I had been waiting to return to visit Bangladesh since the opening of our beautiful GiveLight home in December of 2014. Located in Savar, a village on the outskirts of Dhaka, the land is surrounded by lush and green trees and the home is a sanctuary for 50 girls who have lost one or both parents. Last year, I had booked my ticket to arrive in June, but sadly I had to cancel the trip at the last minute due to a bombing in Dhaka.
The land had been donated by a generous family whose daughter is a dear friend of mine. The process of building the home took many twists and turns and a lot of time was wasted in waiting due to the corrupt nature of the government. It was only through the dedication and sacrifice of the family who provided the land that we were able to finally complete the project. Our partner for this home is ECHO (Education and Charitable Humanitarian Organization), an NGO consisting of dedicated volunteer members of the Bangla Community based in Silicon Valley. Unlike other homes we have built, we decided to include a school on site as well because there was none available in the neighborhood. We also decided to accept students from outside the home to provide a service to the local community and to allow our children to interact with other children.
After more than two years of anticipation, I finally arrived and met the children in their spacious playground on a fine summer morning. They were standing in two straight lines in their white uniforms, looking at me with shy smiles. The youngest one, Amina walked timidly towards me and handed me a beautiful, fragrant bouquet of flowers. Despite the heat and humidity of the Bangla summer, I immediately felt at home.
After our initial greetings, we proceeded to the classroom where kids were divided into grades starting from Preschool to 5th grade. The classrooms were neat and tidy as were their white uniforms. What was most unique was the view from the classrooms. Just outside their windows were lush green trees of bamboos, papayas, mangoes, and jackfruits. What a great setting in which to study and be inspired to gain knowledge.
Once school was dismissed, we began to truly get to know one another. We prayed our noon prayers together in a nice musalla (prayer room). Again I was captivated by the greenery outside: trees lining the roads, cows grazing, birds singing, butterflies fluttering. The natural beauty made me forget how humid and hot it was. Summer in Bangladesh usually means temperatures over 100F, and the added humidity makes the air feel so thick.
One by one the girls started to warm up, especially the younger ones. Although there was a language barrier, the hearts recognize love, without a word being spoken. Fortunately I had three aunties who were more than happy to translate for me. The girls asked lots and lots of questions, and after some time we decided to go outside to enjoy the playground. I decided to teach them some yoga, focusing on moves that require balance, focus, and core strength. Many of them “complained” when I asked them to do a one-minute plank and chair pose but they managed to complete the tasks.
That evening we were scheduled to also welcome the Malaysian Ambassador to Bangladesh, High Commissioner Nur Ashikin M. Taib. She arrived on the dot at 4:30 pm, which was impressive given the distance from Dhaka and the bad road conditions due to the recent heavy rains. We listened to beautiful Qur’anic recitation and performances of songs and prayers by our girls. All of them were ready to give their best despite some initial stage fright. We then proceeded to a delicious iftaar (breaking of fast) which was prepared lovingly by our house chef and her team of talented assistants. It was a big family feast and gathering with so many dishes to choose from. Every day we provide nutritious, home cooked meals for the girls the way we do in all our homes. That night, however, was extra special because it was Ramadan and we were celebrating our time together.
We concluded the evening by praying taraweeh (special night prayers performed only in Ramadan) and somehow they “forced” me to lead the prayer and I felt such peace in my heart. What an honor to be able pray together with these angels.
We spent the next day doing a lot of fun things together. The girls had wanted to play cricket but the soil was muddy so we reverted to indoor activities. A friend of mine in California had arranged for her daughter and friends to write 25+ letters to our girls. I read each letter one by one as they all eagerly listened to every word. The plan was for them to write a response for me to take back to the US.
We did another session of yoga, and then played a Bangla version of “hot potato,” followed by prayers and Qur’an reading. I also visisted each classroom, starting with Playgroup where we blew up balloons and tied strings to them. They were very excited about this activity. Then I taught the upper grades geography, English, and some songs, and asked them what they wanted to become when they grow up. Twelve of them said that they wanted to become a doctor!
I had arranged to set up a teleconference room a week prior and that night, we managed to do a pilot. We had 3 Skype sessions with GiveLight family members: two in California and one in Texas. The girls were so excited to speak to them while enjoying ice cream treat from one of my friends in the US. What a fun-filled day we had.
After spending two full days and nights together, we had truly bonded. The girls started to compete in showing their love to me by holding my hands, wanting to sit next to me, asking me more questions. One by one they brought me different objects as presents; handmade bracelets, cards, brooches and flower petals – such beautiful gestures and tokens of affection.
The two nights that I spent there, the monsoon rain started to pour down heavily along with lightning and strong thunder. Each night I opened the curtains of my bedroom and watched the sky displaying its powerful, dramatic play. As the lightning and thunder continued, I replayed the two days’ events, scene by scene. While I was traveling I received numerous emails, phone calls and texts from friends about making donations. As of today, 2 days before Ramadan ends, we have received over $200,000 from about 3000 supporters from around the world. Clearly, this is the most blessed Ramadan we have experienced as we were able to provide special iftaars in all our homes where the children were able to choose their favorite foods and drinks. We also bought each child new shoes and clothes for Eid. To top it off, my generous Bangla aunty gave every girl a pair of gold earrings as an Eid present. Simply amazing!
On my last day, we said our goodbyes with heavy hearts. As I embraced each child, I felt both warmth and sadness in my heart. I tried hard to hold back my tears but couldn’t. So we all cried together and I heard “ I love you”, “come back again”. I promise to come back and without a doubt, my heart loves them all.
Truly, this Ramadan I feel the mercy of God descending from heaven as generously as His monsoon rain. I wrote this with a heart filled with gratitude to Him first and foremost, and to all of you who gave so generously. I end by wishing you all a blessed and beautiful Eid!
May He reward you all abundantly.
~ Dian Alyan
Dhaka, June 20th 2017
To view more pictures of our trip, click here .