Friday, May 31, 2013

Our dream

The Marist Brothers arrived to Bangladesh 6 years ago. It was a new country for us. It has been necessary to start everything from scratch, including learning Bengali language, networking, meeting people, letting us know, getting used to the climate, to the food, to the idiosyncrasy of the wonderful people of this country, the most densely populated in the world.

During these first years we have been collaborating with other institutions (in Pirgacha, Dinajpur, Srimongol and Mymensingh), learning about the Bangladeshi educational system, studying the many possibilities and proposals that have been offered to us.

In the range of possibilities to work, we have finally chosen one: to provide education to the children of the workers in the tea plantations.

Why this choice? The criteria were as follows:

- Choosing a particularly needy population group
- Going there where others could not or did not want to go
- The workers in the tea plantations in Bangladesh are possibly the most disadvantaged social group in the country. The conditions in which they live and work border on what we might call modern slavery; their conditions are much tougher than those of employees of the textile workshops, sadly famous after the incidents at Savar (Dhaka), Pope Francis did not hesitate to describe it as slavery and has mobilized the sensitivity of much of Western societies.

The project we want to carry out consists of a secondary school for the children of tea plantations workers, and boarding house for boys and girls.

For this purpose we have located a site in a small town called Moulovibazar, in the region of Sylhet, just adjacent to tea plantations. We must buy the land and then build the first stage, consisting of a school (ten classrooms, two floors) and boarding school for girls (capacity 100 people, two floors). The rest of the project, which would include the boarding school for boys and the expansion of the school, will come in a second phase in the medium term.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Les miserables

The boys you can see in the picture are tea-workers’ children in Sreemongol area. Choose one of them and I will tell you that his mother works nine hours a day picking up tea leaves (it has to be done one by one), standing in the middle of the plantation by hot or cold weather, often under a heavy rain. She gets 30 taka a day for that (less than half a US dollar). His father gets the same salary working in the tea factory or in the fields. They live in miniscule one-room houses where 6, 8 or 10 persons crowd together, with sometimes cattle with them. Of course the house doesn’t belong to them. The children in the picture have been taken away from the tea gardens by catholic missionaries who try to give them education, the only thing that can get them out of the semi slavery situation they are living in. We have been called to go there and do something for them. We will try.


The Marist Brothers want to do something to bring this people out of their plight

Beautiful Tea plants

Last week I visited along with other people the tea plantations that the Finlay Company owns at Srimongol, northeast of Bangladesh. There I have seen that in the 21st century slavery (or semi-slavery) still exists in the world. Workers in the tea plantations, working 8 hours a day, receive a salary of 48 takas (less than 50 cents of Euro a day). They live in houses (houses?) belonging to the company. They have the right to live in these houses while they work on the plantations, otherwise they are expelled. It is allowed only one person per family to work in the plantations, implying that the 48 takas are the daily family wage, not the person wage. We can easily understand that it is impossible to save any money, so that they cannot leave and go to another place; people in the tea gardens stay chained to the Company for ever. If a worker dies, another member of the family may take place; there have been cases of children who were studying at secondary school, for whom a better future seemed to be open, which have had to drop out of school because their father or mother died and had to replace them on the plantation, else the family would be expelled.
All I say of Finlay Company applies for all other companies having tea plantations in Bangladesh. It is a shame; I'm outraged. The Marist Brothers want to do something to bring this people out of their plight and are going to build a secondary school for their sons and daughters. It will be a long, difficult and expensive process, but we will try. They are the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh and it is worth it, with the help of God.

Tea Gardens in Bangladesh, a case of modern slavery

“Their poor housing conditions, low wages, long working hours, social discrimination, and de facto restriction on free movement deprive them of many basic human needs and rights that every human being must have for personal and societal progress. These conditions make sure that the children of tea workers can do nothing else but become tea workers. Deprived, exploited and alienated the tea workers live an inhumane life”