Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

2Feb/070

Pull it like Lara, catch it like Jonty

This week Bangladesh might have seen the beginnings of its own Bend it like Beckham story. Fourteen-year-old Fahima had never imagined that a day would come, when a women’s cricket tournament would make the front pages of every national daily in the country, let alone that she would vie for a place in a national team. While she lacks the glamour of Keira Knightley who starred in the 2002 Gurinder Chadha film, her jaws tighten in determination like those of her Hollywood counterpart, as she sits in the dressing room, waiting to play the innings of her life.

‘It’s still so difficult to believe, to actually accept this is not a dream: I am actually playing in the first ever women’s cricket tournament in Bangladesh, and that some of us will play a World Cup!’ she says gushing.

Her delight is characteristic of the enthusiasm, suspense at the women’s cricket tournament that kicked off in Dhaka this week with a total of 150 women from across the country playing for a variety of teams.

‘The excitement and pride that we feel, by just being here, cannot be described in words,’ says fifteen-year-old Baby Marma, from Rangamati.

These women have trained only for two months but the scoreboard is ticking constantly, and more often than you’d expect, catches are pulled off.

The ten-day long event is being held at Dhaka’s Dhanmondi Women’s Complex, Kalabagan field and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar stadium.

Dhaka’s captain, Tajkia Akhter was adjudged the best batsman for the first day, with 38 run-innings. She has been involved in the game, since 1998. ‘It’s a dream come true,’ she says. She proved to be the top scorer with 38 runs, and Ansar and VDP bowled out for 87 in 20.4 overs.

‘Considering this being their very first time, they performed exceptionally well,’ said Shah Nurul Kabir, the vice-president of the board. ‘We will pick the best players to form a national training. We will provide them with proper training that will certainly prepare them to face international challenges.’

‘It’s a strange feeling,’ says fourteen-year-old Azmida Parveen from Rajshahi. ‘On one side, there is an inexplicable amount of pride and enthusiasm, and on the other, the fear of not being able to meet the expectations of so many people who have made this day possible for us.’

‘It’s a personal victory for me, that the women’s cricket team has been given the recognition that was due for years,’ says Dolly Catherine Cruze, an ex-cricketer and coach of the national women’s cricket team. ‘These girls could have brought the World Cup, had [the government] taken this initiative years ago. But I am confident; these girls will make the national team and make it to the top!’

The cricket establishment are seeing the tournament as a major milestone for women’s participation in sports as they are traditionally discouraged and underestimated in society. The first women’s cricket team was formed in Bangladesh in 1985, says one official of the tournament, but not even baby steps were made towards a professional national team since. ‘We practiced on our own, but back then there was no interest or support for us women, who were so determined to keep the team alive,’ says Cruze.

Across the world, women’s cricket has seen significant developments. Women’s cricket began informally in 1745, a match that took place between the villages of Bramley and Hambledon near Guildford in the UK. Soon, with more and more women, showing interest in the game, the first women’s women’s cricket club ‘White Heather Club’ was formed in 1887 at Nun Appleton in Yorkshire, England. In 1890, a team known as the Original English Lady Cricketers, toured England, playing in exhibition matches to large crowds.

A century later and worlds apart, Bangladesh began to play in exhibition matches since 1996. ‘It was the lack of interest and low budget that held back some of the most talented players,’ laments Quamrun Nahar Dana, general secretary, Bangladesh Women’s Sports Federation (BWSP) and vice-chairman of its Women’s Cricket wing.

It was due to similar reasons that most countries were reluctant to spend on developing women’s cricket. However, following the recent merger of International Cricket Council (ICC) and International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC), one can see the remarkable development in countries like India, which reached the finals of Women’s World Cup 2005 to be defeated by a strong Australia side. In countries like Australia and England, whose boards merged a lot earlier, women’s cricket has come a long way, say experts.

In Bangladesh, women’s cricket faced similar difficulties over the past several years. While on one hand, the Islamic groups strongly protested against the idea of leeting women play sports, the lack of interest discouraged potential organisers.

However, this 30-over tournament, which will run through out February, is paving the way for a bright future for these energetic and determined women. Their news has made it to the front page and, also they faced objections against their victory, moments after the launch of the beginning of Women’s team on Saturday.

A Muslim group protested against this move, labelling it ‘anti Islamic’ and representation of an ‘alien culture’. Reportedly, they have called on the interim government to scrap the ten-team tournament of women.

But, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) confirmed that the tournament will continue as planned. ‘It has made the determination stronger,’ says Quamrun Nahar Dana. ‘Our girls will continue and among them thirty players will be chosen to make the national team.’

According to reports, the hard line Islamic Constitution Movement, which has no representation in parliament said in a statement, that ‘Women’s cricket and football in front of thousands of spectators is against the country’s tradition and culture and also is anti-Muslim civilisation.’

Has the objections against this new beginning undermined the energy of the players? ‘Not one bit!’ answers sixteen-year-old Joya Chakma, who is playing in Rangamati team. ‘For us, it’s a dream come true, to participate in the first ever women’s cricket league!’

‘More than the sense of competition, what these girls share is perhaps the pride of being the first group of women to begin the women’s cricket league,’ says the Joint Secretary of Rangamati Women’s cricket team.

These women are as young as fourteen and have been practicing for the past two and half months, ever since ICC initiated plans for the domestic tournament.The teams include Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Ansar VDP, Narayanganj, Bhola, Rangamati, Rajshahi, Jahangir Nagar University and Bogra.

They all agree, it’s a difficult work with very little time, but the energy and enthusiasm that they all have, makes it worth an experience.

‘They have come a long way, overcoming the sports and social barriers,’ says Parveen Putul, the Dhaka team’s coach. ‘They are playing well and determined to take it up as a career.’

‘There are so many women, who couldn’t get the chance that we have and they are counting on us,’ says fourteen-year-old Shila from Bogra. ‘That’s reason enough to give our best shot!’

Many of these young women are already determined to take cricket up as a profession. Fourteen-year-old Tania is adamant she will stick to cricket, no matter what. ‘That’s all I had ever dreamt of. Besides studying, I will become a cricketer- I am sure of that,’ says the passionate player.

There is an unmistaken spark in their eyes, as they walk towards the field, dressed in the sporting outfit while their friends cheer for them tirelessly. ‘It’s all about girl power! And we will show everyone our power!’ winks a fourteen-year-old Pappa, as she rushes to the field, as her team mates chant for victory.

Vox pop Tahmina Shafique captures the euphoria of the participants at the first ever women’s cricket tournament in Bangladesh.

Shushmita Chakma (16)- Rangamati
It has been an experience to be a part of something that may as well be a historical event in Bangladesh. I am thrilled and feel proud to be a woman cricketer.
Joya Chakma (16) Rangamati
I feel powerful! The pride and sense of satisfaction that I have at being a part of this tournament cannot be explained in words. We will form an excellent national team.

Baby Marma (15) Rangamati
Being a woman cricketer is something to be proud of. Whether we can make it to the top, is a matter of luck. But, we will try and give our best shot.

Nazmul Nahar Pappa (14) Rajshahi
Can words ever do justice to how we all feel? We have made it and it’s a great feeling! Of course we will be a great National Team and show everyone our girl power!

Marjan Zaman Munmun (14) Bogra
It’s a wonderful feeling. I hope we can make it to the finals and form a great national team. For now, all we can do is pray and practice.

Shila (14) Bogra
It’s an amazing feeling. I feel proud and at the same time, I feel the sense of responsibility to ensure that I can make my people proud, by being one of the winners.

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1Feb/070

Learning is child’s play

With his little hands, he makes a desperate attempt to hold the multi-coloured toy in front of him. There is an unmistakable glint of recognition in his eyes. The very next moment, he bangs the toy and it is evident that he loves the sound and sudden flourish of the colourful marbles inside it.

But the moment a doctor tries to measure his head, his expression becomes sullen. Within seconds, he wails aloud and then throws the toy away. He is no longer happy. As his father tries to hold him tight, it makes things worse. He starts banging his hand against the wall and runs around the play room of the Shishu Bikash Kendra at the Dhaka Shishu Hospital.

It is a colourful room, full of toys, mostly handmade. At the other end of the room, four-year-old Muniza hides her face with her skirt, as she hears Faiaz howling helplessly and doctors trying to calm him down. She keeps muttering lines that do not seem to make sense. ‘She has not developed speech and does not communicate with others,’ says one of the doctors.

Through the window, the winter sunlight is streaming in. Three-year-old Ahnaf is circling around for, it seems, eternity. He does not seem to sense anything, even the piercing wails of Faiaz. He trips over one of the toy cars hard; yet, his expression remains the same. There is not a trace of pain or anguish on the face, which has been wearing the same blank expression ever since he was one. In the distant chair, his father tries to fight back tears of helplessness.

Dr Dilara Begum, the senior developmental therapist, intervenes and tries to calm Faiaz down. Faiza’s mother calls out his name fighting back tears. ‘Faiaz please speak to me,’ she says. Yet, there is no response. Four-year-old Faiaz Mahmood Fahim is in a state of desperation; he does not speak and this is the only way he can express his frustrations.

It is Dilara who brings him a few playing blocks and immediately a faint smile curls up at the corner of his lips. He sits in the corner and tries to say something in gratitude. He forgets about everything and the glow in his eyes is beyond words.
‘Faiaz is autistic. He could have been in a better state, had he been properly taken care of. It’s the very little things that can ensure proper development of children. Things like these toys,’ says Dilara, who works with a group of psychologists and doctors.

‘Some of these toys are even made by us, like this woollen red ball,’ she says as she points to the toy Faiaz is busy playing with. This is perhaps the first time, in four years, that he is at peace and the reason is motivation through a simple toy.
This year’s groundbreaking research on developing countries including Bangladesh reveals exactly that — toys can do wonder to children’s health and wellbeing, even if they are severely malnourished. The research proves the ongoing claims and studies of paediatricians across the globe that early intervention through stimulation of children with the use of toys can bring a sea of change in the health, intelligence and IQ level.

The research, published on January 6, estimates that more than 200 million children under 5 years of age in developing countries are not developing to their full potential. The paper, which is prepared by Dr Sally M Grantham-McGregor, a professor at the Centre of International Child Health of the Institute of Child Health at University College London in the United Kingdom, and her team, and looks at the issue of child development in developing countries, is being published in a series of three articles.

In September 2006 an extensive study on psychosocial stimulation improving the development of undernourished children in Bangladesh appeared in The Journal of Nutrition. Conducted by a group of doctors here in Bangladesh and guided by Grantham-McGregor herself, the research revealed significant improvement in the IQ level and overall development of severely malnourished children living in twenty villages in the remote upazila of Monohardi in Narsingdi.

This is the first scientific study, in Bangladesh, by far, which proves that psychosocial stimulations can develop malnourished children. The study done over a period of two years found marvellous results and may pave ways for the development of children. ‘It is important that proper nutrition and development, are integrated together, and it is only then that a proper result can be seen,’ says Dilara.

‘The research done by Dr Grantham McGregor and the team of researchers, provided more scientific information that backs the year long stress, on the importance of child development through playing and performing extracurricular activities in a safe child friendly environment. We intend to incorporate these findings and reach out more people,’ says Dr Golam Mostafa, Senior Project officer, Education Section, UNICEF. Dr. Mostafa is also, the team leader of UNICEF supported government run Early Learning Development for Children Programme (ELDP).

‘This study was carried out by Dr Grantham McGregor in Jamaica earlier, which revealed marvellous results, an example being a 10-point IQ improvement among children,’ says Dr Jena Derakhshani Hamadani, head of the child development unit and associate scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.

Grantham-McGregor is best known for early childhood stimulation, apart from the child development areas that she has worked extensively on. In Jamaica, she demonstrated the link between lack of stimulation and poor development in young children. The home visiting model in early childhood interventions for disadvantaged children for Jamaica and other developing countries was her invention. The model is today known as the Roving Caregivers Programme. She played a critical role in developing the proposal that led to the establishment of the Caribbean Child Development Centre.

‘The long-term follow-up of undernourished children who participated in a home visiting play program in Jamaica has shown sustained benefits at 18 years of age to their IQ, reading, school dropout, mental health [less depressed and anxious] and self-esteem [previous publications in Lancet and Brit Med J],’ she writes in an email to New Age.

‘Paraprofessionals [local women with primary education only] visited the homes for 2 years every week and demonstrated play techniques to the mothers using homemade toys. The challenge is to find ways of reaching the millions of children who are not developing well,’ she adds.

‘We replicated that model and carried it out here. But the challenge was the fact that Bangladesh is less developed with severely malnourished children and a completely different social background, Therefore, we had to make various changes before beginning the project,’ explains Hamadani.

An important aspect stressed by experts is that, given that the Play Programme is integrated with proper nutrition, it is expected to bring marvellous results. ‘We enrolled mothers and children, who had gone to the Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Program, so that later on, we could tell the government about the scope of integrating this programme for better results,’ points out Professor Syed Nazmul Huda of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science at Dhaka University. He was a consultant of the programme and was present during the research.

It was after the collapse of the BINP programme that the government introduced the Early Child Development, which was perhaps the first and essential step to achieve the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary education. ‘It has now been established that without early development, physical, cognitive, and emotional growth of children cannot be achieved and hence the high dropout rate that we have cannot be stopped,’ points out Haider Wasim Yaqub, program support manager of Plan International. ‘Child development begins since the birth of a child; therefore, proper parenting is important.’ Plan International and UNICEF have been working with the government on the project since its inception.

‘BRAC and Grameen Shikkha as well as the Shishu Academy have always played an integral role in the development of this project,’ adds Yaqub.

An interesting aspect of the study was that it covered children of 6-24 months indicating the importance of early intervention. The study brought success stories of children who were victims of severe malnutrition and, therefore, suffered from various diseases and disorder.

Twenty-two-month old Belal was among these children. Unlike other children, he would not utter a word or even a syllable. His mother longed to hear her son call her ma. But he never responded. It was then that she lost hope.

‘Belal’s parents actually thought that he was deaf. When he was enrolled in our project with his mother, we checked his ear and found that he could hear very well. Moreover, he was delayed in his mental and psychomotor development,’ remembers Hamadani.

As part of the stimulation programme, the play leaders selected from the villages and trained, taught the mother to regularly chat with the child, even while she was busy doing household work.

‘The challenge of the project was the different social structure of our country,’ points out Dr Fahmida Tofail, one of the researchers and assistant scientist of the child development unit at the ICCDR,B. ‘Unlike other countries, chatting with the child, singing, playing and such interactions are rarely practised by parents in Bangladesh. It must be mentioned that it is not only prevalent in villages but also among educated and higher middle-class families. They hardly give importance to such issues. Often, mothers excuse themselves by saying that they do not have the time for these due to household work. In fact, this is exactly what majority of the mothers said when we started the project.’

That was exactly what Belal’s mother had said. This is where an innovative part of the programme was used. ‘We produced a model, where mothers would use their learning within their daily routine of work,’ explained Fahmida.

Belal’s mother and a host of others were trained to use their working time in developing their children’s communication and other knowledge. It was an easy task. All they had to do was, instead of just feeding the child and forcing them, they had to chat and sing. ‘Many mothers even felt awkward, as they had not done something like this before. But soon, it worked. They started playing with their children while giving them a bath or making them sleep,’ explains Hamadani.

‘The mothers learned how to play with the child in a developmentally appropriate way using homemade toy materials. We visited them monthly and every time the mothers reported that their children had picked up a few words. At the end of the year-long psychosocial stimulation to the children like Belal, we found that they ware able to talk, they were healthier and their intelligence level had markedly increased,’ points out Hamadani.

The result through regular home visits by the trained women showed a big difference. ‘Children were more interested to eat and they proved to be more active, within a year,’ explained one of the trainers. ‘We also taught the mothers how to make toys from things around them. These included things like bottles, thread, betel leaf, stones and plastic.’

She brings a big basket and shows the toys made by the mothers during the programme. The basket contains flash cards made out of waste papers, where pictures of fruits, people, etc are drawn. There are also dolls made out of cloth, balls made with wool, a boat made out of betel leaf.

Hamadani picks up an old plastic bottle and puts a few little stones inside it and shakes the bottle, the sound attracts the attention of the six-month-old Rima in the nutrition research Unit of the ICCDR,B.

‘Here we are training mothers who live in the nearby slum and whose children are undernourished,’ explains Dr Baitun Nahar, an assistant scientist at the ICDDR,B.
Rima is a premature baby and has not been able to sit on her own. She is weak but still attempts to hold the bottle and shake it a little. ‘This stimulates her hand movement. The mother did not know how to make nutritional food and often forced the child,’ she adds.

Rima is better now and she smiles for a photograph, while her mother feeds her with the help of a homemade doll. This psychosocial stimulation programme has been incorporated as part of the treatment of young children in the hospital and the result has been remarkable. Many components in the model have been changed from the original one, done in Jamaica. ‘For one, we did not allocate extra time for mothers to work on their children’s development; rather, we made it a part of their work. It was also extremely difficult to convince the fathers and mother-in-laws who felt it was a waste of time,’ remembers Hamadani.

‘We measured the effects on children’s growth and development, and the mothers’ knowledge of child rearing. We also compared the growth and development of the undernourished groups with a matched group of better-nourished children. At the end of the study, the malnourished children had 5-point IQ improvement,’ explains Hamadani. The IQ was measured on basis of the ‘Gold Standard’.

The researchers clearly indicate that such stimulation methods can be used in an inexpensive way and is essential in the development of a child from its birth. These developmental projects are mainly run in different child development Centres.
The first child development centre was established at Dhaka Shishu Hospital, which has been using these methods among children who suffer from autism, epilepsy, etc. The playroom includes toys from different purpose. Here speech communication, cognitive stimulation and overall health check is administered and it is inclusive for all types of children.

‘A large number of parents are unaware that toys can do wonder to the development of their children. Proper knowledge of such aspects is needed in all classes of people. In fact, we are having more and more wealthy parents coming with problems such as unresponsiveness of children, delay in speaking, walking and, amazingly, all of these can be improved through toys,’ explains Dilara.

Dr Nasreen Begum brings the ball, with which Faiaz was playing. He is now sitting on a chair and banging the toys, and the sound makes him feel at ease. Ahnaf, on the other hand, is lost in his own world. ‘He is autistic and he is lost and does not respond to anything at all. He is new at our centre and the challenge is to improve his conditions in this surrounding,’ she explains.

Several children are brought to the centre every day. ‘Often they have vision impairment or do not speak,’ Nasreen adds.

Parents often accept the explanations given by the elderly people or relatives about delayed development of their children, Dilara says. ‘If a child is not speaking, they are told it is okay for some children to speak a little later. If their child does not respond, they wait till it gets unavoidable.’

It is true in case of Faiaz as well. Although autism and disability cannot be cured these children need more care. ‘My wife had a miscarriage and Faiaz was kept inside the womb for too long. The doctors at a Jessore hospital did not even perform an operation. So, from early childhood he had complications but we thought with time, he will be fine,’ says his father, Mohammad Saiful Alam, who works as a liaison officer at Bangladesh Betar Bhaban in Jessore.

Not only was his problem not detected early, but he was kept with the maid since he was three months. ‘He might have fallen or something might have affected him. We realised it only when he was almost two years,’ admits his mother, who works as a primary school teacher in Jessore.

Doctors point out that these children would have been much better, even cured, had importance been given to their problems earlier. Even the research team of psychosocial stimulation agree that there is a dire need for awareness. ‘Even educated parents hardly give importance to these little ways of developing their children. With more and more single families and working parents, these important parenting aspects are taking a back seat,’ says Hamadani.

Despite the benefits, the psychosocial stimulation programme is not as widespread as it ought to be. ‘The integration of this programme within the national programme will make a huge difference. Moreover, ours is the first programme with a detailed curriculum made for different age groups,’ points out Hamadani.

The government ECD project has gained a certain momentum over time. The proponents of the project are working to place it on a solid foundation. ‘We hope, by 2010, the new ECD project, now named ELDP, will reach out to people of religious and ethnic minority communities. UNICEF is continuously working in this area and we hope we can bring a significant change through early intervention,’ says Mostafa.
‘The project has been designed to develop and implement interventions that empower families with the aim of raising survival rates and giving children the best possible start in life, by promoting both physical growth and mental development. UNICEF aims to keep up with that motive and integrate the recent components introduced by researchers,’ he adds.

According to reports, although the government has incorporated ELCD into the Health, Nutrition and Population Sector Programme, it is yet to begin on a large and significant scale. ‘We are yet to see a significant step,’ laments Yaqub. ‘However, Plan is continuing its technical support given to BRAC and Grameen Shikha.’
BRAC and Grameen Shikha are also playing an important role in this developmental project for children. These NGOs have given particular focus on Shishu Bikash Kendra.

In recent years they have set up various centres where pre-primary schools are taught through toys and songs.

‘This not only enhances their intelligence but also helps them to socialise and prepare for primary-level schooling,’ says Profulla Chandra Barman, manager of the pre-primary programme at BRAC. ‘This programme enrols children under the age of five. We try to create awareness among parents and encourage playing.’

‘This form of early intervention is important for children with disability or impairment as well. Early identification of impairments is necessary because a large number of these children may need follow-up into the pre-school and primary level,’ points out Dr Naila Khan, a professor of child neurology and development at Dhaka Shishu Hospital.

Besides the hospital, the programme is being used at the Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation. The foundation caters to children suffering from multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy. The main assumptions on which this programme is based are that rehabilitation is most effective when disability is detected early and followed up by education and training as soon as possible.

A standout and rare approach is the mother-child-stimulation, which has brought various success stories. The daily, two-hour MCS programme provides a variety of development stimulation and rehabilitation activities, depending on the individual needs of children. ‘With the help of some simple toys such as balls, blocks, we teach the mothers how they can stimulate the cognitive development of their children,’ says Dr Shamim Ferdous, chief executive director of the foundation. The programme aims to improve the activities of daily life of the child and to make him as independent as possible.

‘We have special schools at the foundation such as Kalyani, which is for children with special disability and others spread across Savar, Dhamrai, Kishoregonj, Faridpur, etc,’ she adds. She also mentions the foundation’s early intervention and infant stimulation programmes for newborns and children under the age of four. Here, speech, communication, cognitive stimulation, physiotherapy and the like are administered. ‘This is for all children. Moreover, our lunch programme in five centres outside Dhaka has been a real success.’

The lunch programme integrated with the other programmes can bring a wealth of difference to malnourished children across the country. ‘It must not be confused that a hungry child will be healthy if he plays with toys. Rather, it suggests that playing will help them and help them develop. Therefore, it is equally important to provide children with nutritious food,’ clarifies Hamadani.

The free lunch programme has decreased the dropout rate and increased the growth of children who were otherwise suffering from various health problems.
Plan International’s early childhood care and development is similar to the play programme. ‘The brain development of a child is at its peak till the age of six; therefore, we have integrated parenting, Shishu Bikash referral clinics and preschool programmes within the ECCD,’ says Sadika Akhter, a researcher at Plan International.

It is especially at the preschool level (i.e. from age 2 to 4) that children are encouraged to play, she says. ‘Stimulation through toys in as an innovative method and we try to ensure parents also learn its importance.’

‘Stimulation through playing-working with puzzles, flash cards, blocks and very minor things can increase the intelligence of children and their IQ improves,’ says Dilara. ‘We even encourage mothers to let children work with them even when they are making roti. Letting children play with the dough stimulates their hand movement. Playing with a simple clip can help hand movement. Moving a ball to different directions helps you understand your child’s vision. Moreover, helping them name the everyday objects is also important – all of these are not expensive or time consuming,’ she adds.

‘It is indeed a challenge to break away from the norm and establish something as new as this and create mass awareness and integrate it as part of the essential education system,’ says Hamadani.

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