One of the brothers writes: Though December and January are the coldest months of the year in Bangladesh, we recently celebrated for the 4th time, in the midst of the “Bangladeshi winter”, a festival for street children in Dhaka, the capital city. Dhaka is a huge city, with at least 15 million inhabitants.
The first year, the festival was celebrated in the biggest Buddhist temple of Dhaka; the second year it took place on a boat, on one of the many great rivers of Bangladesh. The third year we celebrated the festival in the compound of a beautiful old church belonging to the Church of Bangladesh in Dhaka. This year, about 230 street children, travelling by buses and trains from various cities of Bangladesh, gathered for two days in Savar, a small town near Dhaka. About 35 years ago, a good friend of ours, Valery Taylor, started here a “Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed”. This centre – unique in the country – helps with the treatment and the reintegration into society of paralysed and other disabled people. It is a very inspiring place, giving hope to many. The compound on which the centre is located is quite big.
A small band, with trumpets and drums, welcomed the children on their arrival at Savar. Then began two fascinating days! We had a very varied program with lots of activities: before eating a festive lunch offered to every one, many of the children enjoyed jumping in the big swimming pool of the Centre. The water was quite cold, but it did not matter to these children who looked so happy to play there. When they came out of the water, they were certainly sure much cleaner than when they entered it! As many of these children live in the railway stations, it is not possible for them to remain very clean. At the end of the meal we had a short prayer together: a Muslim recited some verses of the Koran, then a Hindu read a passage from the Gitas (the Holy Scripture for the Hindus), and a Christian read some verses from the Bible. Finally we all sang together a beautiful Bengali hymn. After the prayer, we had sports and games together for a few hours. In between each game, the band played joyful music and everyone danced. Playing music was good and necessary too: the street-children usually have a hard life and whenever a problem occurs with another person, they start to fight; but when you are singing and dancing, you do not fight.
I have a great admiration for these children living on the streets. They are able to live joyfully, without any possessions. They have only one pair of pants, one shirt, and they do not know where their food will come from in the evening. The older boys and girls take very great care of the smaller children. In the cold winter nights, they all sleep close to one another, without any blankets. Blankets would be stolen.
On the first evening, we had a beautiful cultural program in the big hall of the Centre. At first, some disabled people from the Centre sang and even danced; then they performed a small play, showing various aspects of the daily life in Bangladesh. They acted so well that we all laughed a lot! After the play, some groups of street-boys and girls came on the stage and they too started to sing and dance. The songs were very popular ones, easy to catch, so everyone joined in the singing, clapping their hands. So much joy and happiness! As night came, we all went out of the hall and everyone received a small lighted candle, and as we sang we walked around the compound, making a long procession in the dark, with our burning candles. It was so beautiful to see this long line of street children bearing their lighted candles, singing and walking in the dark…! Then everyone went to sleep; some slept under blankets, but most of the children slept on or under some big carpets we had hired (we could not find any more blankets!).
On the second day morning, after a nice breakfast, we again played some games, and again dances and songs brought a lot of joy to the children. Then everyone received a T-shirt offered by the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed, with these words printed on each T- shirt: “Street children Festival: amra shobai raja” (which in Bengali means: “We are all kings and queens”). Then, in small groups, we went to discover the various activities which take place every day in the Centre. The disabled patients and our children were happy to get this opportunity to meet one another, and talk to each other. The staff of the Centre was so nice and helpful to all of us… Seeing the torn and dirty clothes of a good number of the street children, they collected some better clothes and later gave them to the children.
We had our lunch quite late on this 2nd day, and the meal was delicious. In the afternoon, accompanied by the music of our very active band, all the children left. It was wonderful to see so much joy and happiness on their faces…While the children were leaving, the band went on playing for a long time the song: “Let us dance happily, to-day, only this day!” Some of the street-children were as young as 6 years old. Among the 230 children present at this “Street children’s Festival”, I recognized one group of seven teen age girls; they are young prostitutes from the big railway station in Dhaka. As someone wondered about their presence among all the other children, Valery Tailor replied: “It is most beautiful that they are here. When they were children, they were never invited to any festival!”