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Colouring bleakness

Some of us are really lucky. We have families to love us, hopes to carry us through, opportunities to make our dreams come true and capabilities of doing it all without a second thought or doubt. On the other hand, some of us are blatantly unlucky, with the non-existence of any one or more of the above 'luxuries'. I do not know if these simple turns of luck make us any different from one another or make us superior to those unfortunate, but I do know that we are all God's creations and we all live in one world. At the end of the day, we are all human beings, we all breathe the same oxygen in the air surrounding us and we all dream to touch the same skies above us. My short visit to 'Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation' buildings have made me believe that people there also share this thought with me.
Founded in 1984, Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation has been working its way to make the impossibilities of today to commoners into bright futures full of possibilities. What started as a small project has now grown to the home of hopes for many handicapped children and parents. A home where children make friends and learn to dream, and where parents learn to never give up. This is a place where crippled lives are moulded into successful individuals.
Initially, when a child with disabilities is brought to the Protibondhi Foundation, a medical assessment is carried out on the child that includes psychological screening, interviewing parents and certain other tests. In many cases, it is seen that a child, for example, does to respond to people calling his/her name. Many conclude abruptly that the child is suffering from hearing problems and is therefore, deaf. This does not have to necessarily true. When brought to the Foundation Medical Centre, the staff carry out different tests, for example, reducing the distance from which the child is being addressed or calling him in an affectionate tone to which he is likely to respond, and thus, conclude if the child is actually disabled or is simply suffering from a disease. Through this medical assessment, the basic disability of the child is detected and his/her development management program is determined. Apart from these medical assessments, other examinations and further interviews with the child and his/her parents are carried out in order to determine the child's disability.
Once this procedure has been carried out, the child with the disability is admitted to the different programs of the Protibondhi Foundation. Education is one of the most important parts of the various programs designed by the Foundation and a school known as "Kalyani" has been opened for this purpose. Just like any 'normal' child going to any 'normal' school, students of "Kalyani" follow particular timetables, have regular classes and are under a predetermined specialized curriculum. They come to school in uniforms and learn the same alphabets like you and I did. Through schooling, they are also taught to carry out basic human activities like eating on their own, doing their own bit of work, using the lavatory and so on. Children have to go through four stages of schooling, each determined by age groups until they have attained an expected level of development in their ways and behaviour. If they have, they are awarded with a 'School Leaving Certificate'.
Since the motto of the Foundation has been 'inclusion, not discrimination', the administrators and involved people have always tried to encourage 'normal' children to study hand-in-hand with those handicapped. It is obvious that few parents will allow their children to be educated in the same place with handicapped children and so, although attempted, it was initially unsuccessful. After that, the Foundation decided to encourage the staff and other involved people to educate their own children in "Kalyani". This idea has proven successful, since children of many staff members who have been educated there has gained scholarships in respectable universities abroad and have attained success in their lives.
Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation has not only provided academic support to handicapped children, but has also taken measures to rehabilitate "Kalyani" graduates by making them economically active. They have been trained under workshops to different crafts and then employed by the Foundation or even by local firms to use their craftsmanship to make carpets, sarees, panjabis, shirts and other products, the selling of which provides them with their livelihood.
My three-hour-long visit to "Kalyani" has given a different insight to life. During that time, I had come across some of the most beautiful little children with the cutest little smiles, suffering from Down syndrome. It was quite depressing to realize that they have such a defect since birth, which so unfairly have separated them from other children of their age. At the same time, what was encouraging is the fact that people from "Kalyani" have not given up on them and work tirelessly to give them an almost 'normal' life. I met some other older children, who each had an unique disability of his/her own, but shared the same laughter and tears with any 'normal' child. They had their drawings around the room and gleefully showed us their works of art. Many of them had difficulties in holding a crayon properly, yet none gave up or sat despairingly. They were determined, in their own small ways, just like the teachers around them, to colour their hearts out.
What surprised me immensely, at the same time filled my heart with appreciation and delight were a few paintings that were hung on the walls of the building. They were paintings by an old student of "Kalyani", who now has gotten married and is settled abroad. I would not be exaggerating if I consider them as some of the most amazing and interesting pieces of artwork that I have seen in this life. Their very concepts were unique; each one from the other and the way they were drawn was truly remarkable. This only proves that determination can always lead to achievements and everyone is capable of achieving something, only if they are given opportunities. Added to the paintings, what shared the same feelings in me was terracotta on the walls at the entrance of the building. They were delicate, interesting and praiseworthy and believe it or not, handicapped people had been its artists. There were even awards won by handicapped children during Special Sports events, art competitions and other programs. In many of these events, these children had competed against 'normal' children and have beaten them to secure the first position. Now that is something I'd heartily applaud to!
My encounter with these realities and people has taught me seek out the unlimited possibilities that lie under the label of impossibilities. I have realized that beneath every handicap lies potential talents, and it is up to us to bring them out and give them an opportunity to flourish. In three-hours, I have learnt to appreciate their efforts, to applaud their achievements and in general, to feel affectionate towards them. It is quite possible that anyone reading these lines would think that I am exaggerating my feelings; that I, myself would sneer (like a nine-year old ordinary kid) at any handicapped child sitting beside me, but believe me, I have honestly been stunned and touched by these children.
Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation now aims towards making these children capable of studying in a 'normal' school with mainstream children. It plans to reduce the differences and change the attitudes of future generations to these disabilities. It might seem like a far-stretched goal, but it is possible and it only requires a bit of cooperation from everyone around us. Just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt has once said,
"We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought."
... and we should all try our bit to provide everyone, 'normal' or disabled with it.
I would like to thank Ms. Farzana Islam for giving us (students of Sunbeams) this opportunity to visit "Kalyani"; Ms Shirin Munir for her warmest welcome to our visit; all the teachers and staff for explaining different things to us and answering our questions; and most importantly, the children and people of "Kalyani" who have our visit truly memorable.

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

American studies institute 2005

It was 2:00 am when seven of us stepped down from the van driven by Ryan, one of the facilitators of the South Asian Student Exchange Program who went to receive us at the Dulles Airport in Washington D.C.
As he led us to our dormitories of Dickinson College, our body and mind revolted and thus, strived to remain up. We travelled for more than 30 hours and have finally set our feet in a totally different part of the world. The jet lag started to play its game and I could neither sleep or keep myself awake in this new country.
The drive from Washington D.C. to Pennsylvania was a pleasant one. We asked Ryan to keep the glasses of the van open and sang our favourite Bangla tunes as we enjoyed the night view of American freeway. The cool breeze swept our tired faces and we began to get the first feel of the USA, the country whose every political and economic decision can make big differences in the lives of the people around the world.
The excitement of being in the US for the first time was so high that the distress and exhaustion of travelling for unending hours in a row seemed not only fine but also appropriate. Our first meeting with the students from Pakistan and India was at 8:00 am on June 23 in Holland Union Building. We got introduced to each other and headed towards the cafeteria to have our first American breakfast.
Even though we all belong to different countries, colleges and disciplines, we all have one thing in common that's, we all belong to South Asia, we have a common past, similar culture and lifestyle and we all dream to make some positive changes in one of the most under-developing and densely populated regions of the world.
This was our first day at Dickinson college. The friendly and experienced program directors introduced us to the college and its history. After some paperwork, our huge unit of 21 had a walking tour of Carlisle, a small serene town of Pennsylvania. The evening was marked by a welcoming reception attended by the college professors, US State Department officials and other invited guests. The leadership and team building workshop on the second day brought all the participants closer to each other. The team building session focused on solving a series of problems to learn about the resources, talents and abilities of each one of us, of our group and thus, form a collective with a common goal.
The session was an exhilarating one and something that none of us ever went through before. June 25, 2005 would probably always remain as an unforgettable day of my life. On that day, we helped Habitat for Humanity to construct a house. We literally had to work with shovels, fiber glasses, stones and earth…something which all of us were doing for the first time in our lives. If you are wondering what this organization is, then for your information, Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit and non-denominational Christian Housing Organization that help people build simple, decent, affordable houses in partnership with those who lack adequate shelter. It's now working in 100 countries and by 2005, it will be sheltering one million people.
So it was a unique experience that I had by working side by side with some hard-working individuals, who have big hearts and genuinely care about other people… Even the classroom discussions we had on Religions in the USA and Intercultural Leadership and Communications were thought-provoking. The Q/A sessions were marked by lively participation of all the participants from South Asia. We all had a chance to directly interact with knowledgeable US college professors and get our questions answered. Many a question that we always wanted to ask the Americans actually came out after each class.

By Wara Karim

Eternal faith in you

It was late winter
The night rested snugly in a shawl of mist
Somewhere from a long lost time's memory
A chilly wind sighed into me.
There were sounds of footsteps in my mind,
And a familiar scent of nostalgia was all too prominent.
I've come to terms with the absurd equations of life:
Our yearnings grow, only after losing,
What earlier seemed so very insignificant.
But when you wake up in the middle of a dream
A second opportunity is rare to come by
And even if it does, the yearning is lost once more...
As I lean into the balcony and fondle,
The memories instead of you...
There are whispers in the darkness
Broken promises, lost dreams, float away into constellations
But somewhere amongst the sighs and tears
The pain numbs, as I see your name
And only your name...
Deeply engraved between my skin and soul.

By Tausif Salim


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