Life in the Slums of Bangladesh

In February, I had the opportunity to travel with World Vision to the slums of Dhaka and the rural community of Mymensingh. My heart has always been broken for Africa and the people of that continent, and like a mother expecting her second child, I almost wondered how I'd have room to love people from another country just as much as I loved those I met in Uganda and Zambia. Last week I was able to share with a group of passionate volunteers about the work that World Vision is doing in Bangladesh. I have posted a little about that trip, but I wanted to share with you about what was on my heart that day that I shared. Like all stories, it's a woven tapestry of threads that are interconnected but it ends with the same common theme. 

Bangladesh tapestry

If you were to ask me about my trip to Bangladesh, this is what I would share.

cracks in dock

Life in the Slums of Bangladesh

I’ve had the opportunity to travel with World Vision to several countries but that didn’t mean I was prepared for what I would experience when I traveled to Bangladesh.  I traveled with a group of World Vision Child Ambassadors, a team we started calling the Bangladesh 12.  We were from all over the United States, but what brings us together is our love and passion to change the lives of children living in extreme poverty. We know this change is possible with the help of organizations like World Vision through their community-based child sponsorship model.

We spent weeks preparing as a team of travelers and one of the first things we learned during our preparations is that there were children that were lost. You may think Rachel, of course there are that’s why World Vision is there and working!  But here’s the part where God steps in.

As the staff prepares for our trip, they know this may be the only opportunity Child Ambassadors might have to meet their sponsored children in person, so a list of children from the areas we are visiting is gathered with the intention of connecting Child Ambassadors with sponsored children they can meet and develop a relationship with.

It was during this time that the trip planner realized that these children in Bangladesh weren’t showing up in the system. He knew they were there, but a computer glitch and a transfer from the Australian World Vision office to the US office had these kids falling through the cracks and coming up missing. 2000 children in the system were found! Our group started calling these the 2000 lost now found and we were grateful that these children were now being recognized in the system available for sponsorship.

child by grass hut in uganda

I didn’t plan on sponsoring another child on this trip. I’d already met one of my sponsored children in Uganda a few years prior and it was everything I had hoped for and more. Financially it wasn't a good time to add one more expense to our budget. But one of those lost now found kids showed up in my inbox one day with a plea. The family was expecting us, they were told we were coming and how incredibly great would it be to connect this family with their sponsor in person.

slums of bangladesh

Rabeya was hand-picked by one of the World Vision staff members along with a list of about 10 other “most vulnerable” children. I saw the picture of her in her grandfather's arms, read her story and didn’t even hesitate to say yes. She was expecting us.

The morning we planned on visiting Rabeya we met in the World Vision office where one of the staff members who knew that ADP well informed our group that recently Rabeya lost her cousin in a drowning accident. Her cousin was more like a sister to her and they were being raised together by her grandparents after her mother passed away during childbirth and her father abandoned her and her twin brother.

Daycare isn’t a thing and young children are left alone often in Bangladesh if work becomes available for their caregivers and the slum area Rabeya lives is kind of unique. I kept asking question after question of the staff member and he kept trying to describe it but he always ended his thoughts with “you will see.”

slums of bangladesh

I grew up in landlocked Indiana but for the past 20 years, I’ve called Seattle home. I’ve learned that floating houses aren’t only in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, you can also find them in the slums of Bangladesh. A lot less fancy but homes for these families nonetheless.

After visiting a family in a “normal” slum you’ve probably seen depicted in the movies, we started walking to a special kind of slum. A slum even the World Vision staff member couldn’t properly describe to me earlier and he’s been there a thousand times.

slums of bangladesh

Dirt paths covered in trash turned to boards over water and rooms built on stilts were hovering above marshy trash and sewage-filled waters sometimes 8 feet deep. Boards were cracked, rotted and missing and barefoot toddlers were wandering these docks by themselves. 

I was starting to see. 

I was piecing together how this child drowned and how dire this situation is for the children growing up in this area. 

Children were literally slipping through the cracks.

One of the facts that haunts me is that there are about 1500 children that are trafficked every day into India. The family assumed this was what happened with this toddler, but 8 hours later the family found the body of the child drowned.

child sponsorship

I have a child development degree from Purdue University. I have 3 kids of my own and countless nieces and nephews. I’m pretty darn good with kids and I’ve been told that I give some pretty good gifts. But not this time. You see, I was starting to see just like that World Vision staffer told me. I handed a ball decorated with the earth on it to Rabeya’s twin brother and then panic set in. All around us at his home was water. There wasn’t a single patch of grass and not much solid ground that any child could play and be a kid.

I remember when my kids were small teaching them what to do if a ball they were playing with rolled into the street. But a ball, one of the few possessions this child has to call his own, rolling into the water? What would he do?

I still have no words. And man, that day, I did see. But it doesn’t mean I understand.

hugging a sponsored child in bangladesh

I left though having hope in knowing that because Rabeya is in the sponsorship program through World Vision that people are watching over her and her brother to make sure they won’t be slipping through the cracks. 

Want to show God's love to a child in need? Find a child available for sponsorship

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