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From Switzerland to Bangladesh a new experience!
07 September 1999
by Marion Grimm

My biggest dream and wish has always been to help poor people in Third World countries. My dream became true in Bangladesh.... In Sitakund, where I have worked with a social local non-governmental organization called YPSA (Young Power in Social Action).

I have stayed in a Muslim host family who received me like a member of their own family. So I was directly immersed in their daily life. Everything was completely different from my own country: language, religion, food, weather, clothes, music.... I discovered a completely different culture as well as many traditional habits and practices that I had never seen before in my life. It was a very interesting and impressing feeling.

After some days of observation and adaptation, I started to work in the field level. My main job was to help teachers in NFPE (Non Formal Primary Education) school. A class is composed by 30 children who are aged between 5 and 15 years old. They read up to class 3. School time is established between 10am and 1pm. Every day, except on Friday, I visited a school. In my planning I had 6 different classes to follow in a week. During the first month I mainly observed the teaching as well as children's behave, and tried to find out what kind of ideas and suggestions I could bring them. The main point to get closer with them was to learn some Bengali. Then I could teach some English and mathematics, and also correct their exercises. They also learn typical Bengali dances and songs. Teachers are mostly very competent by their approach to them. I have enjoyed being with children so much. It was a very enrichment experience for me.

Moreover, in the afternoon, I was working in YPSA head office for some administrative and computer work. I have also visited some other YPSA's field activities like the Health Centers, the Coastal Embankment Rehabilitation programme and the Village Sanitation Center. YPSA's staff regularly follows training courses, which teach them some specific knowledge about field and administrative activities. I attended a one-week training course called PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal), in which I have learned many things in spite of the lack of language understanding.

YPSA people were so much helpful to me. I could rely on them at any time. They have also shown me some beautiful places in Bangladesh like Sitakund's Chandra Nath hills and coastal area, Chittagong's see beach and Foy's lake, Cox's Bazar, Comilla and Sundarbans.

Before I came in Bangladesh most of the people asked me: "Why have you chosen to go to Bangladesh? It is one of the poorest country in the world and floods and cyclones every year affect it!" But I was interested to go there, because only a few people are informed about this country, and I wanted to bring some help to poor people in their daily life. Of course I felt also a little bit afraid to go in an unknown place, but as soon as I arrived I felt good and safe.

Concerning the religion, more than 85% of the population is Muslim. Hindus, Buddhists and Christians compose the 15 other percents. It is very interesting to see how harmonious they live together. Religion is very present in their daily life. I had opportunity to attend some religious events which received all my consideration and interest.

A big problem everywhere in Bangladesh is the lack of electricity. Each day, the current stops many times! No current means no light, no computer work, no fan, etc. It creates a special atmosphere, which makes that people have all the time to expect a changing situation. But it's also why people have a big adaptation power. It is very impressing and interesting to see how quiet and easy they face any kind of unexpected situation.

About 80% of the population live in rural areas. Some places are dangerously exposed to natural disasters like floods, cyclones, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Many families are every year affected by this kind of unverifiable event, which destroys their house and kills a lot of people. They have to restart everything! Fortunately many people are working together to help and bring them support.

There is also some social development organizations like YPSA, which are working in education, micro-credit, health, sanitation and reforestation activities. They slowly try to bring the country in a better level of life. It is a long and continuous programme because any social change takes time.

In conclusion I have learned many things from my first working experience in a Third World country. It was a very strong need and wish to work for poor people. Now I have realised many things for my future life. I really want to continue to act in this way and especially with children, who make my happiness. Bangladesh is a beautiful country and their inhabitant are very hospitable. They have brought a lot of positive things in my life. I will never forget them.