Anne Main led a delegation of MPs on a social action project to Sylhet in the north east of Bangladesh, a city with close links to St Albans. Anne said, ‘We have many Bangladeshi families of Sylheti origin in St Albans, so it was great to go back to a place with close historical and cultural links to our city.’
The ‘friendship link’ between the two cities was established in 1988, when the St Albans council supported a housing project in Sylhet as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. Sylhet was chosen because it is the area of origin for the largest ethnic minority group in St Albans.
‘The purpose of a friendship link is that it focuses on community projects. Our trip was about social action, and making a difference to people’s lives by getting involved in these projects. I believe we made a real difference and we look forward to doing it again’, said the St Albans MP.
The trip was organised by the Conservative Friends of Bangladesh (CFoB) with the aim of promoting UK-based charities in Sylhet and Dhaka, and looking into how British aid money is spent in the country. Anne said that ‘When I set up CFoB this was because I wanted to give something back. We are committed to giving up our time to help people in desperate poverty in Bangladesh.’
The delegation visited various charities as well as BRAC projects - a major international development organisation with a focus on Bangladesh.
‘As well as visiting the UK-based charities in the country, we went to many of BRAC’s health and education projects. Nearly half of BRAC’s funding comes from British aid, so it was important to assess what difference this is making’, said Mrs Main. ‘It is clear that these projects are targeting those most in need, and making a real difference to the lives of some of the poorest children on the planet.
‘We visited a health centre in Sylhet where patients with eye problems were assessed and referred to a specialist. Some of the patients had cataracts that had rendered them blind. The team I was leading funded the treatment of six patients, some of whom were operated on the next day. When we spoke to them afterwards, they described how having their sight back was transformative.
‘These trips are done as economically as possible, but are only made possible through the generous donations by supporters of social action in Bangladesh.
‘Seeing the difference we could make made the whole trip worthwhile. We want to continue to go back to Bangladesh and see for ourselves what progress these projects are making, and how they continue to transform the lives of people in desperate need in a country with strong links to our local area and the rest of the UK.’