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BENGAL BOUTS: Black eyes, bloody noses help poor

Kate Gales | Friday, March 18, 2005

The Saturday morning practices, hundreds of push-ups and struggles to learn a new technique are all worth it once a boxer feels his fist lifted by the referee to signal his victory.

But win or lose, the sacrifices boxers make at Notre Dame are ultimately worth it for another, more lasting reason – the contributions they make to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

The black eyes will fade and the trophies will gather dust, but every Bengal Bouts participant, as well as every fan who buys a ticket, will know he or she changed lives for the better in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“I would say that the Bengal Bouts are quite unique,” said Father Tom Smith, director of Holy Cross Missions. “The Holy Cross Mission has been in Bangladesh for more than 150 years now and the Bengal Bouts have been supporting that mission for 75 years.”

The past 75 years have seen a number of changes to the University, but the support for the Holy Cross Mission in Bangladesh has remained constant.

“It’s an unusual commitment that was started by some very good people concerned with supporting our mission in Bangladesh, but also just concerned with stretching the hearts of people here at Notre Dame to include poor people at a distance,” Smith said.

The “philanthropic side” of Bengal Bouts is important to boxers as well, according to two-time captain Nathan Lohmeyer.

“All the money that we raise from ticket sales and from donations and merchandise sales goes to support the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh,” he said.

The finance major is also able to explain how the money raised in the US can make such a significant difference in the lives of those in Asia.

“We raise on average, in the past, 55 grand a year,” Lohmeyer explained. “One U.S. dollar converts, more or less, to 10 dollars in Bangladesh because of the exchange rates and the volume of the dollar.”

In the four years Smith has been directing the mission, he said that the bouts have raised between $40,000 and $75,000 per year.

“The number of uses is innumerable,” Smith said. “It depends on the year on what that money is actually given to, but it’s really a very important source of support for the work our community does among the poor and the very poor in Bangladesh.”

The money is split evenly between the province of priests and the province of brothers that the Holy Cross Mission maintains in Bangladesh.

“They use the money according to what their priority projects among the poor are in the given year that they receive it,” Smith said.

Every ticket buyer can know that he or she has made an important contribution to life in Bangladesh.

“[The money] has been used to build hostels for students who have no other way of attending school, to care for orphans, [and to] sponsor students in technical schools that we have in order to give them skills to enable self support,” said Smith.

Although education is a foundation of the mission, health care receives funding as well.

“[It funds a] program we have for medical care for the indigent – the poorest of the poor – who have no other ways to get medical care,” Smith said.

In a culture very different from America, Bengal Bouts also assists young women in Bangladesh who are looking for jobs.

“Funding has been used in programs to support young women in terms of life skills training,” said Smith.

The swollen lips and sore knuckles will soon be forgotten, although the chipped teeth and dental bills could take more time to forget. But the main purpose of the Bengal Bouts – supporting those in need halfway across the world – now boasts 75 years of staying power.