Helping his homeland

HELPING his homeland, is a project close to Boshor Ali's heart. After carving out a new comfortable life in England, the Bangladesh he left behind still needs food and water.

By Tracey Sparling

HELPING his homeland, is a project close to Boshor Ali's heart. After carving out a new comfortable life in England, the Bangladesh he left behind still needs food and water. Today features editor TRACEY SPARLING finds out how the project to raise cash is gaining momentum.

AS he flicks through a photo album of Bangladesh, sandwiched between pictures of lush green landscapes are the faces of poverty-stricken families and Boshor Ali is proud to say he has helped some.

But for every one, who he and a team of volunteers distribute cash to, there are another hundred waiting in the wings of the rural villages of Sylhet.

This is a land which turns into a turbulent sea when it is flooded by heavy rains every year, making homesteads only reachable by boat. Housing is poor and lacks sanitation and water. Ali said accidents and injuries are frequent in the main jobs of farming, carpentry and building work yet medicine is scare. Many young men are the only source of support for their families, and if they are ill or injured the family becomes destitute. Many also leave for the UK for a new life and find work in restaurants.

“We helped this man build a house,” said Ali, 34, pointing to a picture of a man standing beside a wooden hut emblazoned with a 'Al Tazid Trust' banner. That is the name of the fund he has started in his father's name, to buy housing, water pumps, medical treatment, sanitation and clothes.

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He said: “The project is something I have been thinking about for a long time. In 2001 and 2002 I went out to Bangladesh because I wanted to see for myself what charity money was being spent on. I walked four or five miles to view these places, and saw there was so much to do. Then I had to work out what a limited budget could achieve.”

Together with a small team of enthusiastic friends and his wife and sister, Ali who owns the Jorna indian restaurant in Wherstead Road, has taken out money and clothes over the past few years. The trips have led them to meet and enlist trustworthy locals to help.

Ali said: “You hear about so much charity money not getting through to where it was intended, that people think 'is the money going to the right place?' I realised there is no point in saying 'I want to do this,' unless I had evidence that the money was being distributed directly to the people who need it. I wanted to prove I am capable of doing something to help.

“Unless you have seen the poverty with your own eyes, you wouldn't have believed the way they live. We are 1,000 times better off, what we earn in one day a family can live on for a month. £1 makes 126 taka over there and stretches much further. Everybody who hears about this project is so generous and sympathetic. Customers want to get involved and some have asked to set up direct debits.

“The people of Sylhet are so poor when it comes to living conditions. Sometimes they have to trek to the only water pump which is privately owned and they can be denied access. Everybody is in need and we have to judge and prioritise who needs help most.”

But at the same time, Ali remembers how the people of Sylhet are happy and optimistic. He was born there and lived there - albeit in a more privileged family - until he left school.

He had visited England with his parents for a year in 1980 as a 13-year-old, and returned here to study at sixth form but he spoke little English.

He said; “It was difficult for me to understand, and eventually the only job I could find was in the catering industry.”

Today, after taking several study courses to broaden his skills and employability, Ali owns the Jorna and his day job is as an IT technician at a school. He is also involved with youth groups for the Bangladeshi community - which numbers thousands in Ipswich.

“I am still learning, and sometimes I learn by my mistakes!” he laughed.

“Now I want to give more time to this project. It gives me and my family really great pleasure to help these people.”

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Ali collects donations in the restaurant, and if you would like to make a donation or hold a fundraising event, contact the trust at 162 St Helens Street, Ipswich, or call 01473 680635 or 684612.

Factfile: Sylhet>

Sylhet is situated in the centre of the beautiful Surma Valley, surrounded by scenic tea plantations and lush green tropical forest.

It is about 272 km from the capital Dhaka by road and 30 minutes by air

The terrain is tropical forests, orange groves and pineapple plantations.

The Sylhet Valley is made up by a pair of winding rivers named the Surma and the Kushiara.

Huge stretches of fertile green land called hoars provide sanctuary to millions of birds who have migrated from the Himalayas to escape Siberian winters. When the rainy season comes, the hoars turn into sea.

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