Humanitarian Aid Arrives By Fish

Abdul mends nets in the day, after waking early to tend to his fish. Good humanitarian aid works with people like Abdul, who sieze opportunities.
Abdul mends nets in the day, after waking early to tend to his fish. Good humanitarian aid works with people like Abdul, who seize opportunities.

Surely some of the excitement was just being able to hold the flopping carp for a moment. But the joy beaming across the face of a young fisherman was sincere. He and others had just pulled in their nets and revealed thousands of healthy fish, income for people who have struggled for so long. Once I learned the back-story behind this Bangladeshi fishing hole, and others like it, I was amazed to hear how it has come to be.

First, let me introduce you to Abdul. He lives in a Bangladesh farming community where small village businesses are set on stilts above rice paddies, and watermelons are piled high on the sidewalks. Here, it’s just as likely to travel by canoe as by car. Charming in its own way, but still incredibly poor.

Abdul has a large family; his wife and four of his girls were home when I visited. He was unable to support them on his meager income as a rickshaw driver. No matter if he worked eight hours a day – or 15 – he was still coming up short, and was not always able to provide them with enough food. No education for the girls. No savings. Not even a mindset of a future.

But about six years ago, Abdul was interested in World Concern‘s offer to begin a fish farming business. He began receiving – and repaying – loans for fish farm nets, feed and other supplies. And he got busy, making sure the fish had a healthy pond. He stuck to the plan. And it worked.

The fish grew, along with his confidence. He eventually was able to buy land for his family, and build a home. He makes and mends nets by hand. He saves at least $500 US every year, which is a tremendous amount of money in Bangladesh. In addition to the money, World Concern has walked with him, teaching him about fish farming and how to ethically run his small business.  Now, he is the driving force behind this fish pond, one of many ponds in the area now able to support families in significant ways.

That happy young fisherman I described at the beginning of this story is one of many who benefit from World Concern’s humanitarian work with Abdul and other entrepreneurs. Many men in the village now raise fish frys, providing the men with steady income. The wealth spreads. Good humanitarian aid works that way, in changing the lives of not only one person, but in working through that person to help others in the community.

Abdul is buying cows now, building wealth. Sitting in front of his home, with his family inside about ready to sit down for lunch, he grinned and told me he is blessed and grateful to have the chance to live a better life.

My initial impressions of Bangladesh.

A teenage fisherman holds his catch from a Bangladesh pond, a large carp that will mean income or a delicious dinner.
A teenage fisherman proudly holds his catch from a Bangladesh pond, a large carp that will mean income or a delicious dinner.
When the fishermen drag the nets into the shallows, the pond explodes with life. I'm surprised a flying fish didn't poke out my eye.
When the fishermen drag the nets into the shallows, the pond explodes with life. I'm surprised a flying fish didn't poke out my eye.

An American's Impression of Bangladesh

Men muscle 3-wheeled rickshaws through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The average income for a Bangladeshi: $1,500 a year.
Men muscle 3-wheeled rickshaws through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The average income for a Bangladeshi: $1,500 a year.

I arrived in Dhaka at the peak of the summertime, where my sweat-drenched shirt never dries in the near 100 degree heat, and the power seems to go out every few hours (like it did as I typed this  sentence).

During my first five minutes in Bangladesh, beggars approached us as we walked to our vehicle at the airport, then more beggars asked for our help as we drove on the streets. Crammed among the cars are 3-wheeled rickshaws driven by thin chauffeurs. If they’re not waiting for a customer, they’re standing on the pedals, straining against a load.

Other countries where I have documented World Concern’s humanitarian work face more significant problems with infrastructure. In Haiti, some roads in the city are in such disrepair, it is like they had never been leveled or paved. In fact, it was simply years of neglect – coupled with some storms.  Dhaka generally has nicely paved streets, and many homes and businesses have power, outside of the frequent blackouts. In Kenya, access to clean water seemed like a greater need than here, though I have not yet seen conditions in the poorest homes made of scrap wood and sheet metal.

This is not to say Bangladesh does not have great need. I can see it in the man without legs who instead walks with his hands. I see it in the older gentlemen crouched on the hot sidewalk, without eyes, who was hoping that somewhere in the blackness, people would provide him with coins for a bowl of rice. The average income here: $4 a day.

Outside the wall of a World Concern-sponsored school that was in session, I see the need in the children without shoes or uniforms, who play marbles in the dirt instead of learning how to read in a classroom. Like in many places where we work, schooling here is not guaranteed. It is usually only a privilege for the wealthy, or for those benefiting from an organization like ours. We give 5,000 children an opportunity they may not have otherwise had.

I was not able to find a guidebook about Bangladesh prior to my trip here to document programs. It is the least Western country I have visited, with no familiar stores or advertisements, and very little English on signs outside of on the primary thoroughfares. From what I’ve seen so far, I suspect there are very few people from the West who visit Dhaka, which means less foreign investment, both financially, and in awareness of the country. Did you know Bangladesh is more populated than Mexico or Russia?

So far I have visited a medical clinic and a school, both packed with people and highly regarded in the community. Once again I am pleased to see World Concern working in areas of intense poverty. Though Christians amount to about one half of one percent of the population, I see the hands of Christ working through our humanitarians, both employees and volunteers. They touch the lives of those in desperate need of compassion.

Beautiful children outside a World Concern school in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We have a special interest in seeing girls have an availabilty to education.
Beautiful children outside a World Concern school in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We have a special interest in seeing girls have an availabilty to education.