Monday, March 3, 2008
To Have Nothing and Lose it All
"It is a kingly act to assist the fallen." - Mother Teresa
"The forgotten in Bangladesh, never mind the world, those people are the worst affected by this disaster. And the help that will come for the survivors of this disaster is important, but media does something to people which is a blessing and a curse, the media shows the "exciting" stories of the suffering and loss of poor in Southern Bangladesh. The media does not show the boring stories of children wasting away with no rice to eat, the stories of people who have to find a new piece of plastic to use for a house, the stories of the forgotten people in Bangladesh."
This quote is from a post I made following the devastation as cyclone Sidr pummelled the coast of Bangladesh. Since that time, the media attention and awareness of the devastation have waned, but for the people with nothing, the people promised everything and left with nothing, the upcoming reality is grim. I had the fortunate opportunity, along with my parents, to visit MCC Bangladesh's Sidr reconstruction projects in southern Bangladesh. This story will outline the situation we witnessed in the Sherankhola district of Bangladesh.
The home that used to stand on this foundation is gone. Some members of the family who used to live here were probably victims of the storm. The few pieces of tin and straw that would have comprised this house are no more. For months after the storm victims of Sidr's awesome power were found littering the field behind this home. This is what it means to have nothing and lose it all. The images engrained in my memory from this visit to Ward 8 were of plastic huts for houses, boats poking out of the earthen fields far from any water, and people desperately begging MCC to build them houses. People here lost everything in a brutal storm and they are waiting, hoping that someone will come through for them and provide a helping hand, a step up out of the pit.
Emergency relief and aid belongs to the world of politics. Promises are made, money is given, money is used well, money is wasted, promises are kept, promises are broken, and stuck square in the middle of this confusion are the victims. Those people with nothing, the people for whom this aid is destined are the puppets to be thrown around, tugging heartstrings but rarely receiving what they are promised. Millions of dollars have been pledged to rebuild houses destroyed by Sidr, plans are drawn up and districts allotted. The most devastated areas are given to government agencies, because politics is important, and governments need to project a good image. But governments are also beaurocratic black holes, where the money pledged must pass through so many barriers, checks and balances, that the desperately poor victims receive nothing. Such is the case in the Sidr affected areas. Those areas where the devastation was the greatest, are the areas left fending for themselves through the cold and possibly through the coming monsoons. Promised beautiful houses by foreign governments in gestures of goodwill, the people here are becoming cynical. Foreigners come, foreigners leave, promises are made, and they have no assurance that those promises will ever bear fruit. These are the people who need your help!
This is where I will bring MCC into the story. MCC made the decision to provide emergency shelter for as many victims of Sidr as possible. MCC had a plan, politics changed that plan, so MCC made a new plan. MCC made lists of families needing houses in one area, then were told to move to a new area. MCC quickly complied and with the help of dedicated staff (and Matt), MCC started building. Building emergency house I have learned is like running a machine. The right components, the motor, the axles, the drive trains, everything must be in place, and when that happens, presto you have MCC the house building machine. MCC carpenters were putting up over 40 houses per day! MCC's plan involved building 1250 houses, and those houses are now a reality. In less than three months, MCC Bangladesh has built 1250 emergency houses for families devastated by this storm. Driving down the paths in that area was like driving through an exhibition for MCC houses. Little tin MCC built houses on the horizon in every direction. I cannot imagine what this must have been like before any of these houses existed. MCC is building houses faster than any other organization or government I know of in Bangladesh, and this is where you can help!
The MCC Sidr project is a machine running out of gas. The Bangladesh government representatives in the area are taking notice, and MCC is being allowed to work in an area set aside for another group who have not built houses yet. The small tin houses built by MCC are what people in the Sidr affected areas desire as they start to rebuild their lives from scratch. One of the more amazing aspects of this whole operation is that MCC is building houses for less than half the cost of what the Bangladesh government thought it would cost. An MCC built house in the Sidr area costs approximately 20000 Taka or less than $300 per house. MCC is a well oiled machine, trying to go as far as it can on the financial gas it has. Now the reason I am mentioning all of this is in fact what you might think. I will not try to hide my hope that someone out there will not forget about the people here in Bangladesh who lost everything they had. I hope that for those of you who cannot help financially, you will at very least pray for, and think about the people who have been forgotten, like victims of these tragedies around the world.
If you are interested in helping, you can visit the MCC website, mcc.org, and contribute to the rebuilding of houses for Sidr affected victims in Bangladesh.