A Handful of Rice and Dhal (Bangladesh)
by Joshe Bose & Dorli Gschwandtner

She is holding a tiny baby, nestled tenderly in her arm. Her fingers tremble feebly as she tries to keep the large knife steady. She sits slumped, barely able to support herself. All blood seems drained from her body. By her side sits her husband, lines of worry ageing his young features. They are hacking away at some large roots—tasteless 'jungle potatoes', completely innutritious and hardly edible. For two months they have eaten nothing else. Behind them yawns the dark entrance to a meagre dwelling. Almost a peaceful scene—but their eyes cry out in despair and dread of tomorrow.

Man and woman holding a baby, cutting potatoes into a pot and a basket“I had been travelling to church when I came upon this young family. Their misery tore at my heart, and I knew we must help. The following day I attended a district board meeting where I shared the story of this couple. Together we raised some money to buy rice and dhal (lentils) for the families in that community—enough for seven days.”

Enough for seven days. But what is one week in a lifetime of hunger and misery? What is a handful of rice and dhal for a starving family? What is a kind deed towards a child doomed to die? What is a single ray of hope in a life led in darkness?

“We wanted to do more for this community. So we decided to start a school and assist the children not only by providing education but also some nutritious food. And a school helps to reach a community for Christ. About two months after I first met the young couple, we started the school, and soon after it was accepted as a Nutritional Rehabilitation project. With the help of friends, we even built a shelter for the school—it was finished just before the rainy season began.”

group of children standing in front of a bamboo hutIn a small bamboo grove, a tiny community huddles, mud-and-straw huts leaning against the tall stalks as if they lack the power to keep themselves upright. Thick bamboo envelops everything in watchful shadows—peaceful, protective, expectant. In the centre of the grove: the school. Beaten-mud floor, bamboo walls, a tin roof: two tiny classrooms, accommodating three classes. Some stray sunrays penetrate the heavy shade to touch the children's smiling faces… still poor, still hungry, but not hopeless.

children standing in front of a blackboard inside a bamboo hut“I don't know whether the baby survived. I lost track of the couple—maybe they moved on to another community. The child would be three years old now. But I know that through the compassion they planted in our hearts, we were able to carry hope into a community that had no future.”

The significance of a one-week supply of rice and dhal… The vision to accomplish a task at hand… The compassion found in Christ's love… All of these unite to turn a single ray of hope into a spark that may ignite and transform the darkness into light.

Dorli Gschwandtner served as NIVS in South Asia in 2002–03. The story appears as told by Joshe Bose, Project Manager, Bangladesh.


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