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Service Programs

"Discover True Friendship" Service Tour in Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh - IRFF "Discover True Friendship Service Tour: Asia Edition 2007" was held in Bangladesh July 10 - 25, 2007. The mission of the service tour was to construct the Jaigeer Peace Center, which will be used for classroom and community development programs run by IRFF, to make a brick road from the main road to the school, and to dig a tube well at the school site. Another important aim is to discover true friendship through service activity beyond the barriers of nationality, culture and religion. Most of construction costs were donated by IRFF-International. The IRFF-Bangladesh primary school is located at Jaigeer village, about 30 km from the capital city of Dhaka.

IRFF-Bangladesh is an international NGO recognized by the Bangladesh government. IRFF-Bangladesh has been maintaining two primary schools in remote villages for more than 15 years, and currently about 500 village children are learning in these schools. Health and community development projects have been added to supplement the schools.

 



Objectives:

  1. To offer a healthy rural environment where people can live with good health and living conditions.
  2. To educate children for future village development and also to educate village adults to improve living standards.
  3. To offer health examinations in the rural areas and health education to village leaders for preventing diseases.
  4. To organize health, physical exercise and moral education programs for youth and poor village residents to protect them from drug abuse, HIV/AIDS and other health hazards.
  5. To assist rural economic development through microcredit loans and community cooperation.

Eight American students guided by two staff members from IRFF-International, one from IRFF-Asia, one from IRFF-Nepal, plus four Bangladeshi students and two IRFF-Bangladesh staffers participated in the entire Service Tour. International participants arrived on the morning of July 10. Through orientation, they learned the aims and schedule of this program at Pradokehep NGO dormitory in Dhaka, where they resided during the project work.

Service Project


Construction of the extension building of Jaigeer Peace Center, the road and tube well, was scheduled from July 11 to 17. Participants arrived daily at 8:30 a.m. by microbus and worked until 4:00 p.m. and then took part in the extra-curricular activities, described below, which were an important part of the tour.

The Opening Ceremony was held at the Jaigeer School, which was decorated nicely with colorful paper flowers. The Director General of IRFF-Bangladesh, Mr. Tetsuya Amano, gave welcome remarks. The Assistant Executive Director, Mr. Paul Byrne, introduced the IRFF vision to offer not only relief service, but also to discover true friendship through service activities. IRFF-Asia Field Coordinator, Mr. Katsumi Date, told the history of the IRFF primary school. Local representatives gave great thanks to IRFF not only for giving their children opportunities to study but also for their community's development. Finally as the chief guest, the District Chief Government Official (Upazila Nirbahi Officer) Mr. S. M. Nazrul Islam and the Chief Educational Official encouraged village residents to work together and to learn an "international viewpoint." He expressed his thanks to the American students for their volunteer work. The Chief Government Official and Mr. Byrne cut a red tape and inaugurated the service work.


The goal was to complete the construction of the 32 x 22 feet wide school building named Jaigeer Peace Center, making a brick road 175 feet long by four feet wide, and digging a 210-foot tube well for pure drinking water. While tour participants washed the wall and painted the door and windows of the old school building, local residents came to participate as volunteers. School children joined and worked joyfully with the foreign students.

When the underground fresh water came gushing out as a result of an ancient drilling method, the tour participants were very happy and washed their face and hands with cold water. All work was finished on time on July 17 at noon. The rapid completion of the work amazed the local people. They understood now that if a good schedule, leadership, dedication and unified efforts exist—any big task is possible to realize.

Extra-curricular activities


July 11: Enjoyed the morning village market; visited the National Monument of the Martyrs at Savar, built to celebrate Bengali independence; had a briefing about microcredit and yoga meditation from experts and Bangladesh Ambassadors for Peace members at the IRFF-Bangladesh office.

July 12: Visited the Peace Microcredit Office and goat-rearing programs run by IRFF-Bangladesh. The micro-credit and goat rearing families welcomed the American students in their humble tin houses and offered cows' milk and vegetable products.

July 13: Visited a village mosque and orphanage. The head of the mosque and orphanage explained the basics of Islam to the project participants. IRFF Service Tour Coordinator, Paul Byrne explained the objectives of this service tour, emphasizing the importance of unity between Muslims and Christians through such service. Village girls presented scarves to the American female students so they could attend the service in the sacred mosque appropriately covered.

July 14: Attended a distribution ceremony for 20 poor women receiving microcredit loans and an awards ceremony to the successful participants. Special awards were given for two microfinance participants and one goat-rearing member for their remarkable success. Fifteen goats had been raised from one "seed goat" provided by the IRFF project, giving her a better and more hopeful life. The students were deeply impressed by the successful income-generating activities of the microcredit program. Professor Muhammad Yunus, the innovator of microcredit loans for millions of rural women in Bangladesh, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 13, 2006. Since then, his method of microcredit for the 'poorest of the poor' at the grassroots level has been widely acclaimed and replicated in many countries across the world to empower women and alleviate poverty.

July 15: Visited Women's Federation for World Peace microcredit project and literacy school for impoverished children at Moghbazar in Dhaka city. The children performed traditional songs and dances. Service tour members visited the blighted area and learned how miserable their life situation was. The WFWP president and staff served them a welcome dinner.

July 16: Took a river cruise in the afternoon, joined by some school children, which made the scenery even more enjoyable.

July 17: Attended an exciting traditional snake show of different kinds of cobras, together with village children. IRFF-International offered scholarships to ten students at the IRFF primary school to continue on to high school. Scholarships will cover tuition fees, uniforms, shoes, books and all needed supplies. The IRFF school student team challenged the Service Tour team the last day at the community field, and the local villagers gathered to cheer. The Service Tour team won. A beautiful soccer ball was presented to the captain of the school student team in appreciation for their friendly match.

Final activities

The closing ceremony took place at the newly-completed Jaigeer Peace Center. The local school children, who usually appeared so cheerful, came to say good bye to their new foreign friends; but on this occasion they seemed a little gloomy as they offered garlands made from shapla, the Bangladesh national flower (water lily). The American girls enjoyed wearing elegant Bangladeshi saris and put the reddish ornamental dye called henna on their hands.

At the Department of World Religions in Dhaka University (the only world religions department in all the universities in the Muslim world) Professor Eva Sadia Saad welcomed the students and IRFF staff. Mr. Amano introduced the principles and philosophy behind the movement and its work. The Bangladesh students responded with interest and asked how they could be involved. Dr. Dalem Barman, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Dhaka University, graciously encouraged the American students in their role as Student Ambassadors for Peace.

The UPF-Bangladesh staff welcomed the American students at Hotel Abakash. Dr. Shamsher Ali, UPF-Bangladesh Chairman and Chancellor of Southeast University, mentioned the significance of a culture of peace through service. Each of the American students shared their experiences in Bangladesh and enjoyed talking with Ambassadors for Peace. American students enjoyed sightseeing at the resort town Cox's Bazar, known for having the longest sandy sea beach in the world, located on the Bay of Bengal, with miles of golden sands, towering cliffs, surfing waves, colorful pagodas, old temples, tribes, and Safari Park. The final two days were spent sightseeing in Dhaka city and shopping before their long flight home.

Before leaving, participant Rachel Sommer said, "Going home, I feel like I can be truly grateful for what I have, without the guilt or pity for those who lack the comfort...of my life, that kept me from being actually grateful before. This is because I am going to do something with what I have."

The humidity in the air was stifling, as the bricks were passed from hand to hand, down the line of volunteers to their destination – the brand new wall of the Jaigeer Peace Center, a multi-purpose building attached to the Jaigeer School in the Manikganj District of Bangladesh. The hands that the bricks passed through belonged to a startling array of people – American, Japanese, Nepalese and, of course, Bangladeshi. Some of the hands were tough and weathered from years of hard work.

Some were gloved to protect hands unaccustomed to handling the coarse bricks. Others were the small hands of children. Sweat dripped from each of them, as Bangladesh's summer weather lived up to its brutal reputation and tested the volunteers with its heat and humidity. But the hands did not falter, as they worked in unison to move a mountain of bricks and piece by piece, create a structure dedicated to peace and empowerment, where days before had been only an empty lot.

These hands belonged to the participants and volunteers of the 2007 Discover True Friendship Service Tour, held in the village of Jaigeer, located 30 km outside Bangladesh's capital city of Dhaka. This year's Service Tour brought participants from all over the United States together with volunteers from Bangladesh, Nepal and Japan in a service learning project that was centered on the Jaigeer School, which serves local students in grades one through five.

The mission was to build an addition to the school, in order to allow the school to serve a greater number of students. The building would also, however, be used for adult education classes, business training for microfinance program participants, character education workshops, community meetings, and as a health care clinic. It would serve the community in a myriad of ways, and be a symbol of friendship and cooperation between the people of Jaigeer and their brothers and sisters from across the globe.

The Discover True Friendship Service Tour, as its name might suggest, has multiple components and purposes to it. The main purpose of the Service Tour is to serve a community in need, which we did this year by building the addition to the Jaigeer School, installing a water pump, and laying a path from the school to the main road. For six intense days, the participants of the Service Tour, who gave up their summers to come to Jaigeer, worked side by side with local volunteers (and dozens of the students of the Jaigeer School) to accomplish these tasks.

The Peace Center – a simple structure – was constructed of bricks, with a sheet metal roof. The Peace Road, connecting the school to the main road to make it accessible during the rains, was also constructed of bricks, laid in sand, while the tube well was sunk 210 feet into the ground to bring fresh drinking water to the school and local community. A brick wall was also built around the pump to protect it and provide privacy to those who might use it to wash.

Although few had any sort of prior construction experience, the Service Tour participants worked hard without complaint, doing all that was asked of them on a variety of tasks. In assembly lines, they moved enormous piles of earth, sand and brick to bring them to where they were needed.

They helped to build and then plaster the walls of the school, as well as to put the roof on. They scraped the entire inside and outside of the existing building of the Jaigeer School to remove old paint and mold, then painted all of the doors and windows. They laid the bricks for the path to the road and helped in the grueling process of driving the pipes for the well deep into the ground.

It was inspiring to watch as each participant pushed themselves to serve as best they could even in difficult circumstances, all the while, having fun with each other and the countless young students who offered their help.

Through their work and their motivation, a great deal was able to be accomplished in a short time, and although the finishing details of the school were left for the professional builders, the group left with a feeling that they had contributed in a substantial and significant way to the Jaigeer Community.

After the work was finished, the Service Tour participants went on a tour of Bangladesh. They traveled around the city of Dhaka and then took a trip to Cox's Bazar, the world's longest continuous sand beach (120 km), and the major tourist attraction of Bangladesh. They were rewarded for their hard work with three days at the beach, where, despite a bit of rainy weather, they enjoyed themselves and recuperated from the work.

Throughout their time in Bangladesh, the participants engaged in another major component of the Service Tour – learning. They learned not only about Bangladesh and its people and culture, but of the challenges it is facing as a developing country. They also met many of the amazing men and women who are finding solutions to those challenges and improving their country.

The group visited a mosque and was given an introduction to Islam, the predominant religion of Bangladesh. They also visited historic Buddhist temples. They were treated to cultural songs and performances of Bangladesh. They met with representatives from large organizations like UNICEF, and tiny organizations like SHUDHA (Support for Hungry Underprivileged Destitute Homeless and Aborigines), a school for street children that was literally started on a sidewalk.

They learned about microfinance and how it is allowing many Bangladeshis to improve their lives, then met with several families who were participating in IRFF's Microfinance Program. They had opportunities to talk with scientists, local politicians, professors and countless other people who were dedicating their lives to doing what they could to improve their country and its people.

As they visited these people and organizations, the participants began to understand Bangladesh and its situation better. They came to understand how important opportunity can be to people who have so little, and how blessed they themselves are to have so much.

The final and most important component of the Discover True Friendship Service Tour is the building of relationships and friendships between people who, on the surface, are vastly different from each other. Coming from America, our participants did not share the ethnicity, the language, the culture, or the religion of the Bangladeshi people that they met and worked with.

These differences are ones that often in our world keep people apart from each other and divide them. Yet, through their time and work in Bangladesh, the participants of the Service Tour were able to break down these barriers and establish true friendships with the people of their host country. Through shared experiences and a genuine desire to understand each other, bonds were created that crossed the divides of superficial differences and that gave everyone great hope for the possibility of a global family free from stereotypes, discrimination and xenophobia.

It is this experience of bonding with individuals that they initially thought to be so different from themselves, and of experiencing the commonality of all people that each participant will carry most deeply with them. They will remember the friendships they made, they way that they served, and the way that they were served, and will be influenced by that in the future.

They will remember all that they learned about Bangladesh and its people, and will make decisions in their life accordingly. They will remember those sweltering days in Jaigeer as well as the hands that passed the bricks to them and those that took the bricks from them. They will remember that they were part of something bigger than themselves and that the dream of all people working together and coexisting peacefully can indeed be a reality.

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