“I want to be an actor,” an older teen says. He has some beautiful dance moves down pat, and almost made us cry with his monologue interpretation of a being a kid on the street.
“I will study technology,” chimes another teen.
“I want to be a cricketer,” asserts a 10-year-old, nodding his head as if it’s already a done deal.
The girls huddle nearby, playing timid, but when they perform a welcome dance for us, their shyness disappears and their light inside brightens up the room.
These are a few of the children at the Aparajeyo-Bangladesh’s Chittagong Center. If they weren’t here, many of them would be living on the streets. They come from who knows what kind of backgrounds–domestic violence, drug-addicted parents, sex industry abuse. The sad list goes on.
We don’t dwell on those histories. We focus on today, right now. We’re here to help, to lend a hand for a few hours, and to give back to the communities we walk through. As it turns out, it’s time to connect, have fun and dance.
And, so our volunteering festivities begin.
One of the counselors, Jibon, and one of the kids, Roeki, the future cricketer, and I got to talking one evening outside our no-frills hotel in Chittagong. The center was in the building next door, and the invitation to stop by made my heart smile.
While our main mission is to go from Point A (Bangkok) to Point B (Barcelona), there are lots of stops in between. We want to be part of the goodness we seek. Volunteering and leaving behind drops of love in the form of monetary or in-kind donations complement our day-to-day task of putting one foot in front of another.
Admittedly, it’s been a bit challenging to fit in volunteering. First, we don’t know exactly when we will show up in a place so it’s hard to commit to a specific date. Second, our visas are often limited to a month, which doesn’t give us a lot of extra time beyond walking the long distances we have to cover. And, lastly, it’s difficult to find and research NGOs close to our walking route; we don’t always have adequate Internet to rummage through search engines, and most days we are too exhausted to do more than our daily journal.
But, it’s often on our minds. We spent one afternoon in a Thai classroom helping students with their English. We tried to volunteer with a couple organizations in Mae Sot, Thailand, but the application process was more formal than knocking on the door saying, “Can we help tomorrow?” We dedicated a week at the end of our Burma stage to volunteer, but that was the week of the country’s important water festival and most organizations and businesses were closed. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, we helped the families we stayed with, either with their daily chores, with a language exchange with their kids, or with a little extra cash (many of them would not accept money for letting us be guests in their homes).
In Bangladesh, we thought our volunteering opportunity would come closer to the capital, Dhaka, when we would be waiting for our next visa stamp. Lucky for us, serendipity stepped in, and as a result we spent a Saturday afternoon with some very special children.
Here’s what the day looked like.
We received an email from one of the children after our visit: “Happiness is a thing which you give us today.”
We responded, “Hello! Thank you! And you bring us joy, too!”
We’re looking forward to wherever our feet and hearts lead us next.
Below is an email we recently sent to our donors, updating them on the newest drops of love and kindness we shared on their behalf. We use half of contributions we receive from family and friends in the communities we pass through. It’s our way of connecting goodness from different corners of the planet. Want to be part of this network of light we’re weaving? Join us here.
It’s hard to believe it’s the end of September, and time to start walking again. We had a two-month break to wait out the weather. Summer is monsoon season in Bangladesh and India, and walking hot and wet would be tough. So we opted for hot and dry, and tackled Central Asia from mid-May to the end of July.
We finished the Pamirs, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, bringing us to roughly about 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) walked to date.
Central Asia wowed us, tested us and kept us curious. We bid the region a fond farewell as we get on planes aynd head to South Asia. We’re ready— we spent August and September in the company of family and cyclists, fattened ourselves up and rested our bodies. We’ve also been fixing gear issues, like finding a lighter and more durable tent and customizing a new walking cart.
We found and left goodness in the wake of our footsteps. During these last few months, we stayed with many families and shared tea. Some accepted our money, many did not. They all appreciated our efforts to speak a few words of their language, practice English with their children, and share a brief but meaningful few hours of friendship. We carry memories of them in our hearts.
The Pamirs, mountains knotted together with the Hindu Kush and Korakhorem ranges, is one of the most beautiful places we’ve walked in. It wasn’t always easy; wind kicked up sand from the river bed and trucks coated us with dirt every day. But it was amazing! We left light there in the form of a donation to the Pamir Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA), an organization that works to create sustainable tourism, provides poor mountain communities with a viable income and helps to preserve local culture. We have another donation pending with another mountain development NGO and we are waiting for their online donation page to go live. We intend to earmark money for a specific project in the Pamirs, and should have additional details soon. We’ll stay in contact with them, and you, about the outcome. A side note, they ran an excerpt of one of our blogs here.
We also tried to make donations to environmental groups in Thailand and Burma, but they didn’t reply to our emails or Facebook messages. It’s too bad…they both claimed to have tree replanting projects underway which we would have liked to contribute to. You may recall our tree-hugging love, and the sadness we felt seeing so many trees being cut for road expansion projects.
We finish writing this update from Istanbul’s airport, a connecting hub of cultures, languages and people wrapped in a colorful array of outfits for Europe, Asia and Africa. We are en route to Bangladesh, and should be walking out of Cox’s Bazar in the next few days. Let’s all a dance to please the rain gods and convince them to shift their focus clouds in another direction. There are new entries posted on our blog, and some more will be coming in the next few weeks. We’re also posting almost-daily on our Instagram and Facebook. Thanks again for following along.
An update from Bangladesh
Hello from hot and incredibly humid Chittagong! We have been using this city as base for doing out and backs along our walking route.
Serendipitously, we also spent one afternoon in the company of wonderful young people in the building next to our no-frills hotel. They are street children from the ages of 6-18, and the Aparajeyo-Bangladesh project keeps them safe. We can’t imagine the experiences they have lived through (domestic violence, sex industry, parents who are drug addicts or in jail), but rather than dwell on that, we laughed, danced, exercised and had lots of fun. Part of your generous donations reached this corner of the world in the form of 16 kilos of rice, 6 kilos of lentils and school supplies for 50 children.
Our recent donations (in Catalan and English)
Aparajeyo-Bangladesh: Dedicated to helping kids stay safe and off the streets. Headquartered in Dhaka and in partnership with UNICEF, the European Union and others, they have field offices in all of the major towns. Chittagong has two centers helping nearly 100 resident children, and they provide hot meals to 4,500 children every day.
Bosc Tarannà: Reforesta i planta arbres per compensar les emissions de CO2 dels nostres viatges. / Bosc Tarannà, or Tarannà forest: Helps to offest CO2 emissions through reforesting and tree planting initiatives.
Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA): Treballa per crear oportunitats i desenvolupament a partir d’un turisme sostenible, ecològic i basat en el desenvolupament de les comunitats i pobles del Pamir, amb l’objectiu de millorar el seu nivell de vida, rebaixar la pobresa, incentivar l’apreciació de la seva cultura i estimular l’economia local / Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA): Aims to create sustainable, eco-friendly and community development-based tourism opportunities in the Pamirs with the hope of alleviating regional poverty, fostering cultural appreciation and stimulating the local economy
Pendent: Mountain Partnership: Dedicat a millorar les condicions de vida de la gent de les muntanyes i a protegir el medi ambient de zones muntanyoses arreu del món. Tenim pendent fer una donació que concretament es concentra i beneficia al Pamir i a la Vall de Wakhan. L’organització encara està desenvolupant el seu sistema informàtic per tal de poder fer una donació en línia. Portem alguns mesos al seu darrere per poder-ho fer. / Pending: Mountain Partnership: Dedicated to improving the lives of mountain peoples and protecting mountain environments around the world. We are planning to make an online donation to a project benefiting the Pamirs and Wakhan Valley areas. The organization is in the process of developing it’s online donation IT platform. FYI: An excerpt of one of our blogs was featured here.
Intents frustrats: Repetidament durant setmanes hem volgut fer donacions a 2 grups, un a Tailàndia (Big Tree Project), l’altre a Birmània (Swanyee Development Foundation), però després de diversos correus electrònics i missatges a través de les xarxes socials, no hem obtingut cap resposta. Estem molt preocupats i és esfereïdor viure i veure tants arbres tallats a ambdós països / estats i ens agradaria ajudar a la reforestació, malgrat la dramàtica i desastrosa política interna feta al passat i l’actualitat. Si algú coneix de cap organització que ajudi a aturar i/o recuperar aquells desastres ecològics, preguem deixi informació a l’apartat de comentaris. / Attempted: We wanted to donate to two groups in Thailand (Big Tree Project) and Burma/Myanmar (Swanyee Development Foundation), but despite several emails and messages via social media accounts, we did not hear back from them. We are deeply concerned about the number of trees being cut down in these countries and want to support reforestation in the region. If you know of other groups in Southeast Asia doing similar work, please let us know.
Sending you love.
Your two happy walkers,
Jenn & Lluís