Half the population of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, lives in poverty. Meet the woman on a mission to help
Emirates flight attendant Maria Conceicao, originally from Portugal, founded The Dhaka Project in 2005. The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Some 48 per cent of that population lives below the poverty line, and only two-thirds of households are served by the city’s water supply system. In between flying around the globe with Emirates, Conceicao spends her spare time dashing back and forth to Dhaka to try to improve life in the slums. She tells us what she’s got planned for the year ahead.
What inspired you to found the Dhaka Project? When I was on my first trip to Dhaka as Emirates cabin crew, I wanted to explore the place during my layover. I spoke to the manager of the hotel and he insisted the bellboy take me around. I visited the slums, an orphanage and a hospital. I couldn’t believe my eyes – the poverty and the unhygienic hospitals were too much to bear. I remember sitting in the bus on the way back to the airport and thinking: I have to do something about this. The next day the Dhaka Project started to evolve.
Education – for children and adults – is a primary focus. How well attended are the classes you’ve made happen? The Dhaka Project school now has more than 600 children, whom we have taken out of the slums and put into education, and they follow the national curriculum. I have also started another project that aims to educate adults. Our smartest children teach English reading and writing to the adults in the evenings, to help with future education and employment. We are also going to be opening the first ever adult job centre in the third world.
What else do you have planned? I have five children at my school who are so smart that I’m trying to get them educated in Dubai. A year of education in Dubai will help them so much, and be equivalent to three years of schooling in Dhaka. We are approaching schools in Dubai that can offer five places to children from September. This also means I need five families to look after the children for one year.
We’ve also heard you’re trying to encourage Dubai families to host vacations for slum children… Yes – we’re looking for families and individuals who would like to take Dhaka slum children in for a few weeks or months so that the kids can experience a new way of life and interact with various cultures. This way, they realise that there is a great big world out there beyond their slum life: something to aim for and strive to achieve.
What do you hope for the future of The Dhaka Project? We aim for it to become self-sufficient and for the school to keep growing. We will support these people in any way possible, but we must make sure they become self-sufficient. That is the only true way they will break out of their cycle of poverty.
What kind of help do you need from the people of Dubai? Dhaka is very cold at the moment, so the children all have flu. We urgently need jumpers, socks, shoes and blankets. Also, if people would like to help with the schools we need stationery and library books. For the grooming parlour and the dentist we’re in need of toothpaste, brushes, hair lice shampoo, nappies, Vaseline and creams. For more on The Dhaka Project, visit www.thedhakaproject.org.
Do your bit: The Dhaka Project Polo Cup
Park up and enjoy a picnic and polo match at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club to show your support for The Dhaka Project. On March 5 from 2pm, families are invited to bring picnics and enjoy an exciting polo tournament in the sunshine, with all money raised going towards The Dhaka Project. We can vouch that it makes for a great day out and an ideal way to escape the madness of the city. Dhs100 per car, at The Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club at Arabian Ranches (on Emirates Road). See www.poloclubdubai.com for a location map. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.