Bangladesh-Japan: Bridging worlds
The Kansai-Bangladesh Project (KBP) works to create sustainable programmes with local people in Bangladesh. It is run by Sachiko Matsunaga-Jack with the support of David Jack, who has a similar organisation,Fieldwork. The couple have been active in Bangladesh for many years now and have concentrated on indigenous groups support and encouragement, plus environmental affairs.
Their man in Chittagong is Sunil Barua who looks after activities in that region. An example is in Baruapara West, where KBP covered the full cost of and installed two new tube-wells. Sunil also keeps in touch with what’s going on in Baishari, further down that long coast (with a diversion inland) besides escorting such as ‘the Jacks’ en route to the Learning Centre that KBP has built and organised for a village of Marmas – one of the main ethnic groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Only last year the Centre started to enjoy a lighting system, with 5 lights, running off a set of photo-voltaics, giving solar power. An inverter was also purchased which enables the charging of batteries for computers and mobile phones. This gives possibilities of communication with the world at large.
Very recently a sewing machine was purchased by KBP for the Learning Centre. This came about as once again one of the village girls, Taslim, left the village to find work in the city – unfortunately for the village a typical circumstance. Another daughter of the village, Mita, who lived in the city was called home to the village by her mother, Rupa. The returning daughter being a competent seamstress. The mother made a request to KBP for a sewing machine to create work for Mita.
A KBP supporter in Hong Kong heard of that request, and agreed it was an effective use of resources. A machine was purchased by villager Shakib, in Chittagong, a Chinese made Butterfly sewing machine that was relatively cheap yet strong, heavy and old-fashioned. Rupa’s village is three hours away by bus.
On delivery the machine was assembled and eagerly put into use by Mita. She is now able to make new clothes and repair old ones, and also, she can teach the younger members of the village, thereby enabling them to learn a new skill.
In another endeavour, to make the village self-sufficient, a rubber plantation was re-purchased for the village and is doing well, producing a significant income.
In February this year, KBP long-time volunteer Frank Chase visited Bangladesh for the first time. He returned to Japan full of inspiration and overwhelmed by the hospitality and beauty of the Bangladesh people. He told his story in the newsletter of the organisation:
“David Jack arranged for my trip to Rajshahi [northeast Bangladesh] and visits to some Mahle villages. I went with Zakarius Dumri, director of a small support NGO called Maasaus, attending to the affairs of the Mahle people. After arriving in Zakarius’ house in Dumkurahat, as custom demanded, Mr Dumri took off my shoes and socks and washed my feet in a small basin of warm water. His wife brought rice, stewed meat, vegetables and hot tea, and as all understood that I wasn’t very proficient eating with my hand, I used a spoon.
“Zakarius is very proud of and enthusiastic about the work Maasaus is doing for the Mahle people. ‘It has three objectives,’ he informed me. ‘One is education. We are hoping to begin pre- schools in the villages and train teachers. This is very important to ensure the children do not forget their Mahle language. Bengali is the national language and it’s also important for the children to learn Bengali as well for the future of society,’ he said. ‘But, first the Mahle language; it contains the thoughts of our ancestors.’
Frank Chase agreed.
‘And second, we encourage traditional Mahle music. It is my hope for every village will have drums to encourage singing Mahle songs. Tomorrow we’ll go to a village where KBP has given us a harmonium and drums and you will see the children dance. Music is central to our culture, the songs and dances must not be forgotten.’
KBP also donated a harp to the Maasaus organization to help in that conservation effort of the Mahle people’s musical culture.
‘There are few that can play the harp so it’s important for us to have the instruments and to teach others how to play. The third objective is development – clean water from wells and proper latrines.’”
Frank Chase left the village accompanied by the sounds of shakuhachi, drums, harmonium, dancing and singing children. Broad smiles and laughter, all surrounded by green fields, that stretched to the horizon. It’s a wonderful world he felt. From Japan to Bangladesh’s villages; concern and commitment bridging different worlds.
On Saturdays David Jack can be found at Wantage Books in Kobe, Japan, where he sells second hand English books to support Fieldwork activities in Bangladesh. The Kansai Bangladesh Project is an international voluntary organisation formed in 1986 to develop relations between Kansai and Bangladesh.