A Tale of Two Cultures


So here’s the Question

What if you grew up in a country were your chances of getting a good education was next to impossible? What would you do if the city you lived in was considered one of the worst in the world? You’re poor! You’re opportunities are limited! What would you do? Give up! Or would you fight, work hard and try to achieve your dreams? The world today is filled with corruption and little hope. But there is a “Ria” of hope, she working towards that impossible dream. But she can’t do it without our help. This is an opportunity to sow into someone’s life and truly make a difference. But it doesn’t stop there. See not only did Ken step up to the plate and is helping raise funds for Ria, but he and his family are having her live with them. This isn’t an easy task since she will be leaving everything she knows behind. Her family, her home, everything. I understand this because I did the same. It took the help of many so I could get here. Don’t let this be a time of turning a blind eye. What I do know is this, it can’t be done without help. It will only be because of your kindness that she will be able to change her life.  Help Ken help her by bringing a “ray” hope into Ria’s life. Here is her Story.

A Tale of Two Cultures

Bangladesh – can be your worst nightmare

Ken & RiaI spent about 8 years in total living and working in Bangladesh – 6 of them full time. My family and I fell in love with the Asian country, 7th largest in the world in terms of population size but 94th largest in geographical land size, almost instantly. Heavily overcrowded, this bustling land of people, livestock, work, sweat and tears – many tears – is your worst nightmare for some. For us, it was a fascinating place and the generosity of a people who have so little meant that they rapidly became friends we loved very much.

Children of LAMB

We spent about 6 years working for an NGO called LAMB, my wife as the head of the hospital rehab department and I as O level coördinator for the school. The NGO provides health care for the impoverished – particularly women and children. It has saved countless thousands of live especially young mothers and newborn babies. The school was set up to provide education to the children of LAMB staff though it has grown from the one room and a store cupboard, that once it was, to being a large building now giving education not just to staff children but others from the surrounding villages too. It was there that I met Ria.

The vital work of LAMB hospitals

Who is Ria?

??????????????????????Ria Mollick is one of our ‘LAMB babies’ –children who were born, and grown up living, at LAMB. Her parents have worked there for years and her mother runs the nursing department which now trains student nurses. It’s a vital work and LAMB hospital is well known for the loving care and excellent quality of service its nurses provide to millions of impoverished Bangladeshis. Ria grew up living in the NGO complex and received her education up to O level (leaving aged 16) – in fact, I taught her for many of her O levels!

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Dhaka voted one of the worst cities in the world

After that, Ria moved down to Dhaka – repeatedly voted one of the very worst cities in the world – to complete her A levels in preparation for taking her degree. She did so alone without family and even had to teach herself part of her course when a teacher left part way through and wasn’t replaced. She’s done a remarkable job but the cost has been high for her parents financially. It quickly became clear that taking a degree in Bangladesh was going to be dangerous and very expensive. As we’ve seen so many times in the past with the parents of other students, it was likely that Ria’s parents would have to give up working at LAMB and move to Dhaka to support her and keep her safe. Every time parents leave, they take years of experience, knowledge and love with them and the work at the NGO suffers.

Bangladesh is rife with corruption

At this point her parents came to our family and asked if we could help. The dream was that Ria might even be able to study outside of Bangladesh – in fact most of our students have gone on to take degrees abroad (usually with parents taking out horrendous loans to pay for it) because the degree system in Bangladesh is rife with corruption and outside of the country is worth little. Added to that the dangerous political instability in the country where youths are encouraged to actively get involved in politics and violent demonstrations. Hardly a week goes by without yet another university student being killed in crossfire as rival political groups clash. My wife and I decided we had to help.

Please help bring Ria to the UK

Sonali blurb front coverI produced a photo-memoir E-book Sonali, and gave all the profits from its sale to raise money to bring Ria to the UK. At the same time, Ria applied for a degree at our local university and was accepted unconditionally thanks to her remarkable achievements with O and A levels under difficult conditions. I also set up a charity fundraising page at GoFundMe. Between us all, the money we need to raise for Ria’s first year fees has been raised which allows her to accept a place at the University of Lancaster and be granted permission to apply for the student visa.

So what happens when she reaches England

So Ria is coming to live with us as our daughter and take a degree in Business Studies – but this isn’t without issues.

First we have still to find another 8,000 GBP ‘on loan’ for a period of time as she has to prove ‘accommodation costs’ even though she is living with us for free. How we will manage this I have no idea!

Second, the university keeps moving where her course will take place! It’s gone from being literally just down the road to many miles away. Currently it looks like she will have to commute each day for two hours at a time there and back by train to take her course. While she can work on the train, it’s a long journey for a girl barely used to anything other than a rural village in Bangladesh! Moreover it adds about 400 GBP per month on to the cost of looking after her.

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Then there’s adjusting to the British weather. As I write this cold, miserable rain is pelting down outside and I’m wearing a jumper to keep warm. Ria, in Bangladesh still, is sweltering under 40 degree heat with a humidity which is rising and will reach the point of dangerous come August when the monsoon rains (hopefully) come to break the spell and provide a little relief. The British weather will be a shock…

She’ll have to cope with food which will taste bland compared to the spicy-rich curries of Asia and learn to stomach the famous British stodge of Shepherd’s Pie and Steak pies.

She’ll have to cope too with the fast pace of life here and the stress which comes with that. Life is considerably slower in Bangladesh.

But, she’ll also be able to travel and study in safety with no fear of being hurt in political action or kidnapped by an amorous boy in her class (all too common in Bangladesh). She’ll enjoy clean roads, trains, restaurants and a home free of ants, mosquitoes and cockroaches.

Despite these good things, the hardest part of life here for Ria will be having her family living so far away from her. There will be Skype of course but otherwise, she’s on her own again. It’s for this reason that, at least for the first year, she’ll be living with us rather than living in accommodation in Lancaster so that she has ‘family’ around her, people she can talk in Bangla with, enjoy Bengali food with and at least give her that connection to LAMB which – I hope and pray – will mean she has a rewarding time here and can return to Bangladesh with a Business degree she can use to help change the country for the better. In the end, that’s why my family went out to Bangladesh in the first place, why Ria’s parents work at LAMB and why we’ve supported Ria’s dream to make a difference.

How you can help?

We’re still raising money for Ria – there are another two years of fees to pay yet! Please free to donate to the GoFundMe site – http://www.gofundme.com/help-ria  – (you will receive a free ‘special’ version of Sonali to say thank you) or buy either the E-book or physical softcover version of Sonali – http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/5298219-sonali . For more information about Sonali or Ria, check out my blog for writers here – http://writeoutloudblog.com/ – or my blog about Bangladesh here – http://kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com/

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