The new year brought success and further progress for BanglaCymru. A ceremony, organised meticulously by Dr Jishu was held to officially open the BanglaCymru Cleft Care Centre at the Centrepoint Hospital, Chittagong. The chief guest was Professor Brian Sommerlad who is regarded at the world’s most leading specialist on the cleft condition. Also present amongst other VIPs was Professor A J M Salek, our chief surgeon. The name of BanglaCymru is now not only lighted up in the streets of Chittagong but also slowly spreading through Bangladesh. The climax of the opening ceremony was the arrival of many patients of which thirteen cleft sufferers were given successful operations which changed their lives in so many ways.
One patient who came to the unit was Mong. Mong belongs to a primitive tribe that live in the Hill Tracts, Banderban. This is an untamed area of jungle and mountains close to Chittagong and on the border with Burma. A special licence is needed to visit this area as a result of much turmoil over the last few decades. Developers used to go to the area to plunder and destroy the natural environment against the wishes of the inhabitants. The oriental appearances of these people make them distinctive and easily recognised.
Left: Mong and his damaged arm
Middle: Mong’s arm a few days after his operation
Right: Some of the patients under the BanglaCymru sign leaving for home
Mong is now eighteen years old and when he was a few years old he burnt his arm badly when his house burnt down in the woods. His suffering and the seriousness of his injuries became apparent shortly afterwards when his arm contracted and left it useless. Shortly after the accident Mong’s mother died and consequently his middle aged father brought him up. They both scrape a living growing vegetables in the woods, but with only one arm Mong’s drudgery is a hard and painful one. One day a social worker saw Mong toiling in his vegetable patch and offered to take him to Dr Jishu at the BanglaCymru Unit. This was Mong’s first visit outside the woods. Mong can only speak his tribe’s native language and is unable to speak Bengali, the national language of Bangladesh therefore communication is difficult. However, he underwent a long but successful operation and has returned to his habitat now working with both arms to grow his vegetables. Today, a total of 470 poor, needy patients have been given new lives as a result of BanglaCymru supporters’ kindness.
During the last few months two ‘cleft camps’ were held on the outskirts of two major cities in Bangladesh, namely Chittagong, the second city of the country and Sylhet the most notable industrial city of Bangladesh from where most chefs and waiters in Indian restaurants in the UK come. In fact, these restaurants are not Indian at all but Bangladeshi!
Cleft patients were the majority of the thirty patients who came to be treated. The majority were children of various ages with a few adults and burn patients. As usual it was the very poor that came to the camps; people who live a basic life daily from hand to mouth and also occasionally we see one or two from a higher class such as teachers and civil servants. A teacher earns approximately sixty pounds a month and therefore saving two months’ salary to pay for an operation for one of their children would be almost impossible. Family planning is seldom considered by any newlyweds. Most of the poor believe that every child is a gift from the Almighty, but on a more pragmatic level it’s a wise investment to have many children. A six year old child could start earning money and consequently lighten the financial burden of a family. One other consideration is the likelihood of some of the children dying in childhood which is a common occurrence in Bangladesh. . The mortality rate in children under-five declined from 152 deaths per 1,000 live births to 94 deaths per 1,000 live births in previous decades, but these rates are still high, and have remained constant for several years. Pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, malaria, malnutrition, injuries and the high number of neonatal deaths, and poor care-seeking behaviour, all contribute to the high levels of child mortality. However, there’s one other reason for the high rate which is the reluctance of parents to seek medical help because of financial obligations and often, people are more prepared to visit a ‘quack’ medicine man simply because they charge less. This is what makes BanglaCymru such an important charity offering the highest possible quality of cleft and burns operations with no costs for these poor people.
Abiza and her brother after surgery Taklima and her mother after surgery
One who came to be treated was Abiza, a 10 year old girl. She is the youngest of a large and poor family scratching a living on a piece of land outside Sylhet. She was sent to the hospital where the BanglaCymru medical team was working with her older brother, who is now keeping the family together due to the father’s illness. It was on the condition that if the treatment was not free she had to return home untreated. She was treated and had her life changed. Another one was Taklima who is three years old. Her father is a cleaner and earns just enough money to keep his family fed the following day. One day he happened to see a BanglaCymru pamphlet with photos of cleft children. He couldn’t read its content because as many of his fellow countrymen he’s illiterate and went from one co-worker to another but none of them could read. His joy was boundless in the evening when he found somebody who could read and told him all about the BanglaCymru mission and Taklima was treated and given a new life.
Total number of patients treated to date is exactly 500!