Last year, I became an honorary vice-president of the charity Tear Fund. In February, Caroline Spelman MP and I visited Bangladesh with them. We stayed at the Lamb Hospital, Syedpur, a haven of tranquillity 300 miles from the capital, Dhaka, and close to the border between Bangladesh and India. The hospital's motto is: “that all may have abundant life”. It serves an area of 1.7 million people.
The hospital has its origins in missionary work in the 1950s, and opened in 1983. Tear Fund has supported it for 25 years. It has 1000 staff, including 30 long stay expatriates, and includes a nurse training centre whose graduates go on to work throughout the country. It accommodates 115 in-patient beds. It has a programme for correcting club feet among young children which has a success rate greater than 96%. Specialising in care for mothers and children, it hosts on average ten births per day. It is the hub for a network of 15 "safe birthing" clinics in surrounding villages. Tear Fund paid for the construction of a number of them.
Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, and the reason for our visit was to look at the programme of disaster preparedness through churches, which is delivered through the hospital. Only about 0.5% of the population of Bangladesh are Christians, so I was surprised that Tear Fund, deploying its “Umoja” strategy, can work through village churches in most areas of the country. We visited a tiny Methodist Church where residents were animists until ten years ago. They became Christians through a South Korean Methodist outreach. In other villages, mosques and churches were side by side.
Backed by Tear Fund, an inter-church network based at the hospital was established in 2011. It comprises 39 churches in 37 communities with 1200 families in membership. Through its work, communities are becoming more resilient. In one village, the residents came together to build a new bamboo bridge. We saw electricity being generated by solar panels, and cooking on gas made from cow dung – five cows can sustain three hours gas cooking per day! These villages are far from any mains supply. As a collective, the network also ensures the Government pays these church-based communities attention.
It was very impressive to see how – even in a country where Christians are tiny in number – modest support via Tear Fund from the UK is transforming communities.