home. Two of us American undergraduates came to volunteer with Basic Needs, a small programme that provides the necessities of life to needy children (especially under five) in both Dhaka and the rural village of Netrokon. We also did research on malnutrition and diarrheal disease with the assistance of both the organisation itself and its beneficiaries.
Seeing how inexorable the living conditions of much of the city were, we initially felt a constant need to escape. We wanted to find any small vestige of Western culture where we could take refuge in from the total state of depressed sadness we often encountered. Finally after three weeks, we began to feel involved and focused in our work. Despite the constant stares from everyone on the street, we could smile and keep walking, avoiding the initial befuddlement they caused when we first arrived.
Working with poor children. Photo: David Hubbard
While working with Basic Needs and seeing countless infants sitting naked in the mud in both Netrokona and Dhaka where even a small open wound could cause the contraction of botulism or, even more easily, an E. coli infection we saw that simple instruction in hygienic practice could allow for significantly improved lifestyles.Though the hungry masses will always be starving, the poor always needy, simple hygiene, even in the most destitute demographics, could prevent needless and unnecessary infection. A critic might argue that the food and water sources are where the focus should be on, that it is these fundamental bases from which such harmful infections generally spring and is thus those which should be central. He would be wholly correct. However, we are merely proposing that simple hygienic instruction to mothers and families, perhaps from village or slum committees, could at least aid in the prevention of these unnecessary and harmful episodes. In this case, children, even in the poorest conditions, should certainly be told not to sit or tread in dirty water. Volunteers with organisations like Basic Needs could instruct community leaders in these basic practices who, in turn, could teach the rest of the slum or village. Yet I know these words will most likely never reach the vast majority of these groups, that some might consider our simple plea an ivory towered attempt at claiming to understand a culture with which we are so unfamiliar with. Even if these are the case, consider this suggestion of basic aid not as a vein attempt at foreign supplication but as something that could be done entirely internally, with only the help of a few determined citizens willing to make a difference.
(The authors are pre-medical students at United States of America.)