Maria Conceicao, founder of the Dhaka ProjectIf you really commit, you can win. I come from a simple, traditional Portuguese family. Born in Lisbon, I dreamt about travelling the world and visiting new destinations.
At 18, I decided to start working and my first job took me to Switzerland. I thought that was as far as I would go. Having come from a small town, I was content with what I had been able to achieve in life. But a car accident changed my outlook: I realised that I still had so much to accomplish.
I moved to London where I worked for three years. Taking up various jobs and meeting different people exposed me to a whole new world. It was in London that I got a job flying for an international airline and I moved to Dubai. I had planned to stay for only a year and then go back home, but that never happened because on one of my flights I went to Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A rude awakening
The Dhaka trip was a real eye-opener for me. It was the first time I had ever witnessed poverty. Of course, I had seen images of poverty on television and I had read about it, but actually seeing small children begging on the streets was a huge shock. The poverty I witnessed touched me deeply.
I thought, 'These people need help and help is what I'm going to give them." There are many ways to help, but short-term help was not what I had in mind. I had a vacation coming up, so I decided to go to Dhaka and do some research. Where can I start? What can I really do? Where is my help needed?
The doorman's friends
My first step was to get to the people so that I could find out how best to help them. I approached the doorman of the hotel I was staying in and asked him to take me to the poorest areas.
He helped by introducing me to some of his friends; they took me on a tour of the slums. To see such terrible poverty up close was heart-breaking.
As I walked through the rough hewn dwellings of bamboo, cloth, plastic and corrugated iron, I remembered a proverb that I had once heard: give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for life. I felt that in order to help them, I needed to empower them and give them the tools "to fish".
By the end of the day I knew what I was going to do, but first I needed the support of the people who lived there. I asked the doorman's friends, "Will you help me?" They agreed and we formed a committee. That was how the Dhaka Project came into being.
This is how we do it
The aim of the project is to help impoverished children and their families to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. It's a very challenging mission. Our project provides education, healthcare, nutrition, life skills and character development plus vocational programmes for parents.
Most of our 170 children come from destitute environments – slums that are cramped, unsanitary and unsafe. For them the project is an opportunity to gain the skills and dignity needed to better their lives.
This transformation will not only affect them, but their families and their communities too. It will multiply a hundred fold.
Working in unity
I do not want to replace any charitable institution or schools. I'm there to reinforce the aims of education. At the moment we provide food, clothing, shelter, medical, dental, vocational training, primary education, daycare facilities and computer training. The project has grown by word of mouth.
Friends, former colleagues and even children as young as five have come forward to help.A mission like this one is not accomplished overnight or in a few months or years. It requires long-term commitment, underscored by expertise and financial resources.
Our generous donors and sponsors, enthusiastic volunteers and committed staff make invaluable contributions to the project. Their efforts have already made a remarkable difference in the lives of our children.
You can do it
Every day of our lives we have the opportunity to make a difference in this world… and yet many choose to turn their backs. I will never understand how, as humans, we can allow ourselves to turn a blind eye and erase any sense of moral responsibility towards such unacceptable poverty.
Everybody can do something. The possibilities are endless. I did it. I have come to realise just how generous life has been to me and I want to continue to share my good fortune and knowledge. Everything becomes insignificant when you see someone struggling to find food for their family.
Make this your vision
My aim is to provide the impoverished with a better tomorrow. I do need help – lots of it. I'm looking for skilled people to help in advertising, teaching and imparting whatever knowledge they can. We are a small organisation and we need help – plain and simple.
Since I started the project I have become the biggest beggar! I'm always begging for donations and aid but that does not deter me. I will continue until I am able to achieve my ultimate goal: to eradicate poverty.
The project is my world, but it isn't a world I want to keep to myself. Although the project was my vision, I need people to make it their vision too.
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