Believe it or not- Distressed children of Bangladesh: How can you help?

Dhaka | Monday| 21 November 2011 | 07 Agrahayan 1418 BS | 24 Zilhajj 1432 HIJRI
Daily Sun

Believe it or not
Distressed children of Bangladesh: How can you help?
Abdullah A Dewan
Abdullah A Dewan

Distressed children are everywhere in every country — an estimated one billion globally — and six million alone in Bangladesh. That’s why you see them every day wherever you go. Don’t many of us often turn our eyes away when we see them to escape from our qualms of conscience and moral callings to come to their rescue? I see these children everyday whenever I visit Bangladesh and meet people amongst us who work to save them from pains of hunger, disease, and the miseries of illiteracy.

Many of us are involved in some isolated way, helping some of these children in our locality back home. I have finally decided go one step further — join our friends Ruqsana Ahmed and Shafi Ahmed, among others, who are passionately involved in the rescue initiatives of these destitute and despairing children through their charity Distressed Children and Infants International (DCI).

On 15 October, Ruqsana and Shafi organised a fund raising dinner and discussions in Flint Michigan, attended by nearly 200 Bangladeshi professionals. The mayor of Flint and some local American doctors and their spouses also joined the event. Most notably, the fund raising festivity was festooned by the participation of Bangladesh celebrity movie star Bobita — designated as the goodwill ambassador of the DCI. Her speech highlighting her involvement with the DCI was highly motivating — to say the least.

Founded in 2003 by its current Executive Director Ehsan Hoque (MBBS, Ph.D), the DCI is a US registered nonprofit charitable organisation dedicated to the cause of underprivileged children worldwide.

The charity has been actively working in Bangladesh since 2005 with the mission to provide impoverished children with education, basic needs and health care, while enlightening young Americans about the challenges these children face daily and their possible role. At the fund raising event, Dr Hoque, who himself is being diagnosed nearly blind, articulated why he has sacrificed his profession to found an organisation for the welfare of the distressed children.

Unlike many traditional NGOs operating in Bangladesh, the DCI is nearly 100 per cent volunteer based (except a few paid field workers) and funded 100 per cent from charitable donations. Because of its volunteer based operations, the DCI can devote 93 per cent of its funds for the welfare of distressed children with administrative, and fund raising costs accounting for mere a 5 and 2 per cent respectively.

The uniqueness of the DCI is that it is US based, and organised and directed by Bangladeshi Americans — physicians, engineers, university professors, businessmen, homemakers, and so on. Its brochure and website will show that many distinguished American doctors and university professors are also involved for the cause of distressed children globally. The current President of the DCI is Dr Brian DeBroff, a Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine.

With Yale University’s support, the DCI’s annual conference on Child Rights and Sight is held at the Yale campus. The 3rd conference was held on 10 September 2011 in which I was invited as a guest speaker. In the conference, the activities of the DCI were particularly accentuated by speakers from the Amnesty International, UNICEF, International Labour Organisation, Bangladesh’s permanent representative at the UN and many other important dignitaries.

Of the estimated one billion poverty-badgered children worldwide, 250 million are reportedly child labourers of which 22,000 die every year in work-related accidents. Many of these child workers have no access to education and are snarled in low-skilled, low-paid jobs — drifting deeper and deeper into broken health and an entrenched cycle of perpetual poverty trap — if they survive at all. Other glaring statistics include 30,000 children dying each day due to poverty, 1.4 million dying every year from unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation and 2.2 million dying because of lack of immunisation.

According to a 2008 UNICEF report, there are nearly six million children between the ages of 5 and 15 in Bangladesh who are forced to work just to survive. Most of them virtually have no access to medical care and schooling. Nearly 450,000 children are living on the streets being exposed to physical and sexual abuse. Among them, girls in particular are prey for gangs who run street brothels. Reports of trafficking and commercial exploitation of children are not startling news to anyone anymore in Bangladesh. The problem is getting worse day by day and thus warrants attention and help from all quarters.
The flagship programme of the DCI is its Sun Child Sponsorship (SCH) initiatives. For just $15 a month, one can make a world of difference — giving hope from despair and life from death to a deprived child. Bangladeshi families living in Michigan have sponsored about 75 children so far and counting. Some of the notable accomplishments of the SCH programmes are:

-Blindness Prevention Pro-gramme: Emphasises preventative measures and education along with vision screening and eye surgery camps. So far 6822 children have received eye care, 255 received cataract surgeries and 100 primary ophthalmologists were trained in pediatric cataract surgery.

-Health for Underprivileged Programme: Provides curative and preventive health care for residents of slum areas. So far 17500 Dhaka City residents are receiving this support and 250 pregnant mothers have received prenatal care.

-Orphan Support Progra-mme: Provides basic necessities such as food and shelter as well as education, healthcare, and training services to orphans.

-Disaster Relief and Rehabi-litation Programme: Rebuilt 30 Sidr-destroyed houses and one school, and provided relief support to 1500 villagers of Sidr victims. Some 500 victims of Cyclone Aila and 1000 victims of 2007 flood were given relief support under the programme.

At present, 228 families are receiving skill-training and financial support for income generating activities and 68 underprivileged women have already developed independence by being hired as the DCI tutors.

Some recent activities of the DCI also include building an orphanage in Muhammadpur, Dhaka which was opened last year and now is fully operational — serving 18 orphan girls. The DCI’s health clinics are providing free treatment services to the families of Mohammadpur and Kallayanpur slum areas. Safe Motherhood Day was also observed on 28 May by the DCI addressing the problem of high maternal mortality rate among the underprivileged. The DCI operates a programme to help the mothers of Kallayanpur and Muhammadpur slums to ensure healthy pregnancies and safe deliveries.

An eye screening and surgery camp was opened in the Kallayanpur slum on 3 June with the help of two ophthalmologists, Dr Ferdous Akhter and Dr Shahana Karim of BIRDEM, Dhaka. On 6 June this year, the DCI’s collaboration with Diabetic Association of Bangladesh was renewed and expanded to include Childhood Blindness Preven-tion Programme through-out Bangladesh.
We cannot expect the government to do everything for everyone. The fortunate amongst us may get involved to work as volunteers, donors or sponsors of a child. So, please visit www.distressedchildren.org.

The mission of rescuing the distressed children from poverty and illiteracy, and providing medical care may seem “mission impossible”. But if we all get involved, in whatever small way possible, we can certainly brighten their future with hopes. Admittedly, I joined in this altruistic cause belatedly. However, I do not feel too bad for being late — better late than never.

The writer, formerly a Physicist and Nuclear Engineer, is a Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University.
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