An Oamaru woman has recently returned from her latest travels involving Zonta and other service projects.
Nicola Mountain has become the flag-bearer for the Zonta Club of Oamaru in far-flung places in recent years. This time, she was accompanied by her son, Richard, a teacher at Dunedin’s John McGlashan College, on a trip to Bangladesh.
The Mountains’ connections with that country began in 2000, during Mrs Mountain’s sister and her family’s three-year stay there. Mr Mountain went over to work as a volunteer at a hospital for the paralysed.
Mrs Mountain also went and met a Catholic nun, Sr Proshanta, from the Congregation of Associates of Mary Queen of Apostles. Over the past 16 years Mrs Mountain has raised funds for various projects in Bangladesh and kept in contact with Sr Proshanta.
The Mountains’ return coincided with celebrations marking 50 years’ service by Sr Proshanta and another nun, while six others had their silver jubilees and three made their Perpetual Vows.
“What an amazing event!” Mrs Mountain said.
“The convent grounds and church were colourfully decorated and the celebrations began with a procession to the church for a two-hour Mass with the bishop as main celebrant, then lunch.
“There were about 1000 people there, including 218 nuns and many priests! Sister [Proshanta] was only allowed 10 guests, so we felt very honoured.”
The Mountains met Sr Proshanta’s family and went to the village where her brother lives.
Bangladesh had virtually no tourism, Mrs Mountain said. It gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 and was now “coming out of poverty”.
It is mostly Muslim – less than 1% of the population is Christian.
A student Mrs Mountain had supported met them at the airport in Dhaka, which has a population of 15 million. The roads were “manic” leading to a northern suburb, the mud streets lined with stalls. The apartment building where the student’s family lived had a gate around it. Inside it was “like a regular house”, Mrs Mountain said, but there was no hot water.
Huge garment factories were located in the suburb, where employees worked extremely long hours.
The Mountains visited the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, where physiotherapist Valerie Taylor has dedicated her life to helping residents, including abandoned children.
The New Zealanders were greeted by 200 children singing “Happy Welcome to You” at a school. Mrs Mountain taught them some English country dances and English songs.
She also met up with women from some of Bangladesh’s four Zonta clubs, including the former Zonta International president Dilruba Ahmed. A chauffeur drove her to a cafe near the British embassy, where she gave a presentation on Zonta in Oamaru and passed on greetings from the New Zealand governor.
Among the causes Zonta supports in Bangladesh are a fistula clinic where a doctor’s skills are donated; a centre where women are taught to sew; and a school where it funds pupils’ lunches.
Back home again, Mrs Mountain gave a talk on her experiences to the Zonta Club of Oamaru. It was attended by area 5 director Helen Carter, of Timaru.