RSS

Tag Archives: Dhaka

The women who cut the path we walk.

Before the term ever became prominent in today’s culture, I am and have been a feminist. It’s not a stance I’m taking. It’s not political. It’s quite simply just how I was raised. It’s been engrained in my family’s history. It’s who I am, what I have done, what I am doing, and I owe it to the influence of strong women.

Growing up, I’m not sure I would have fully recognized their influence. But today, especially being International Women’s Day, it’s important that we celebrate how women have shaped who we are. More importantly, it helps us realize how far we have to go to create equality and gender parity.

In the 1950’s, my grandmother was a homemaker, a loving, caring mother of eight children in a rural catholic community in Newfoundland and Labrador. Facing a troubling situation at home, she somehow found the guts, the very deep courage and strength to make a change. She took all of her eight children, one just a baby, and left her community in search of a better, safer place to raise her family. Under a cloak of secrecy, and with only an inner courage, little money, or even time to pack, she made a long trek to St. John’s with eight young children by her side.

Arriving with five boys and three girls, nowhere to live, and nowhere to stay, the boys found a home in Mount Cashel, and the girls in Belvedere Orphanage. With hope in her heart and desire to keep the family united, she maintained the family unit, against insurmountable odds, finding a job at Mount Cashel as a cook, being able then to afford to visit her daughters while keeping an eye on her sons. I often wonder about those initial 1950’s Newfoundland days, the decision she was faced with, the unknown, the panic, the fear, but above all, the strength. The hardships she knew she was accepting. The unknown journey she was embarking on. All in a heroic effort to save her family. I can’t think of a better role model.

image2

My grandmother passed away at 88 years of age surrounded by her children and family. Her dying words: “I am just not ready to leave you all yet.” She never has.

My family has been defined by the influence of strong women. My aunt was a catholic nun, Sister Rosalita. She was the oldest of the Furey clan who made the trek in the dark of night to St. John’s. She was that second layer of glue that held the family together. Being a Catholic nun in the 1960’s through to the 90’s could not have been an easy time, especially for Rose, a trendsetter, an agent of change and a maverick. She was not only spiritually sound in her beliefs, but was philosophically and academically a powerhouse way ahead of her time.

From driving motorcycles, to setting up an Apple computer lab for a high school in the 80’s, she broke the mold. She devoted her life to caring for the poor, travelling to underserviced areas for education and spiritual guidance, she was a beacon of change.  She was tough, and often feared by students, but with a heart bigger than life and an ability to push people to greater heights.

Before Rose died, she was completing her PhD in math. I remember being in grade 4, sitting around the kitchen table while Rose taught me the Pythagorean theory, not letting me leave until I understood the sum of squares, and the purity of math.

She cut her own path in life often taking us along for the ride to see the first generation Mac computer, some new camera lens she had found, a new type of garden, or even taking my dirt bike for a long ride. I adored her. I aspired to be like her and miss her dearly. She was a woman ahead of her time.

Of course my life has been influenced by women beyond my family. I first met Zahida, a kind, soft spoken woman from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had the pleasure of watching her in a classroom setting, and amongst leaders from around the world, her star out glowed the rest. I went to visit Zahida first in 2015. It became clear immediately that her kindness was only surpassed by her devotion to help. The respect and dedication as the CEO of a large charity caring for homeless children, people who could not afford health care, and teaching women about social programs and how to create small businesses was both aspirational and inspirational. I walked behind her in awe, taking notes, in pure admiration. I try to carry Zahida in everything I do.

IMG_9396

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange, and encourages everyone to focus on creating a more inclusive, gender-equal working world and getting to an equal 50-50 at work by 2030.

In order to feel safe and equal at work, women must first feel safe and equal at home.

The statistics on intimate partner abuse are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and 38% of murders of women are committed by male intimate partners.

In order to achieve the goal of 50-50 at work, we cannot forget the women who cannot, or will not make it out of the home for work because of domestic violence. This is not just a Canadian problem, or a North American problem, this is a global problem. As I have travelled, I have witnessed it first hand in many countries. It’s a global issue and requires global solutions. Days like today help us remember.

50-50. It sounds like the kind of goal that should already exist. But here it is an ambitious global goal for even 2030. While fixing the problem in North America would be a massive accomplishment, it does not help the 16 year-old sex worker in Dhaka with a scar of the profession permanently tattooed on her face. Providing women around the world with more mentors of change, like Zahida, is a start. As I watched Zahida gracefully stroll the crowded streets of Dhaka, I could not help but see the smile of my grandmother, and the passion of my aunt.

On days like today we need to celebrate the women in leadership roles. They will help us all rectify the inequalities that exist throughout the work place. As men, we need the courage it takes to support this, to openly advocate for it. Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs.  Nothing justifies this massive inequality. We need to do better, not just today, everyday. We need to strike a balance.

The courage, strength and leadership of these women are only a few examples of how I have been lucky to be surrounded by powerful women. My wife, Allison, is an Emergency Room doctor, a veteran of Broken Earth missions and a caring, attentive mother. I have two sisters I admire and look up to, and of course my own mother who I love dearly. I also have two daughters. For them most of all, I want to see change. To see the 50-50 realized. To have a world of opportunity open to them based on who they are, not to what gender they belong.

To all the influential, dedicated, never-quitting, always-inspiring women out there, I stand with you today on International Women’s Day.

– Andrew

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Small candles that burn in the darkest places.

It’s hard to fathom. I mean I’ve been to cities around the world but this is something immensely different. Dhaka is a city of 16-20 million people. It’s a mass of humanity that breathes and lives like one gigantic organism. There are areas with a density of 100,000 people per square kilometer. It continues to grow at an alarming rate of 4% per year with estimates of 25 million by 2025. It is considered to be the rickshaw capital of the world with approximately 400,000 rickshaws on the street every day. The city’s per capita income is about $3,100 per year, the lowest of the mega cities in the world.

Yet amongst the poverty and the density is a bright light. A candle of hope. Here, a modern day Mother Theresa exists… our hostess, Zahida.

They say one of the possible origins of the name Dhaka is from the hidden goddess Dhakeshwari. Well we may have found that hidden goddess in Zahida, the leader of our partner in Bangladesh, the SAJIDA Foundation. She welcomed us with open arms and beams with pride when she greets us at the airport and takes us for the tours of their operations.

We start with a visit with the low-income families SAJIDA provides business loans for. There are 10 families living in an area the size of two Tim Horton coffee shops.  A dozen or more woman are gathered in a small hut waiting for the finances and showing us products that they have made with funding from the business loan. It’s an impressive site. These are empowered women in a developing country.

We move then to the hospital and are greeted by familiar faces with big smiles. On the wall of the hospital is a big poster of Team Broken Earth and the SAJIDA Foundation working together during our last visit.

For a moment, it feels good to see how far we have come. But that lasts just a moment…

We move through the dense streets packed with cars, rickshaws and humanity piled on to each other. There is some order in this chaos. The traffic is so intense that it’s impossible to tell when you are moving and what direction you are inching in. Six lanes deep at times with not enough space to fit a playing card between the next vehicles. The temperature is north of 45 degrees with the humidity but we’re lucky to have some AC.

The final trip of the day is the most emotional. We went to visit the “pavement dwellers.” At best guess, there are over 40,000 of these unidentified, homeless, forgotten people. Many are children.  I have been to see them before, but this time is no easier. There is a lump in my throat that gets more intense as we walk into the building. On the first floor there are 20 or so adolescent males from 10-13 years old who are being taught basic life skills.  They wave and smile.  They are all orphans, and live on the streets with no government ID, no recognition that they even exist. In fact, if it wasn’t for our hosts, no one may know they exist at all.  They have no one and nothing to call their own, yet they smile and wave.  They will leave this building in an hour or so and go to the streets the same way any of our kids would head home after to school. These terrible streets are their homes. There’s a chill that comes with that realization.

We go upstairs to the next floor and there are dozens of 5-6 year olds who are all in one room, waiting for us. They have smiles as big as my 5-year-old son’s. They are there because they have been beaten, neglected, or abused. Some have single mothers who are working outside and will be back for them. Some of the young ones are able to stay over night. Others will have to leave and find a dry corner of pavement to lay their heads – if they’re lucky. Lucky. There’s that word again. There’s nothing lucky about this.

Five year olds. Orphaned. Abandoned and living on the street. Words cannot do justice to the feeling it creates deep inside of you. A combination of guilt, nervousness, anger, and grief. It’s just not right. We live in the shadow of such gigantic divides. We have to do better. I believe that we are all part of something bigger; we are all in this together. When a five year old lays her head on the pavement in Bangladesh at night, we should all feel it. When an adolescent boy cries for help and no one responds in the streets of Dhaka, we should hear it. Isn’t that what it means to be part of a global community?

The five year olds snap me out of it with a song. Five year olds are five year olds no matter where they are. Big smiles, and dancing carefree. It brings a smile to all of our faces. Despite the poverty, despite the fact that some will have to leave the building tonight and come back tomorrow they smile. There is something familiar about their smiles, their eyes. It’s more than childhood innocence. It’s hope. And in hope, they’re richer than any of us.

It has been six years since I first traveled to Haiti. Six years since a little girl’s smile changed my life. You may have heard me talk about her before. She was a girl of about twelve who lost her parents in the earthquake and was now the caregiver for her injured grandfather. She provided him with the care he needed. She walked him to the OR and waited patiently in the waiting areas while we fixed his hip. Then she shook my hand with a smile. She carried herself as someone way beyond her young years. It was that smile and the hope in her eyes that compelled me to act. You could see it in her eyes, hope. Hope that there would be better days. Hope that the world could and will be a better place. She would be a young woman now. I’m not sure much has changed, maybe it hasn’t. But more than anything, I want to believe she still has the courage to have that smile and, most importantly, that hope.

Yesterday was the first time in a while since I have seen those eyes and that hope in someone else. Despite the adversity, the poverty, the abuse, the chaos, a smile and eyes filled with hope. It’s a testament to people like Zahida, determined to make a difference. To keep that candle of hope burning. We can see it from here. It’s like a lantern. It guides us. It’s carried in the hearts of everyone on Team Broken Earth as we move inch-by-inch closer to the change we all hope is possible in this world.

Best,

Andrew

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,