The first quarter of 2013 dawned on the work of BanglaCymru with assiduity and success. Three ‘cleft camps’ were organised within days of each other in various parts of Bangladesh and one over the border in Uttar Pradesh in March. One camp was arranged in Noakhali where we had previously been. This is an example of returning to a location to keep a promise made to patients who could not be treated the first time. Two main reasons for refusing treatment is firstly, patients too weak to undergo surgery usually due to lack of nourishment, and secondly, mothers of newly born cleft babies desperately seeking to correct and hide the condition before too many in the community found out. A newly born cleft baby has to be four months old before undergoing surgery.
Kuri before her treatment showing the Kuri a few days after her treatment and before
unsatisfactory outcome of her first treatment the swelling decreased
One patient who came to be treated was Kuri a 22 year old who had married when she was 16. Marriage is a very important matter in Bangladesh because it gives a girl security in her old age. There is no financial support for old people in Bangladesh and without a family to support you the only option is to go out begging. For a cleft girl offers of marriage are rare, but according to the local tradition a dowry could be paid to the man’s family as an incitement. In Kuri’s case the dowry was unreasonable high. However, her mother struggled to pay this costly dowry to give her daughter the best chance in life. Unfortunately it became apparent that the husband’s first love was the dowry and Kuri’s life became a life of abuse and misery. Her mother brought her to the BanglaCymru camp in the hope of a new life for her and a dream of getting higher quality treatment than the one she had previously from an unqualified surgeon. She was treated and the result was astounding. She is now a beautiful woman and her dream is to be loved by her husband and accepted as a normal person in her community.
During the last 3 months we performed 104 operations which give us a total of 604 since the inception of the charity. Without your kindness all this wouldn’t be possible. Thank you so much for your support.
It was with the greatest joy that I, on behalf of all BanglaCymru supporters opened the door of our new BanglaCymru Heath Care Centre during my recent visit. We had tentative arrangements with Centrepoint Hospital, Chittagong last year but the arrangements to use a consultation room for patients about to have surgery were very arbitrary. Also, in the past our medical co-ordinator had to resign more than once from his post as medical officer working for his local authority because of his responsibilities for BanglaCymru when he has to leave his health centres to arrange and attend ‘cleft camps’ in various parts of the country. Following long discussions we, the trustees came to the conclusion that the best solution would be to establish our own health care centre and employ staff including our medical co-ordinator, Dr Jishu without the fear of dismissal in order to facilitate our main mission which is to offer free cleft and burns operations for poor patients in Bangladesh. Now we are employing Dr Jishu, our medical co-ordinator, Mr Dipak is our pharmacist/ social worker/ paramedic, Ms Provitra the nurse a Mr Shantu as a clerk and cleaner. Approximately 28% of the charity’s income is used to support the centre and the rest used for our main mission. What makes these arrangements ideal is that now BanglaCymru is serving a poor community daily and in addition continuing to perform cleft and burns operations around the country.
The centre is located in a very busy and densely populated area close to the port of Chittagong where thousands work in the garments and other various industries. It’s a particularly poor area, very lively, full of colours, untidiness, smells and various dangers. The centre is located in a new building on the main road and our floor having been designed to perfection by Dr Jishu to meet the needs of any health care centre anywhere in the world: it’s fresh, hygienic with plenty of space to include a small pharmacy, a recovery room and minor operation theatre. In future we will apply for a licence to have a full operating theatre – but that will take some time. During the first 3 weeks of its existence over 80 patients came with their various ailments, and inevitably this will increase with time. They will be given the best attention and will be kept charmed with all the pictures of Wales on the walls. Dr Jishu runs the centre with care and efficiency and is involving local community leaders in the running of the centre.
It was interesting to walk every evening in the company of Mr Dipak to visit the local communities to inform them about the new health care centre. The inhabitants of the lowly hovels in the dark pathways were full of curiosity to see the little white skin man visiting their commote. This was the ideal bait for Mr Dipak to talk about the centre and to encourage them to register.
We also travelled to the southern part of the country to undertake the main mission of BanglaCymru but had to cancel another cleft camp because of the risk of civil unrest. It wasn’t easy to travel round the country this time. The political situation in Bangladesh at the moment is very precarious with a dangerous and violet aspect to it. It’s easy for the extremists (Jamaat) to persuade the uneducated and gullible to act as vigilantes and to attack people breaking the ‘hartals’/general strikes if travelling, opening shops, schools etc. It can be very dangerous to disobey these orders and there’s a tendency to target minorities such as Hindus. Tens of people have been killed in the turmoil and part of the ill feeling emanates from the actions of traitors during the war of independence in 1971. After landing during one of these ‘hartals’ following my third flight I was taken from the airport to the city hidden in an ambulance, and some days I had to stay quietly in my hotel without venturing out. However, the good news is that we have treated scores of patients with their various ailments in our new health centre and added 50 patients to our cleft total which has now reached 654.
Faridpur is an area in the middle of Bangladesh. Similar to all other areas, it is densely populated with an estimated two million people living from hand to mouth on the land, fishing and in light industries. This is where we held our latest cleft camp in September where 23 patients were given new lives following successful operations performed by the BanglaCymru medical team.
It gives me great joy to report that the BanglaCymru Health Care Centre at Chittagong is going from strength to strength. To date almost 500 patients with their various conditions have crossed the centre’s threshold to be seen by Dr Jishu, our medical co-ordinator and director of the centre. Amongst these was Khakon, a 14 year old boy who had suffered parlous burns to the side of his body when he was a toddler. Consequently the contractures had caused his arm to become attached to his side. Khakon lives in a garage eating and sleeping amongst the oil drums. He works for a pittance cleaning the wheels of auto-rickshaws with his one able hand. His circumstances are extremely horrendous and his disability amassing his adversity. His mother left him to fend for himself some years previously to work in a neighbouring area, and her life also is full of misery. However, she visited him in the hospital following the long and complicated surgery to free his arm. Now, he has two arms and little by little he will be able to compete equally with his peers to improve his state.
One day, after an arduous journey of six hours, parents of a two year old boy came to the centre. The child had burned his legs seriously and his thighs had contracted so badly that made his completely unable to walk. Dr Jishu and his team without delay decided to operate, but because they were from the Hill Tracks tribe and couldn’t speak the national language and living so far away, Dr Jishu let them stay in the centre for three weeks which was the period for the surgical wounds to heal and for the dressings to be changed every two days. They could never afford to stay in the cheapest hotel in Chittagong, so Dr Jishu provided them with all their requirements including food and treating the mother who also in need of medical attention. The boy’s right leg was freed in the operation and one day soon they will return to have an operation on the other leg. The family find it difficult to comprehend the kindness given to them.
Khakon before and after his operation The family from the Hill Tracks
There are many other stories about BanglaCymru changing the lives of members of this poor community in Chittagong including, of course cleft patient. During the last few weeks four operations were performed on burns and cleft patients, but our prime mission which is to arrange cleft camps will continue and soon Dr Jishu, our medical co-ordinator will arrange two or three of these camps in various areas of Bangladesh. To date the total number of cleft and burn surgeries we have performed is an amazing 738.