Tending to the sick and lonely
Following an accident that almost crippled him, Akhtaruzzaman can finally see a ray of hope in life, thanks to the love and care shown by the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity.
After the accident near Babu Bazar Bridge fractured both his legs, the 24-year old was treated at a city hospital for a week. He was released before a full recovery.
The hospital personnel rented an auto rickshaw to drop Akhtaruzzaman at his shanty in Babu Bazar, but the driver abandoned him by a roadside there on November 8. Having yet to regain full mobility, he was forced to stay under the open sky for three days.
“I ate only if anybody gave me something,” said Akhtaruzzaman, a day labourer, who had already been living a life full of struggles in Old Dhaka.
With the help of a passerby, he went to an orphanage, Shishu Bhaban, at Islampur run by the Missionaries of Charity (MC), a religious congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950.
“[The] Sisters immediately gave me food, a lungi and shirt. They then sent me to another sister’s house at Farmgate in a CNG,” Akhtaruzzaman said, lying down on a bed at the Home of Compassion, a charitable organisation at Tejgaon run by the MC.
There, paramedic nuns dressed his injured legs, provided meals, medicines and the care required. When needed, they also take him to the hospital.
“I might have died if I did not come here. I pray to Allah for them,” he said recently, expressing his gratitude to the nuns who take care of him and other patients.
Around one hundred people of different religions and faiths, who suffer from a number of problems– illness, drug addiction and physical or mental challenges, even people who are poor and abandoned– are taken care of by the nuns trained as paramedics and nurses at the centre.
“The people, who are lonely, sick, abandoned are the ones we are compassionate about. They are the children of God. We share God’s love with them,” said Sister Jeffery, ahead of Christmas, a festival celebrated globally by Christians on December 25 every year, marking the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ.
On this day, Christians rejoice at the emergence of Christ and renew their commitment to good works.
Following in the footsteps of Christ, who preached love, peace and justice, the Christians, especially the consecrated men and women, who dedicate formally to a religious purpose, have been making significant contributions to society.
Bangladesh, where Christianity was first introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century and then preached by the British, American and other European missionaries, has often benefitted from their presence.
Though small in number– some eight lakh Christians live in Bangladesh– their contributions to healthcare, education, socio-economic development and humanitarian activities is significant.
According to the Catholic directory, the Catholic Church runs 124 hostels and orphanages and 75 hospitals and dispensaries in various remote parts of the country. Protestant churches too have some reputed hospitals including Arthington Hospital in Rangamati, Baptist Mission Hospital Malumghat in Cox’s bazaar, Haluyaghat Hospital in Mymensingh and Karamtola Hospital at Pubail in Gazipur.
On an average, an estimated 30,000 people receive healthcare in these facilities, said Dr Edward Pallab Rozario, secretary of healthcare commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB).
He said most of the Christian hospitals and dispensaries are located in rural areas lacking quality healthcare services.
“Nursing has been a traditional profession for many Christian women because of the community’s history of healthcare services,” he told The Daily Star. There are around 5,000 Christian nurses with some holding top posts in private and public hospitals, he added.
Some of the best educational institutions, including Notre Dame College, Holy Cross School and College, Saint Joseph School, Saint Gregory School, St Francis Xavier’s Green Herald International School in Dhaka, Saint Placid’s High School in Chittagong and Saint Philip School and College in Dinajpur are also run by the Christian community.
According to the Catholic Education Board, there are three universities and degree colleges, 11 high schools with college sections, 42 high schools, 31 junior schools, 219 primary schools and 258 lower primary schools and 25 vocational institutes run by the Catholic Church.
Also, there are 48 schools registered with the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh and National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh, two umbrella organisations of Protestant churches here.
Some 1.5 lakh students study in these institutions, said Jyoti F Gomes, secretary of Catholic Education Board.
“It is education through which we can enlighten people,” he told The Daily Star.
The Christian educational institutions strictly maintain discipline and regularity of classes, exams and extra-curricular activities, which result in better quality of education, he said.
“Imparting human values is one of our important goals,” said Jyoti, also director of Saint Joseph International School in Dhaka.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said presence of the Christian community is not only a part of the cultural and religious diversity, but also a boon for the country.
“This community has significantly enriched our health and education sectors,” she said.
Choudhury said while there is much concern over quality of mainstream education in the country, the Christian missionary schools and their dedicated teachers have proven the quality of their institutes, where discipline and moral education is integral to learning.
There are also a number of humanitarian organisations, notably Caritas and World Vision.
Caritas, which began its relief operations after the 1970 cyclone in the then East Pakistan, later expanded its programme to various sectors including health, education, economy, agriculture, environment and community development.
World Vision works mostly to promote health and education of vulnerable children and protect their rights regardless of their faith, caste and ethnicity.
“We aspire to bring light where there is darkness and hope where there is hopelessness through our good work as taught by Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi.
He said they also want to set examples of good works so others may follow suit to establish peace and justice in society.
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