What was a normal day in the life of a Thrive volunteer made a real impact on me. See, the school we delivered lunch to wasn’t a typical school by Western or even Bangladeshi standards. It was a sidewalk school that provides education to children who live in the slums around Dhaka. A sidewalk school is exactly the image that probably came to your mind— a classroom’s worth of students gathered on tarps on a sidewalk, learning to read, write and do arithmetic. However, with all that the school offers academically, they still didn’t have a food budget. This is where Thrive helps out.
Thrive doesn’t just provide nutritious food for the kids, they also promote healthy habits for the school children. Part of promoting healthy habits is teaching them about basic hygiene, like the importance of washing their hands before eating. Since there isn’t running water where the school meets, the volunteers pack soap and water to bring with them.
One of Thrive’s founders, Gina, explained to me that they had talked to a nutritionist about their efforts to provide meals that could be purchased on the local economy. They were advised that boiled eggs, peanuts, a banana, and some other seasonal fruit or vegetable would help fill the nutrients gaps the kids in their economic situation experience. Gina was quick to point out to me that, on our standards, what they provide would be a hearty snack, but to the kids, it’s like a lunch.
Once the students had finished eating there was just a little time left before we had to let them get back to class. This brief period of time provided a great opportunity to interact with the kids. For me, taking and sharing pictures is one of the best ways to make a personal connection. Claudio Montesano Casillas, a freelance photographer living in Dhaka, generously allowing me to use the images he captured that afternoon. As you can see, he is an extremely skilled photographer, and his images tell the children’s story in a way that words cannot. Thank you Claudio.
What started with a visit to one school and a promise to bring a snack the next time Thrive’s three cofounders, Gina, Regina and Priscilla, visited has now grown into a full-fledged operation. The impact of their contribution was so significant that, when Thrive proposed providing lunch a sixth day a week, the teachers excitedly volunteered to hold class on Saturdays so the student could receive one more healthy meal a week. People working full-time who wanted to volunteer their time have since been able to get involved with the Saturday distributions.
Even with all the great work being done in Bangladesh by international and grass roots organizations, there are still needs going unmet that are contributing to the instability and outbreak of violence the country is experiencing right now. As I talked to the US civilian and military personnel serving in Bangladesh, they identified needs within the local population that no one else is currently filling. They told me that these programmatic and material shortages, such as medical supplies for Bangladeshi first responders, were critical for many reasons but that they don’t have resources to provide them. We immediately began working together to determine the best way to apply Spirit of America’s resources towards the local needs. In future blogs I will share with you updates on the projects we are currently developing throughout Bangladesh as well as updates on the kids from the schools.
Field Operations Project Manager