My Trip to Bangladesh and India

September 30 through October 14, 2004

By Grant Vogel

Through a flyer in our church bulletin, I heard about the Discovery Tour to India and Bangladesh being offered by the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). I signed up to join them to see and learn about the work being done there. This was a two-week tour from Sept. 30 to Oct. 14, 2004.

Our group was small, only six people. Bob Laarman is a CRWRC representative. Albert Hamstra is a missionary who now works in Grand Rapids, after working in Asia for eight years. There were three others from the Michigan area and myself from California.
The office staff and most of our group. Grant in the center.

Being a member of the CRC, when I talk about the project I may say ďweĒ or ďtheyĒ when Iím talking about the CRWRC. We do not have an office in India, but we do have a representative there, Shanti Jost, as we work with other relief organizations in India. On Thursday, Sept. 30, as the others of the group left from Grand Rapids to Tokyo, I left from Los Angeles, a 11-hour flight from LA to Tokyo. From Tokyo we were together most of the rest of the tour. After a three hour layover in Tokyo we flew to Bangkok, a 7-hour flight. We got to Bangkok about midnight. Because of crossing ten time zones and the international date line, it was about two a.m. Saturday by the time we got to our hotel.

After sleeping about 5 or 6 hours we had breakfast at the hotel. There was a Buddhist temple complex about three blocks from the hotel. We walked over there and saw quite a few of the buildings, with high steeples, some painted red and some covered with gold leaf.
A Buddhist temple complex in Bangkok
Back to the hotel for lunch, and then we went to a market. There were 2000 stalls there, people selling most everything, and wall to wall people. I expect at least 20,000, perhaps more. After about three tiring hours, back to the hotel and about 8 p.m. off to the airport to fly to Calcutta. Got there in the early morning, got to bed about 4 a.m. About noon we drove out about thirty miles to a village and visited with Rev. Halder, a Baptist minister, He told us all about the missionary work he is doing and the work he is doing with children.

We visited a place where they were working with children, about 50 of them. There is also a doctor and others that work with him. They seem to be doing a lot of good work and we support his work. We had lunch with them. Every meal includes rice. Rice is the main crop in that area. The next day, the only full day in Calcutta, we did some sightseeing. We visited where Mother Theresa lived, in a large building. This is a Catholic office building. Then we visited the Mother Theresa orphanage. There were hundreds of children. All that we saw looked healthy. We did not see the area for handicapped children.

The next morning we met with the leaders of a large organization in India that does a lot of relief work, They are the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Commission of Relief. This group was organized by many churches about thirty years ago when there was a bad flood. And this is a group that we support. They have many projects, medical, nutrition, education etc. They have 261 literacy centers, One project is agriculture aid. Now with high-yield rice seeds, the rice crop has doubled. We also had lunch here. It rained every day and we visited s large St. Paulís cathedral, 144 years old. It had beautiful stained glass windows.

The next day was travel day, from Calcutta by air to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Traffic in Dhaka is terrible. It is a city of about 11 million I think, and growing about a million a year. There are two million rickshaws registered in Dhaka. I think I saw all of them on the streets.
A few of the two million rickshaws in Dhaka streets.
And hundreds of mini taxis, plus cars, buses and trucks, all on the street at the same time. On a two lane street, each way there will be at least three lanes of vehicles, no one staying in one lane, cutting in and out, drivers with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn. You should expect to take an hour or more to get anyplace in town.

In Dhaka we stayed at the Baptist missionary guest house, a four-story building. It was pretty good. I had a room by myself, shared a bathroom with another couple. The bathroom was between the two bedrooms. We were on the third floor. Looking out of the window was an area that was still flooded.
This was taken from the window where we stayed in Dhaka.
The water had gone down some but there was still flooding. There were small shacks in the water where people lived. We had dinner there and then went shopping in a nice store. Again, traffic stop and go and the noise of horns.

The next morning after breakfast we went to the CRWRC office, met with the staff, and they told us about some of the projects in the area. This was a very nice office, several rooms with people working with computers, etc. Nancy Ten Broek and Kohima Daring seemed to be in charge. Nancy had been working in this area for about 18 years. Kohima is from the Philippines. I donít know how long she has been working here, but she knows what is going on and I think supervises several of the projects with Nancy. To me this seemed like an unnecessarily large office and staff, but so far I hadnít heard about all the many projects the CRWRC is working on (as well as helping and supporting projects of other churches and relief groups).

The next several days we visited the slums and the poor areas where we are helping so many people in so many ways. In one slum area where hundreds of people live, there are many small homes, about ten by eight feet and a loft where I guess they sleep. One place we visited where they help children, they weigh each of them once a month and keep records on each one. Many are malnourished.
A child is being weighed to check his progress.
I saw a chart on one child that had been in the danger zone, and had improved a lot with vitamins and nutrition in about four months. But this child was still not quite up to normal.

In this slum area they have many groups of about twenty women, each with a resident leader who was trained to help the others in the group. They teach nutrition, sanitation, and other things. Each group is quite well organized; besides the leader, they have a secretary, a treasurer, etc. Most of the groups are trying to earn money so that some can start a small business. Some are learning to sew.
This is Grant with one of many groups being taught skills that can improve their lives.
After learning to sew they could make clothes and sell them. One lady said she had been trained and now is a midwife. Many are illiterate and never had any education. We have a nine-month program and at the end of nine months they can read and write to the third-grade level. This gives them some pride and they encourage their children to get an education. Also once they can read and write, they can learn other skills. One program is a computer class, a six-month course. Then they can often get a job.

I think there are about 40 projects in this area, all helping people improve their lives and improving their health. They hope to get out of the slum to a better life. All of this is well organized. They train people to take over. Many groups train a leader in each group, keeping a daily record of each program, and all of this is reported to our leaders, Nancy and Kohima, in our office. Now I see why they need such a large office and staff.
This is a nutrition class.

One day we visited an institution which helps handicapped people with medicine and therapy. Many of them were children. Also there were quite a few men and women with spinal injury, partly paralyzed. This was mostly caused by carrying heavy loads on their head. If they get therapy soon after their injury most of them can go back to work. This work was started by Valary Taylor, from England. She is to Bangladesh what Mother Theresa is to India.

We also visited a Bible college, a nondenominational school. Rev. Jeff Bos, a CRC minister, teaches there. He also works with the CRWRC. Jeff and his wife invited us to their apartment one evening for dinner. It was very nice. They have a boy about a year and a half old. They have been in Bangladesh about two years I think.

Then we spent about three days in a village area about 250 miles north of Dhaka. We stayed in a Lutheran mission guest house. And here in this village we also have many projects similar to the work they are doing in Dhaka. We visited several of the projects. We have about 40 different projects in this area. The people here are poor, living in a poor area, but not in slum conditions like we saw in Dhaka.

The next day we flew back to Dhaka. We got there about 3 p.m. and did some shopping and went to a nice restaurant for dinner. This being our last day in Bangladesh, the group got together and talked about their experiences, good and bad. It has been tiring, but all were glad that they had come on the trip, and were pleased with all the things being done to help so many people in so many different ways.

The next day, Tuesday, we traveled from Dhaka to Bangkok. We started out about ten a.m. for the airport, as our plane was to leave about 1 p.m. We started early because of the heavy traffic. We got to the airport in good time, and went though immigration and we were off to Bangkok. In Bangkok we stayed at the Bangkok Christian guest house. It is quite new and very nice, like a nice hotel. We had a good meal on the plane, so no one wanted to go out for dinner. So we went for a walk about two blocks to a large McDonalds, and had some dessert. (This was the only McDonalds that we saw on the tour!)

The next day was free to visit sites in the beautiful city of Bangkok, Thailand. That evening we visited another market for a while, went back to the hotel, retired early as we had to be ready to leave for the airport at three-thirty a.m. to leave Bangkok and start for home. We left Bangkok October 14 at 6 a.m., and got to Los Angeles, by way of Tokyo, at 9 a.m. October 14. Three hours later, by the clock. But actually it was about 20 hours.

This was a much greater project than I had dreamt of or imagined. And itís certainly well organized. They are working with over four thousand people--about three thousand adults, 6oo adolescents and 400 children. This was a tiring but a very interesting trip and Iím sure glad that I went.