Growing up in the United States most of us live a life that is full of opportunities and achievable goals. Most of us do not have the means of extreme poverty hurting us or stopping us from reaching the top. However, people from other countries do not have the luxury to live in a country that provides opportunities to succeed, breathe clean air, or live in places where the streets are clean. A former Antiochian recently returned home from a month long visit in Bangladesh where she has continuously witnessed streets filled with trash and children with no place to be a kid. So she decided to put her newly acquired skills and knowledge she learned from Antioch into practice and launch a program that supports children in every aspect of their development.
Bangladesh is by far one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world. According to UNICEF, “33 million children in Bangladesh – about half of all Bangladeshi children – are living in poverty while about one in four children is deprived of at least four basic needs among the following: food, education, health, information, shelter, water and sanitation,” (UNICEF, November 2009). Many children in this country do not have the means to succeed in their overall life due to their living situation. But due to Bangladesh Street Kids Aid (BSKA), the children involved in the program are able to participate in an activity that helps them steer clear of the dangerous life on the streets. BSKA aids children between the age of 5 to 15 mostly in a deprived city in Dhaka, Bangladesh where children are learning to master the skills of skateboarding and learn how to live a healthy fit lifestyle. BSKA provides the children with boards, shoes, food, medical care, and toys in order for them to live the best life they can in a country that is stricken with poverty.
This program is very beneficial to the children living in Bangladesh because they are able to partake in a program that was not readily available to them before BSKA was introduced. There is lots of work that goes into this program day after day in order for it to provide the children of Bangladesh an activity that intrigues them but also keeps them healthy. In order to understand the journey of how Bangladesh Street Kids Aid got started and the amount of work that goes into making it successful, Susie Halsell is the best person to provide you with information. She graduated Antioch in September of 2018 but her journey with BSKA has been around for a decade.
Ebony: Why did you choose Bangladesh?
Susie Halsell: Basically I went to Bangladesh the first time in 2007 when I was pretty much just out of high school and not really sure what I wanted to do with my life other than reach out to people in need, whatever that would consist of. I was shocked at the levels of poverty that I witnessed during that first trip, so much that even when I returned back home I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids I saw laying in the streets in the mornings, sometimes in the dirt, other times on a makeshift bed that was really just a pile of trash. My heart was abducted by the thought of those children having no one to care for them. Ever since I have been going back and forth, using my own earnings to reach out to them however I could.
Ebony: How did you get involved with the children?
Susie Halsell: I started out by giving them things like juice and bread. Then I started buying them clothes and eventually putting together care packages with essential items like soap, toothpaste, sandals, louse shampoo, nail cutters, etc. I was also using skateboarding as a way to instantly connect with the kids in a healthy way. Through skateboarding with them, I was able to build trust with not only them but with their impoverished family members as well. Then I was able to place them in schools and pay their school fees and buy their uniforms at the beginning of each year. Many of the children are vulnerable to several forms of abuse and spend most of their day out on the streets collecting recyclables and begging. I have always envisioned having a boarding school for them where they could play and learn in a safe environment.
Ebony: What are some milestones that have come from BSKA?
Susie Halsell: Throughout all of my travels back and forth to the country, I have made some really great contacts and in 2016 was offered a beautiful piece of land to create a safe haven for our kids. In 2017 I founded the nonprofit organization, Bangladesh Street Kids Aid (BSKA) so that we could raise money to build and operate a boarding school, skatepark, and permaculture farm on the land that we were donated. Becoming an official nonprofit has also allowed us to reach many more children with our services and we are also in the process of being registered with the Bangladesh NGO Affairs Bureau, as well as their Ministry of Social Welfare.
Ebony: How has Antioch assisted in your success with BSKA?
Susie Halsell: I attended AUSB’s business and entrepreneurship program in order to be able to properly and successfully manage the nonprofit. At Antioch, I was able to come up with essential organizational strategies, a business plan, and build a brand image for our nonprofit. I also learned a lot about child development in some of my elective courses as well as through volunteering and interning with Girls Inc. and the Wilderness Youth Project.
Ebony: What obstacles have faced in creating Bangladesh Street Kids Aid (BSKA)?
Susie Halsell: So the first problems I had were finding people that I could trust in a foreign country that is well-known for corruption. When people see a foreigner in Bangladesh, they automatically assume you are rich. People have assumed that I am there either to provide monetary aid or jobs. When in reality, I am assisting children that are living on the very margins of society with very few of my own resources and now a good bit from BSKA.
The second major obstacle was figuring out where to get land to build a permanent location for the kids since a polluted slum or the streets are no place for any child to have to grow up. Thankfully, after having found trustworthy people who wholeheartedly wish to assist the marginalized children of their country as well, I was donated a beautiful piece of land just an hour’s drive outside of the capital city, Dhaka.
The third major obstacle was figuring how we as a foreign nonprofit organization could own land in a country where only Bangladeshis are allowed to own land. I did massive amounts of paperwork to get our California nonprofit registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau of Bangladesh but found out it would cost over $10,000 to be registered for 10 years. Even after registering with the NGO Affairs Bureau we would have to hire a lawyer to help us get special permission from the Bangladesh government to own the land. So I decided to go another route, which is forming a local NGO that our nonprofit would basically just be the main donor too. This would allow the local NGO to own the land, and also be able to offer me a position in Bangladesh. We will also have to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare before we could begin offering permanent housing to the kids.
Ebony: Where do you see BSKA in the next few years?
Susie Halsell: In three years I see us settling into our permanent location. Starting with our sustainable Earthship Biotecture flower design for our boarding school, we will have an amazing program for training locals on sustainable, zero-carbon natural building design. We have contracted and have been in constant communication with Michael Reynolds, the founder of Earthship Biotecture. Within three years we will have completed the school and will have started growing our own food on our property. I am hoping to get Warren Brush, whom I just completed a 14-day Permaculture Design Course without on his property in Cuyama, come out to help us design our permaculture farm. I hope to have about 20 kids (and possibly a few single moms, or transgender brothers/sisters that are related to our kids) out on the property helping all of this come to fruition, and when the construction of our boarding school, permaculture farm, and skatepark are complete, we will move another 20 kids out. Until then I see us continuing to grow the number of children we are already reaching from 20 to 40 through our street outreach programs. Lastly, I definitely see our kids continuing to live happier, healthier, and more positive lifestyles through our ongoing services and programs.
Bangladesh Street Kids Aid is doing amazing work with the children of Bangladesh to give them light and hope away from the poverty they live in day after day. BSKA is still working to grow their organization to reach more children in Bangladesh. If you would like to know more about this organization or how you can get involved, visit their website https://bskaid.org/bska-home or Facebook for more information.