Beds, Herts & Bucks

How Valerie Taylor became Buckinghamshire's Mother Theresa

When physiotherapist Valerie Taylor arrived in Bangladesh, she only intended to stay for 15 months.

But when she saw the plight of disabled people in the country, she discovered what was to become her life's work.

Now, 42 years later, she is still there - but thanks to her efforts many people with spinal injuries receive much improved care.

She took inspiration from growing up near Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire to create a number of spinal care centres across the country.

Ms Taylor's work has made her famous in the area and she has even been dubbed the Mother Theresa of Bangladesh in both Bangladeshi and British press.

Yet, as she landed in what was then known as East Pakistan, there was little to indicate her fate was set for a remarkable change.

She said: "I signed on for 15 months initially because I really wasn't sure whether I'd like it.

'Mad with excitement'

"But as you see, I fell in love with the country instantly and 42 years later I find I'm still here.

"I remember so well those early days in the country and liberation day - the 16th December 1971 - will always stand out.

"I'd been evacuated because of the war but managed to get back. I walked down to the hospital in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, rolled up my sleeves ready for the day's work and suddenly you realised that the world had gone mad with excitement.

"Bangladesh had been born and everyone was shouting 'Joy Bangla' and certainly no one was interested in their physio that day. I had that feeling you were seeing history in the making right there."

In 1979, after 10 years of persistence, Ms Taylor, now 67, opened the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Bangladesh after finding nowhere in the country was able to provide adequate care to people with spinal injuries.

She said: "I just felt this is the group of people I'd like to work with."

From just four patients in those early days, the centre has grown to treat hundreds of thousands.

"Our whole aim is to give complete rehabilitation, not just the physical but the economic and the emotional. It's about how these people will cope when they go back to their village," she said.

Huge stigma

At the CRP centre in Savar, just outside Dhaka, the facilities are vast. There is a 100-bed hospital for spinal injuries, an operating theatre and workshops where they construct items such wheelchairs.

Across the whole of Bangladesh there are now four CRP centres. They also work with children with cerebral palsy and teach parents how to cope with a condition that still carries a huge stigma in countries like Bangladesh.

Unsurprisingly the woman at the centre of all this is not keen on sharing a title with Mother Theresa.

She laughed: "I'm just very simple plain old Valerie Taylor.

"This place is thanks to hundreds and now maybe thousands of people who've played their part. They come and give their time and often raise money in their own country."

BBC Asian Network is marking the 40th anniversary of independence in Bangladesh. You can see the rest of the coverage here.

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