Pendle MP caught up in Bangladesh earthquake drama

Andrew Stephenson (S
Andrew Stephenson (S

A HOTEL in which Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson was staying during a visit to Bangladesh was struck by the devastating earthquake which hit the Himalayas and killed more than 100 people.

Mr Stephenson has just returned to Pendle after spending a week teaching English in two schools in Bangladesh.

The MP said: “The tremor shook the hotel we were staying in and we lost all power, meaning we had to evacuate the building while it was still shaking in the dark. This experience unnerved a number of the volunteers, however for me it reaffirmed my desire to continue helping in a country that is often hit by natural disasters.”

Speaking of his time there, he said: “I know leading a team of volunteers teaching English in one of the most deprived countries in the world isn’t everyone’s idea of a holiday; however I like a challenge. In 2009, before I was elected, I helped build a football pitch and refurbish a school in Bosnia, so when I heard about the opportunity to do similar voluntary work in Bangladesh I jumped at the chance.

“I was given the task of leading a team of seven volunteers teaching at two different schools in the north-eastern city of Sylhet. This was a challenge, as I have no previous teaching experience and had to quickly create lesson plans and try to remember nursery rhymes from my childhood. In a country where teaching methods are still very basic, to get classes involved with rhymes like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ really helps the children learn new words.

“The first school I taught at was the Burunga Iqbal Ahmed High School and College, which takes children from aged five to aged 16. I taught a class with 102 pupils in it on the first day and a class of 136 the following day. The classrooms are very basic with narrow desks, no electricity and just a blackboard. The classrooms become stiflingly hot during the day, but all the children are determined to learn and seemed incredibly happy to see people helping around the school. The most surreal moment at this school was when a calf walked into the classroom mid lesson, presumably trying to avoid the torrential rain outside.

“The second school I taught at was the Bishwanah Primary School, where six teachers teach 1,204 pupils. Most of the kids are barefoot and the heat is unbearable, but again all the kids seemed very happy. I and all of the volunteers enjoyed teaching at the schools and found it a very rewarding experience. On our last day we distributed stationery and pens to the children that had been donated by companies in the UK and we had taken over with us.

“I would like to thank everyone for their messages of support and encouragement while I was in Bangladesh, particularly those sent following the earthquake. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life and would encourage others who are interested in volunteering abroad to take the plunge.”