The British-born physiotherapist founded the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed. She arrived in the country in 1969. She started without even a wheelchair, seeing the helplessness of the sick. the 100-bed hospital she established now treats 400 patients a year. Over the years, up to 80,000 people received some treatment. Many built a new life after being rejected by their families and society.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) celebrated its first 40 years of service to the disabled. British-born physiotherapist and Christian philanthropist Valerie Ann Taylor set it up, earning her the sobriquet of "Mother Teresa of Bangladesh".
Yesterday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined in the celebrations via a message of good wishes. “I admire her,” the message reads, heaping praise on her “outstanding work for Bangladesh” in serving and rehabilitating “paralysed people”.
Dr Taylor was born in 1944 in Kent (England). She arrived in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1969 as a member of an overseas civilian volunteer service for the hospital in Chandraghona, a medical facility run by the Baptist Church in Shandha, Chittagong Hill Tracts.
“When I started,” she said, “there was no wheelchair for paralysed people; they were helpless. I decided to work for these people. I wanted to stay 15 months but I ended up spending 50 years of love for them.”
In the beginning she was interested “in caring for the paralysed when I saw the negligence with which patients with spinal injuries were treated. In 1971, during the Liberation War, I was evacuated. At that time, I saw many injured people who needed treatment.”
In 1973 Taylor travelled home to England to raise funds. After two years, she was back in Bangladesh. In 1979, she opened the CRP with four patients in an abandoned warehouse of the Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital.
Today the facility is a 100-bed hospital in the Savar area, near Dhaka. Every year it treats about 400 paralysed patients with more than 80,000 people getting some treatment over the decades.
The hospital aims at helping patients to get back into society, one that is not always welcoming. As a foreigner, Taylor too has experienced some discrimination, with some people attacking her.
In 1995, she was appointed to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth. Three years later, she became a citizen of Bangladesh. In 2004 she received the Bangladesh Independence Day Award, the highest state honour.
Above and beyond such titles, she has received warm words from people her organisation treated. "I was rejected by my family and society,” said Jahirul Islam, a patient. “Valerie gave me a new one. I learnt a job and now I can earn money,” he explained. “She is like Mother Teresa. I am grateful to her.”
Like the young Muslim, thousands of disabled people now lead a dignified life. In fact, the CRP not only treats medical conditions, but also trains people for work to become self-sufficient.
For Gowher Rizvi, International Affairs adviser to the prime minister of Bangladesh, “Valerie has given new life to people excluded by society. The disabled and the marginalised love her. I congratulate her.”