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Volunteers Recall Memories of Bangladesh

Emily Hagg, a ICU RN at the Foothills Medical Center in Calgary, and Nancy Campbell, a Registered Nurse with Alberta Health Services, recently returned from Dhaka, where they volunteered with the Bangladesh Health Project. We asked Nancy and Emily to regale us with their favourite stories and most memorable moments from their trip.

Nancy and Emily at the "Mini" Taj

Emily: “I was in Bangladesh from Jan. 11th to April 3th, so I was there for almost an entire semester. My official role was as a Post-Graduate Research Fellow, which mostly entailed being available as a mentor to the nursing instructors already in place and helping out with whatever I could in the classes and clinicals.

Nancy: “I arrived in Dhaka March 7th and left April 8th. My arrival was easy for me as Emily was already there! Emtiaz from the IUBAT Nursing College met me at the airport and I felt supported for the entire time. My official position was the same as Emily’s: Visiting Research Fellow, and my role was the same as well, to support the Nursing Faculty in the clinical and classroom settings. I also had the opportunity to work with the Sajeda Foundation on the development of their Home Care Program and their Seniors’ Supportive Housing Facility project.”

Emily: “What I especially loved about my experience was how friendly people were in Bangladesh, from the instructors, the students, to people on the street: just big smiles wherever I went. Initially, I had to adjust to the attention and the people just wanting to know about you and get close to you, which is very different from North American culture! I also will always remember how respectful the nursing students were! They stood when we instructors came into the room, calling us “ma’am”, earnestly listening to every word we ever said, and being protective of us when we were out in public together, etc. They were so polite and pleasant to work with!”

Emily at the Pink Palace in Old Dhaka

Emily at the Pink Palace in Old Dhaka

Nancy: “Yes! The thing I will always remember is walking into a classroom that first afternoon and all of the students standing up when the faculty entered. That just doesn’t happen in Canada. As I got to know them, I was humbled by their commitment to their education: the daily challenges they had just to get to school, on top of having to learn in English – nursing education is tough enough without these challenges. There wasn’t single day that I didn’t have an interaction with one of them that made me smile. They included us in their annual picnic and it was an incredible day, full of surprises and adventures.

IUBAT was similarly great: a sanctuary created by the school with the tea in the cafe, the guards that helped you cross the road in crazy traffic and of course, the long lineups to use the elevators. The faculty of the nursing college were simply amazing. They mentored us on “life” in Dhaka as much as we mentored them on nursing education.

It was interesting to be stared at and be asked to take pictures with total strangers. Add to that the population density that I hadn’t yet ever experienced – I didn’t know what to think at first. While it was unusual to have my activities/freedoms curtailed, I did not ever feel threatened or unsafe. Also, everyone should ride in a rickshaw at least once in their life! One cannot think of Dhaka without thinking of the traffic and the noise; there are absolutely no words that adequately describe the travel by van in that city.”

Emily: “I was definitely surprised by the instant celebrity status we seemed to develop by just entering the country and how hard that was to get used to. I didn’t think it would be quite the extreme that it was. It would have been nice (and easier to move around) if we were more ‘invisible’.” 

Emily and Nancy at the guest house

Emily and Nancy at the guest house

Emily: “If I had any advice for those interested in volunteering, it would be to be prepared to ‘go with the flow’! Things change rapidly and your day seldom works out as you initially planned it. It’s important not to get stressed out about stuff like that. Also, the accommodations are better than the volunteer manual makes them out to be! There’s hot water showers, a washing machine available, etc. It’s also so nice not having to prepare lunch and supper everyday! Finally, Caucasians should be extra prepared to be an object of fascination every where you go. It often takes longer to move around because of this fact.”

Nancy: “Anyone who is open to a new experience should go. I would encourage my nurse colleagues to go and experience a world where you can truly mentor nursing leadership AND grow an appreciation for the respect that nursing receives in Canada. Perhaps a practical piece of advice would be to get your visa before you arrive – I spent 2.5 hours in the VISA on arrival booth and an additional hour when I left because I had overstayed by 2 days. Despite that, it was amazing to be able to have a small impact and change the world of nursing in Bangladesh. I hope to go back very soon.”

A big thanks to Nancy and Emily for sharing their favourite recollections of Bangladesh; we love hearing from our volunteers! If any potential volunteers are interested and would like more information, please go to the Volunteer section on our website.

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