February was an eventful month, so I wanted to share a few things that I have been experiencing and reflecting on as the weeks went by.
I have the privilege to work with many dedicated people through MCC Bangladesh’s three regional offices in Mymensingh, Dhaka and Bogra. As the politically induced nationwide hartels (strikes) and transportation blockades continue, the uncertainty has brought with it many travel restrictions, limited our ability to plan meetings and trainings in advance, and the fear of us or our staff being caught in the erratic but daily violence. Government schools are also closed, so we often see our neighbourhood kids playing outside on our way home for lunch and after work. Although it is really nice to practice our Bangla with them, it is sad knowing that they have already been forced out of school for two months and counting, and this will probably have long term consequences for their development in the years to come. Yet, life has to continue so we are all taking calculated risks as we continue our work.
In February I worked together with our HIV coordinator to complete a mid-term evaluation of our HIV awareness project. The goal of this project is to increase awareness and knowledge of what HIV is, and how it is spread. This is accomplished through: (1) a peer educator training model where community participants share their new knowledge with their peers; (2) through training the staff of partner NGOs who then have the capacity to independently provide these trainings at the end of the project; (3) through engaging in community events held in schools and churches, and regional events like World AIDS Day.
It was a pleasure to work closely with our HIV coordinator this past month as we thoroughly discussed and analyzed what had been learned through implementing the HIV awareness project so far. As we had been approaching the mid-way milestone for the project, six months ago we created a short survey that focused on the changed behaviour related to the project participants’ openness to discuss HIV with their family and friends, and their willingness to care for those with HIV. As we worked with those on the field that collected the surveys, we witnessed that the process of change can be messy and this is often accompanied with confusion, resistance, and questioning. However, through this we were able to improve our tools for monitoring and evaluation, and this resulted in a better analysis for our project.
After three days of data entry and analysis, we were now in a position to compare these results with the initial baseline survey completed before the project was implemented. Through the hard work of many people working together (like our field staff that interviewed a sample of over 400 people), we were able to easily write a report that presented the current progress of the HIV awareness project. More importantly, we were able to evaluate our project and learn that despite many areas of improvement being identified, our peer educator model for spreading knowledge and awareness of HIV has been effective. We have now been able to share this positive information with those on the field (like those who implemented the survey) to affirm the work they have been doing so far and to encourage them to continually improve this project.
For my regular day to day work, I have continued with the health visits of the MCC staff and women employed by handicraft enterprises connected to MCC. Although it sometimes seems like this is small work, as I’ve sat with people to discuss their medical issues and review their prescriptions, over the past seven months we have seen positive change. For example, through basic screening, we have been able to identify several people with high blood sugar levels which put them at high risk for diabetes. These people were connected with local doctors and a diabetes clinic to help improve their health through special diet regimens, medications, and exercise routines. Many people also struggle with high blood pressure, so through assessing their vital signs we have been able to monitor when it is too high for their current medications and encourage them to see their doctor.
In March Nishant and I will be traveling to India for a research and learning tour, the MCC Asia regional retreat, and also for a vacation to see some of Nishant’s extended family. In preparation for this trip I thought I would start reading a book on Mother Teresa and her work with the poor in India called Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service. Many aspects of the book have resonated with me and challenged me in what I am doing here in Bangladesh. One phrase that was continually heard around the community of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity while working was “small things with great love”.
In the book there is a short story shared by a volunteer, about a very small infant that was close to death because of his poor ability to feed and grow. The volunteer reflected:
I learned a great deal from this small infant. First, it takes much more time and concentration to do small things with love. Who would have thought it could take two hours to feed a child as tiny as he? Actually many of the children there needed great love and patience at feeding time. Mother Teresa used to say, “There is nothing small to God, once you give it to God, it is infinite.”
(Mary Poplin, Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa taught me about Meaningful Work and Service, 71).
As I thought more about this I was encouraged in the small work that I do through the health visits. I am challenged to do the small things with great love as I continue to interact with many different people.
Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth-century monk that integrated spirituality with his mundane work in the kitchen of his monastery. In a book of his teachings compiled after his death called The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence insightfully states that,
We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often fail in our endeavours, but that at last we shall gain a habit, which will naturally produce its acts in us, without our care, and to our exceeding great delight.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God: The Wisdom and Teachings of Brother Lawrence, 29).
May we all be encouraged in our small work, that as we do this work with great love to others, we reflect the love and compassion that Jesus himself shows.
PLEASE BE PRAYING THAT:
1. There will be a quick end to the senseless political violence, and that people would show small acts of kindness with great love towards each other instead
2. We are safe as we still have to travel around Bangladesh, and as we travel to India
3. Erin stays healthy and Baby Das continues to develop healthily
Erin (and Nishant)
Check out the full album at: February 2015