I participated in the Center for Social Concern’s International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) after my freshman year with the Holy Cross Mission in rural Bangladesh. HCM serves 4 parishes across the Bangladesh’s tribal diocese as well as several academic institutions, namely Notre Dame College Mymensingh and Notre Dame College Dhaka. The projects are routinely ambitious and their impacts are felt far and wide. I was fortunate to visit new buildings at both colleges and am certain they are excellent foundations for specialized educations to children who would otherwise have no opportunity at all.
Though there was no ‘typical day’ in Bangladesh, most mornings were spent teaching English to 40-person classes: boys and girls, aged 10 to 16. I quite clearly remember the first few days of class when the children would file in and the boys would sit on the left side of the classroom, girls on the other. I looked to my site partner, former boxing captain Jackson Wrede, and we made it our priority to remove the cultural “cooties” from our Bengali classroom. The rest of the summer, before classes started, we would mix up seating arrangements to encourage the kids to sit next to new people, especially of the opposite gender. We played a lot of group games – enough so that by the end of the summer the children spoke and played naturally with each other – an unprecedented feat in a deep culture of gender oppression.
Typical afternoons were dedicated to traveling to nearby parishes. We would meet the other villagers, go to mass, and often eat a late-lunch in the village-leader’s home. The meals were surreal experiences. The hosts were incredibly nice, prepared incredibly fresh food, and though we couldn’t communicate very well, we certainly shared many big smiles and laughs.
We would generally return home with a few hours of free time before dinner… we could climb to the roof of the school, strip to our shorts because of the suffocating heat, and workout. We did everything from throw mitts, lift socks filled with bricks or buckets full of water, and do pull-ups from the roof’s overhang. I remember doing push-ups, looking down, and seeing my reflection in a pool of sweat. I loved those moments. There were other days when it would be a torrential downpour, but because Jackson and I loved our roof-time, we would persevere through storms. The roof does not call attention to our most conscientious decisions, but it did kindle some untamed emotions – we were alone, on the opposite side of the world, and would really push ourselves… Occasionally, a big, red Bengali sun would begin to set around 6pm and we had the best vantage point in the village – sublime way to end a full day.
Last summer our travelling boxers reported the funding of a new basketball court at the Khallipur parish to provide children with a fun and safe environment, as well as the APON and Baraca Rehabilitation Centers for Addicts, which are resident facilities that target underprivileged, youth addicts as young as five. Bengal Bouts covered all of the children’s food, housing, and elementary classes during rehab. When I lived in Sreemangel, Bangladesh 3 years ago, there was a musing mention of building a computer lab throughout the parishes, providing internet access – and meaningful educational opportunities – to those in need. The club’s seeming perpetuity will hopefully turn such daydreams into reality over the coming years.
Our Men’s Boxing Program is going strong on campus, as we’re in our 90th annual year. We have a resilient cohort for this year’s tournament. Practices have been noticeably difficult, but our young men have responded with relentless dedication. Dozens of men ritualistically attend our 6:00 am morning practices and hundreds participate in our evening workout and technique sessions. This year should be an incredible tournament – a testament to the 89-years of hard work and dedication before us.
Parker Revers is a senior honors History major at the University of Notre Dame. He is the president of the Notre Dame Men’s Boxing Club and had the opportunity to live in Sreemangel, Bangladesh after his freshman summer.