Last year was a very troubled period in Bangladesh. The situation escalated from month to month until it reached a climax when the general election took place at the beginning of the year. One tactic of the ‘Jammat e Islami’, which is a small band of extremists supporting the opposition’s battle to bring down the government, was to call for ‘hartals’ (general strikes) including stopping public transport by fire-bombing buses and other forms of transport. Hundreds have been killed during this brutal campaign. I warned our medical co-ordinator not to venture onto these dangerous roads, and consequently we had to cancel two arranged ‘cleft camps’. By now the situation has improved and the time came again to arrange more cleft camps.
However, the ‘hartals’ had little effect on the work of BanglaCymru Health Care Centre and to date over 700 patients including nine local cleft sufferers have visited the centre to be treated by Dr Jishu. One of them was a five month old baby by the name of Nur Nabi. Nur’s father was a rickshaw driver which is the lowest social status in Bangladesh. The mother worked in a garment factory but had to give her job up after Nur’s birth and consequently their earnings became a pittance. When the family heard about the birth of a cleft baby many of them kept their distance because of what they believed was shame on the family. Morshed and his wife were desperate to seek medical help and they took Nur to see a consultant but the cost of the operation was completely beyond them. One day whilst driving his rickshaw Morshed saw the BanglaCymru sign and he went to see Dr Jishu. When he heard that he could operate and more so with no charge he was full of joy! The operation was a success and his parents’ happiness was beyond compare. Within a few days Morshed had brought two other cleft patients to our centre! One was a colleague and the other was a woman he happened to see on the street with a serious cleft condition.
Morshed and family. Nur before and immediately after his operation
On February 25th our medical co-ordinator and his medical team went to the furthest southern part of Bangladesh to hold the latest cleft camp. Dr Jishu had hired the operating theatre of the local hospital for two days and consequently had to work long hours to perform 22 successful operations. To date BanglaCymru has changed the lives of an amazing 769.
After a period of acclimatising with a temperature in the 40s (the hottest it’s been in Bangladesh for over half a century) with all the unpleasant side effects of the heat, we travelled to Ranguna, a village, approximately 50 miles away from Chittagong to open a new venture for BanglaCymru. A serious problem in many rural areas is the lack of medical provision, and because Dr Jishu’s contacts in this village we arranged to open a new health centre there employing a doctor and assistant for a trial period of 6 months. Within a few minutes of the opening ceremony a large number of patients came which was a promising sign.
Ranguna BanglaCymru Centre staff and Dr Jishu with his staff at our main health care centre in Chittagong.
In the meantime, our main BanglaCymru Health Care Centre, Chattagong is going from strength to strength and over 850 patients have visited the centre. During the long periods I spent with Dr Jishu, our medical co-ordinator in his consultation room, scores of patients came to see us with their various ailments and the doctor giving them all royal attention. Sometimes an urgent case arrives which causes a huge drama in the reception with every waiting patient wanting to know what’s happening. However, they all know that priority has to be given to these patients. I cannot imagine a more ideal health centre than ours to meet with the needs of these kind of emergency cases in this busy, colourful and sometimes dangerous area of Halishohar. Some were laid on a bed in the small ward by our new nurse, Taiyang with reassuring comments. This appointment has been a very successful one and our new assistant, Ching also from the Hill Track tribe undertakes his duties with enthusiasm and with a professional attitude. One negative factor is the hour’s journey from the city centre to the BanglaCymru centre on the city to port highway. Every turning in the road opens a new scene from hell and all travellers, whether in cars, rickshaw or on foot risking their lives in this terrifying situation. No-one can imagine this hell unless he is there and without fainting!
During my stay the BnaglaCymru medical team held a number of short cleft camps, our main mission in various parts of south Bangladesh. Most were performed in Chittagong. In these operating theatres I watched so many deformed faces being dismantled and created anew. One of the most special experiences I had was becoming great pals with Nasifa, a 11 month old little girl who came for her second procedure, this time to have her palate repaired. I was amazed to see the results of Dr Jishu’s surgery on this little girl’s lip two months ago to repair a serious cleft. By now you can’t see a trace of any operation; no scar or any imperfection. Today she’s he most beautiful and loveable little child under the sun.
Nasifa before her first operation and when she came back to have the second procedure to repair her palate.
But one of the most poignant day was when Ratul’s parent brought him for his operation. He was 4 months old and an an extremely complicated cleft. Dr Jishu had cared for him since his birth, giving his parents advice and promising to create a new face for him. I never met any parents who doted so much on their first born. The father especially embraced and caressed him continually. On the day I realised the enormous strain that Dr Jishu endured. Was it possible to create a new face for Ratul? Was his cleft too extreme to do anything about it? Dr Jishu changed his mind more than once whilst consulting with the parents who were also in torment with the father’s tears on my shoulders at one time. Dr Jishu ventured! With Ratul’s success our total during my stay was 23 with a grand total of 792 since the founding of the charity.
It gives me great satisfaction to send you a very uplifting update on the work of the charity since my last report. One important decision we made recently was to add to our staff at our Chittagong BanglaCymru centre. Since the women of Bangladesh are very conservative concerning body matters we decided to employ a lady doctor to work three days a week. In addition, with the sponsorship of the Pontypridd Siroptomists we have appointed a health worker to work in conjunction with the lady doctor. This partnership is working really well and the number of women visiting the centre has increased. The health worker visits approximately ten homes every day checking on wellbeing and informing people about health matters. I’m also pleased to report that out centre in the village of Rangunia is going well with local people appreciating the service we provide.
During the last few months BanglaCymru’s medical co-ordinator and his team have been busy realising the main mission of the charity which is to provide treatment for cleft and burns patients. Many operations were performed in Chittagong itself, many in Varanasi and two substantial cleft camps in the southern region of Bangladesh close to the Myanmar (Burma) border. Here, in a seaside town is the UNHCR centre, which is the United Nations centre is looking after refugees. For many years the people of Myanmar have suffered extreme oppression including personal and social injustice, forced labour and torture. As a consequence many of its citizens venture over the border to Bangladesh and, although free from subjugation they become stateless, extremely poor and without hope when they arrive at the UNHCR centre. Not far from this centre is the hospital we used for our most recent cleft camp. One of the first patients brought to us for treatment was Nurislam; a young refugee from Myanmar. What kind of life and aspirations did this poor boy have with the addition of a serious ghastly cleft lip? However, BanglaCymru was there to help and since his operation he can face the rest of his life with more self-confidence.
The lady doctor and the health worker. | Nurislam before his operation | Nurislam after his operation.
In the annual report I sent you four months ago I informed you that our total then was 812 operations. To date we have reached 900 exactly! Thank you so much.