Called after a word that means ‘forgotten place’, the island of Bhola is aptly named. For the approximately two million people who live there, life is defined by hardship, with practically no medical facilities or social provision available.
Access from Dhaka involves a lengthy journey involving cars and river crossings, but a swift flight on board MAF’s floatplane is also available.
This latter option was chosen by Bruna Colombo-Otten earlier this year when she visited Bhola’s Children – an initiative she helped found to assist the disproportionally large number of orphans and disabled children on the island. The work began in the middle of the last decade, with 240 cleft-lip surgeries that transformed the lives of local children and also some adults. Teaching sign language to deaf and dumb students has continued to be a priority for the organisation’s workers, enabling these individuals to communicate with those around them.
Pivotal to the charity’s work is Bhola Garden – a home and school which provides both academic lessons and practical learning in areas such as farming and food preparation. Physiotherapy is also provided, and parents are encouraged to attend these sessions to better understand how to support their children. The younger students are taught in a classroom, with the aim of helping them sufficiently overcome enough of the barriers they face to enter a mainstream school within three years. If this goal becomes unrealistic, individuals are then given training in specific vocations, and work towards achieving a certified standard. “We train the boys in wood and metalwork, and the girls in sartorial work and cooking,” Bruna explains. “Our new director Zakirul Haque is encouraging the youngsters to learn a trade to make them more independent; it is already very successful, and we were talking of possibilities to further this self-reliability.”
MAF’s support of this vital project dates back many years. Not being able to travel for several years due to personal reasons, this trip enabled Bruna to witness the impact Zakirul is already making. “I like and prefer to use MAF flights to go to Bhola because it gives me more time to stay with the children. I also organised for Zakirul to use MAF to reach Dhaka when his mother was ill, and this gave them more time to be together than if he had taken the overnight ferry,” she adds.
Andrew Hogan, one of the trustees of Bhola’s Children, is appreciative of the services provided by the amphibious aircraft too. “I took the MAF flight from Bhola to Dhaka in January with a colleague,” he begins. “I found it to be an excellent service: friendly, fast, efficient and safe. It also allowed me the privilege of seeing some incredible, beautiful scenery as we crossed the Bangladeshi countryside. I would warmly recommend the service to others and will certainly be using it again myself.”