A Volunteer Perspective by Naiya Hernandez

I honestly did not know what to expect of my time in Bangladesh. It was one of those countries I had to look up on the map when I realized I would be spending a month in the small country. Of those the four weeks there, I spent 19 days north of Dhaka in the girls’ hostel. Before coming, I had seen a picture of the girls in their school clothes and hoped that my time with them would be helpful and well spent.


Upon arrival to the hostel I quickly realized that I would be spending my time in a beautiful place surrounded by trees that produced seasonal fruit and offered cooling shade. We were away from the main road so the zooming vehicles and honking horns were far away and easily drowned out by the sounds of nature and the voices of daily life. It was a sigh of relief for my soul to get away from the chaos of the city.


I draw this picture for you because it is important for you to know that in this little safe haven are some very fractured lives. During my time I worked with nine hostel girls, four women producing Basha products, and their four children. I cannot say that I know their stories, but one does not need to know everything to see the scars of pain. While I worked with the girls on language learning it was easy to notice that they were behind on their education. Growing up in the city this seemingly basic education was not made a priority in their lives. Living on the streets meant most of them did not start school prior to finding refuge at Children’s Uplift Programme, Basha’s local NGO partner which continues to fund their placement. At the hostel they could be little girls, which is what they are. They could do their homework, they were guaranteed three meals a day, they could climb trees, and they could laugh. I loved to hear them laugh. Here the women would come to work knowing that they were valued and cared for by the staff. Maybe they were leaving a home where they felt undervalued and like they did not deserve respect. This was not what they heard when they showed up to work at Basha. I would teach them English in the mornings, and some days I would sit and just listen to them chat. They would try to teach me new words and lovingly laugh at my horrible pronunciation; sometimes I said it so wrong I said an entirely different word. I could tell they took pride in the work they were doing. They received the simple compliments and enjoyed that someone took notice of the progress they were making. Just a few doors down the children of these women were taken care of. The children always wanted someone to play with them. They craved attention, as most kids do. They would always ask me to sit down to put together a puzzle with them or read a book to them.


Outside of the chaos exist this very peaceful place. Sometimes the chaos seeps in but there are people who try to restore the peace. More than the physical peace of this place, I got to see how it allowed for some internal peace. Sometimes we need to slow down and just breath. This is a place for that. A place for these lives to be valued.

 

My time there was not without challenges. I do not speak Bangla, so some days felt like a never ending game of charades. Everyone was patient with my failed attempts to understand, patient with my lack of ability to communicate, and patient with my frustration at not knowing how to do small tasks. In this community was an allowance for mistakes and set backs, something I am guessing was not often extended to the women, girls, and children beyond the walls of this place. In this patience I was invited in to the beauty of life here.

 

What a gem Basha is. This is not a sales pitch because I do not have anything to sell here. But I am truly amazed by this place and how they go beyond producing a product to sell, and get into the messiness of lives of these women and children. In those moments of weakness and despair there are people who surround them and truly want them to live out the best life they can have. This looks different for each individual, but this difference is embraced. Yes, they make beautiful blankets, but they are also helping these women make beautiful lives. From the worn and torn saris come these beautiful blankets. From the worn and torn lives come opportunities for a beautiful life and a the chance for change in the generations that follow it. I was able to see the very reason Basha exists. I was able to see that beyond a product to sell, there is a life to be changed, a life to be respected, a life to be valued. I saw the beautiful colors of life.

 

“Everyone breathing is broken. Keep breathing light into them until the stained glass collage takes your breath away.”  -Ryan Lilly, Write like no one is reading

 

“The reality is that doing good unto others actually does more good for you.”  -Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year

 

  • English lessons.
  • Spending time with Naiya.
  • Washing handmade kantha blankets.