Report on the
Foster Parents Project in Bangladesh
Written by Mayu Endo
It was year-end when we arrived in Cox’s Bazar
On December 28th we boarded an airplane from Bangkok to Dhaka. The city of Dhaka, which could be looked down upon from inside the plane, was so covered with thick smog that I couldn’t even see the city itself.
Bangladesh is 1.7 times as big as Japan’s island of Hokkaido, and 170 million people live there. The population of Bangladesh is one of the highest in the world.
It took us a long time to pass through immigration, which is as usual. We had to queue in a long line, but finally, our turn came. They asked us about very severe questions.
I thought that this harsh questioning might be related to the terrorist incident that had occurred at a restaurant in Dhaka in July 2016.
This incident resulted in the deaths of 29 people, among them were many NGO-related persons (including 7 Japanese).
We finally got our immigration stamps and rushed to catch our domestic flight. We didn’t have time to relax. Domestic flights are always late in Bangladesh, but we caught this one only just in time.
As domestic airlines were not reliable in the past, we used to have to drive on an unpaved road for 12 hours at a tremendous speed.
Rajo greeted us with a big smile
After a one-hour flight on a domestic airline, we arrived at Cox’s Bazar. Rajo and the children came to the airport to meet us and we were greeted with big smiles.
Rajo is the director of NPO Earth Caravan’s Bangladesh office. He lived in Japan for seven years and can speak Japanese. The Rajo family produces generous volunteers. We heard that his grandfather donated all of the lands for Aggamedha Kyang temple in Cox’s Bazar.
It had been a year since we’d seen Rajo and his two children.
We got into a very old open car. They didn’t know what year it was from. Unfortunately, it’s not the car you can see behind Rajo in the picture.
The car went through the chaotic city of Cox’s Bazar, which was full of people and rickshaws.
Eventually, we arrived at Rajo’s house. The first thing we did was to unload the luggage.
We really wanted to have a rest, but we didn’t have a minute to spare.
Soon after we arrived at Rajo’s house, we started discussions with him. After we talked about what we would do during our stay, we all went to the hillside park where the stupas that we are repairing and maintaining are.
Off to see the stupas
Despite the fact that stupas are spiritual symbols for Bangladesh’s ethnic minority Buddhists, the stupas on the hill used to be in a miserable state.
Many poor Bengalis, who don’t pay respect to Buddhism, built illegal homes around the stupas. As a result of this construction, some of the stupas collapsed when landslides occurred.
Also, the stupas had been violated with graffiti and filth. Garbage was everywhere and we could hardly have called it a sacred place.
When we first saw the stupas in 2008, we were so shocked at the disastrous state they were in that our hearts almost burst with grief.
At that time, Earth Caravan members from Europe and North America also came to see the stupas and we talked about what we could do to improve the situation. This is when we first started discussions with the Rakhine college students and began cleaning the hill where the stupas are.
Year by year, little by little, the hill and the stupas have been revived.
And now that the hill has become so beautiful, a sign has been erected that says this park is a sacred place.
Two men who are employed by NPO Earth Caravan maintain the hill every day. They plant lots of trees and flowers and nurture and water them.
In the past, beautiful and valuable flowers couldn’t bloom on this hill because they were stolen or eaten by goats.
Now, however, a solid fence has been erected around the sacred park and, thanks to that, the flowers won’t be eaten. Soon we’ll be able to sell the flowers that grow on the hill. The two men who oversee this park and love growing flowers are very much delighted by this change.
We are also thinking of providing tables with umbrellas and chairs so we can set up an outdoor café as a resting place.
It will cost more to complete the sacred park, but we are quite sure that this place will provide the spiritual support that the Rakhine need.
Thanks to the support of all of you, the hill and the stupas have been cleaned up and are being properly taken care of. The air in the park is cleaner than any other place in Cox’s Bazar. We can now officially consider this park a sacred area.
It is an amazing place in Bangladesh, a place where there is no garbage or graffiti; we are very grateful to the two men who maintain the grounds.
We recognized how difficult it is to support people
By the way, we heard a very shocking story from Rajo.
Chodoribara is one of the villages supported by NPO Earth Caravan, and this village is Rajo’s wife’s birthplace.
In this village, a serious problem occurred between the person in charge of the school and the monks, and the situation has become so serious that we can’t visit there.
To explain, opinion about the school is divided among the monks of the temple next to which the school was established, and the village leaders, who were under the influence of the monks during this conflict, couldn’t agree with each other. The situation has not been resolved and the NPO Earth Caravan-supported school has been closed.
If we could have brought the conflict to a peaceful settlement, maybe the school wouldn’t have closed. We cannot apologize enough to foster parents. It is through this episode that we have painfully recognized how difficult it is to support distant places.
Support for a new village
Regardless of the school closure at Chodoribara, we must continue our support for the children’s education.
After we pulled ourselves together, we visited Barbakiya village, which is two hours away by car.
We met again with the five foster children here and talked with them at the school.
Through Rajo’s interpreter, we read letters from the foster parents to their children and gave the children their letters to keep.
We said to them, “Your Japanese fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters are supporting you, so please do your best at school.”
We also met three new foster children in Barbakiya! All of them have beautiful, shining eyes.
After that, we headed toward Manikpur village, about 50 minutes away. This year we plan to open a new school in this village where there are three new foster children.
The next day we went to Khuruskul village, which has been receiving support for one year. It took us 40 minutes to get to this village from Rajo’s house on rough roads in a midget car.
There used to be five foster children at this school, but one of them left to become a monk and the others left because they had no choice but to return to the mountain due to family circumstances. Because of this, we were only able to meet with one person this time.
Even if a school recommends to its students that they keep studying, there is nothing they can do when family circumstances interfere. Unfortunately, this happens often in Bangladesh.
However, Sensen-chan, who we met this time, passed the examination and will be able to enroll at a junior high school.
The teachers in Chofolondhi village are highly motivated
After we said farewell to the teachers and children in Khuruskul, we headed toward Chofolondhi village, about 20 minutes away.
Immediate after we arrived in the village, the mayor asked us to donate $1,000 to repair the school’s tin roof.
However, we could not easily agree to this request on the spot. We didn’t want to waste the precious money you gave us for support. We told the mayor that we would consider it in consultation with everyone involved.
New teachers give students their lessons in a room that is situated under the temple. On the day we met the teacher from this school and consulted with him at Rajo’s house he told us he didn’t have any problems, so we rejected the mayor’s request. This teacher, a university student, is a very motivated and good person.
We met seven foster children in Chofolondhi village. It looks like they are all studying hard.
Thank you very much to everyone
So, in the way described above, we made it to four villages to check on our foster children and meet some new foster children.
It was unfortunate that some of the children had to leave school because of family circumstances, but it was a pleasure to see the foster children who are at the schools and will have the benefit of education while growing up.
All of the foster children appreciate your support from the bottom of their hearts: they think of it as spiritual support.
Through our experience during this year’s visit and after having continued this project for 10 years, we can tell you that it is now operating on a solid foundation.
We appreciate how much your support has enabled poor children in remote mountain areas to go to school. There are no words to say except to thank you very much and express our gratitude.
To express our gratitude, we would like to present foster parents with shawls that were purchased in the villages.
As soon as we can, we will work hard to set up a way for you to see the products made by Rakhine women.
This has been a brief report about our projects in Bangladesh. We hope you can feel our gratitude and receive the warmth generated by this endeavor.
2 January 2017
With thanks, from Cox’s Bazar