The Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal has been a major success, raising an incredible £1 million from people just like you. This was then matched pound for pound by the UK Government.
Almost every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh to swell, resulting in devastating floods. They wash away fertile land and destroy homes and livelihoods. Families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate. Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede; the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops. It’s a simple solution that is truly changing lives, thanks to your support.
Nazmul Islam Chowdhury is the Head of the Extreme Poverty Programme in Bangladesh and manages the Pumpkins Against Poverty project. Nazmul came up with the idea of using the barren land in this way many years ago and has gone on to develop and implement the solution in communities across Bangaldesh. Below he explains just why this project is so important.
“Firstly, I want to say thank you so much for everyone’s generous support of Practical Action and the Pumpkins Against Poverty project. You are helping to reach thousands of people.
“When I initially came up with the idea of sandbar cropping, I thought something is better than nothing, but we have been able to develop and improve the project. It now has a huge impact on the ground and there is potential to bring this innovation to other countries. The pumpkin is like a magic golden ball; it is a solution for food security, vitamin A deficiency, income and gender equality.
“I have many stories from the people the project helps but there is one that sticks in my mind. In 2009, When I was visiting a community in Rangpur, I was interviewing a farmer when I heard a girl crying. She was only around three years old. Her cries interrupted the interview and I asked her mother what was wrong. She said she was crying because she was hungry and she had no food to feed her. I was shocked and thought, how can I help? I still think about that girl now. We must do something to help these families.
“I always tell my children, imagine that you have no food at home and you are hungry. You should always try to help the people that need it.”
Thank you to everyone who has supported the Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal. You are helping thousands of people to lift themselves out of poverty, for good.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Clean water is something we take for granted but it is a basic human right that many are often denied. There are 2.5 billion people in the world that lack access to improved sanitation and 748 million people that don’t have clean drinking water. Nearly 1,400 children die each day from diseases caused by lack of sanitation and unsafe water.
In 2015, the United Nations introduced their new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty. Goal 6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
It’s Sanitation Month in Bangladesh and we have been celebrating our commitment to reaching the water and sanitation SDG through projects like ‘Delivering Decentralisation’ in Bangladesh, which you can find out more about here.
The Delivering Decentralisation project supports people living in slums in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to influence local authorities and service providers in the delivery of improved urban services.
We established slum community-based organisations, which brought residents together to identify their needs and priorities and build links with and influence local authorities. Through our training on good governance and strengthening of town-wide forums, our local teams changed the mind-set of government officials towards slums. They now integrate community action plans prepared by slum residents into city development plans and allocate budget for them to be delivered.
The project also helped build roads, toilets, water supply points and introduce waste collection services, including turning faecal waste into compost and biogas.
But we believe that lasting change is achieved not just by the direct delivery of projects on the ground but also by making knowledge available to the poorest people and in encouraging institutions and governments to adopt approaches that favour the poor.
In Bangladesh we are working with the Prime Minister’s office to ensure the safe management of faecal sludge is included as a priority in the Government’s action plan for SDG 6. We have also been working with the Bangladesh government to develop a national framework for faecal sludge management, ensuring that human waste from pit latrines is disposed of safely, rather than being dumped in drains and water sources and causing diseases. This will create job security for informal waste workers and improve the health and wellbeing of at least 30 million people living in urban areas.
As part of our work with the Bangladesh government we were given the responsibility of organising celebrations in three districts (Bagerhat, Faridpur and Satkhira) for Global Handwashing Day under the national sanitation month campaign. The day was celebrated with a rally and discussion session among different NGOs, government officials and civil society.
Our Sudan team, for example joined students and communities at Twait School in Kassala to teach them the importance of washing their hands with soap and water at critical times.
Mohammed Tahir Adam Samra, a student at Twait school, said: “Now I can prevent my self from abdominal diseases that cause me to absences from school, so I could get better grades on the exam.”
We couldn’t help children like Mohammed Tahir without your support. Please help us to work with communities around the world to prevent diseases and save lives and spread the word that more needs to be done to give people access to clean water and sanitation.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Saturday 28th May is Menstrual Hygiene Day, a really important day to raise awareness of good menstrual hygiene and to break some of the taboos that surround something that affects half the population of the world!
It’s sad that in 2016, women and girls are still made to feel ashamed by a natural bodily function. Girls are often held back from achieving their full potential as they are unable to attend school and it’s shocking to think that in some communities, girls are made to sleep in sheds, away from their home, when menstruating. It shouldn’t be this way.
In August last year, I travelled to Bangladesh to see some of our work and to meet people who Practical Action is supporting. In Bangladesh, menstrual hygiene remains a taboo topic, sanitary products are rarely available and young girls are often too afraid to ask.
I met 25 year old Danier who told me what it was like to be a woman in her community. She explained how women are considered ‘unclean’ during their periods, sanitary products are not available and girls are forced to hide away and use rags to soak up the blood. These rags are used over and over again. Washing and drying the rags is difficult, as they shouldn’t be seen by anyone. During this time, girls don’t attend school, because they are too afraid of blood leaking onto their clothes.
But this is beginning to change. Danier spends her mornings – along with other women from her village – making and selling biodegradable and good quality sanitary products. The women not only make the products, they also encourage other women and girls to use them and are starting to break the silence around the issue. The women earn a small income from making the pads, which they are able to use to help pay for their education.
Before this project, Danier explained that everyone was using rags but now, most of them are using the products she and her friends make!
“I’m happy, I even use the product. I am helping other girls. No longer do they have to feel shy.”
I was touched by how the project had empowered Danier. She felt she had a voice and was making a difference to the girls in her community. Menstruation should not be a taboo subject. Women and girls across the world should not feel ashamed by their periods. Hygiene education and sanitary products should be available to all wherever you live in the world.
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We do not need to smoke, but tobacco producers are millionaires; we do not need to drink wine/carbonated drinks, but those businesses are also making millions. We need rice, vegetables, fish, meat, eggs – these are our daily necessities, but the producers of these commodities… I am sorry I cannot say that they are millionaires. Most of them are poor and are still living below poverty line.
Practical Action has always answered queries in the development sector. Today, around 30 members of the staff from 10 different countries in Practical Answers are now appointed to answer questions.
Practical Answers Bangladesh team has built a Krishi (agriculture) Call Centre with the promise of providing agriculture related information and services in partnership with the Department of Agriculture & Extension under the Ministry of Agriculture.
The journey of Krishi Call Centre started in 2011-12 with the aim to support rural farmers who are living in remote areas of the country. During the test period, we received around 20,000 calls from 18,000 clients through an eleven digit number for farmers to connect the centre and farmers are charged 0.65 BDT/minute. Subsequently, in 2014, the government made the centre toll free (The connection number is 16123 from Bangladesh only) just for 6 months. Thanks to our Ministry of Local Government for that initiative. After that time Government has declared the lowest rate (0.25 BDT/min excluding vat and surcharge) for the farmers. This is indeed a very good initiative.
However, with the help of donors, the centre may not continue its work in the long run. The Government should take it to a revenue model; otherwise it will be very difficult to sustain.
Coming back to what I said at the start, if a farmer gets support from a remote place for his agricultural production, it will be valuable for our economy as well as Gross Domestic Product – GDP. As Bangladesh still relies on agricultural based economy, the government should take the necessary steps to make the Krishi Call Centre sustainable and a successful project.2 Comments » | Add your comment
All around the UK are villages and towns with community centres, but just imagine how valued that community centre would be if it was not just a community centre but also a school, and a place of safety. The Multi-purpose Community Centre and School in Saghata, Giabandha, is one such place.
Most of the time the building is used as a school and this is what it was being used for when I visited it. The place was full of incredibly well-behaved, delightful children from 5-18 years old. When I walked into a classroom they all got up to say good morning to me, and were clearly very proud of their ability to speak English, and to recite traditional English rhymes.‘Early to bed , early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise’ was a firm favourite. Several of the children were able to tell me a little bit about their lives. Playing football is obviously a popular pastime in Bangladesh!
BUT…this is a school with a difference, if you look closely at the buildings you will see they are all raised from the ground on plinths and made of brick. This is a flood-proof school. When the floods do arrive however it stops becoming a school and is a place of safety for the local community. The classrooms become places where people and animals can stay until the flood subsides. This Centre was clearly the hub of the community and is making a big difference to the lives of the people who live there irrespective of flooding.No Comments » | Add your comment
We have all heard that saving, ‘give a man a fish and he will have food for a day, teach him to fish and he will have food for a lifetime’. At Practical Action we take this a step further, we would teach a man to fish and provide all the equipment he needs to do that as well!
In my recent visit to Bangladesh it was this expression that came to mind when I met a lovely family were keen to tell me how their lives had been made much better as a result of their involvement in a Practical Action project.
Hagera is a lady who had been given training and equipment from Practical Action as part of the Shiree project about 3 years before. She had learnt how to make a range of different snacks to sell to local shops and door to door. She was proudly wearing the Practical Action apron she had been given at the time. What made this story a bit special however was that recently she had trained her 19 year old son Allakba to also get involved in the business. He told me that if he didn’t make snacks he would have to be a labourer. As a labourer he would make 100 Taka a day ( about 90p) , but by making snacks he could make 300-500 Taka. He was a very happy and in fact he didn’t stop smiling the whole time I was there!
Hagera and her son showed me how they made the snacks and then with typical Bangladeshi hospitality invited my colleague and myself to taste them…and they were delicious. My favourite was a snack called jhuri, it is similar to a hard chip that tasted both salty and sweet at the same time, not like anything I had ever had before but really yummy.
In terms of the difference Practical Action’ had made to their lives Hagera told me that in the three years they had managed to buy a cow and the materials to build a house, which was obviously a huge thing. She clearly felt very blessed and grateful for both what she and her son had managed to achieve so far and that as a result of our input they had a bright future to look forward to.
Another ‘proud to work for Practical Action’ moment for me, and a family I will never forget.No Comments » | Add your comment
Having been to the amazing biogas plant at Gaibandha a while ago I decided ‘Marvellous Microbes’ would be a good title for the science video I am going to be producing for school pupils. The video will be one of three illustrating that access to technologies like biogas is important part of technology justice.
We could learn a lot from the engineers in Bangladesh, who have made good use of a by-product (the biogas) from a waste collection system designed primarily to reduce the hazard caused by kitchen waste being dumped in the street. The system is well managed, it is a definite benefit to the community and the staff are incredibly dedicated. Within the process itself the microbes are the star of the show! Microbes break down the kitchen waste from 1,000 households producing two really useful products, fertiliser and biogas. The biogas is used by 25 household to cook food and the fertiliser is in the form of slurry, some of which is then used to make compost.
If you are interested in more details please read on. The process goes like this!
- First of all you need buy in from the community, so a team of three lovely ladies go from door to door encouraging households to get involved in the scheme and pay a small fee to have their kitchen scraps collected. They told me that mostly people do this because they understand it is better for the community as a whole to not have waste dumped in the street, and the only other option is to walk quite a distance to larger bins. In this site just over 1,000 households have joined in. Like me (!) these ladies have their targets to reach and are constantly signing up more. The plant itself could manage waste from about 2,000 households in total so there is a way to go.
- Kitchen waste is collected every day by vendors. One vendor I spoke to has worked here for 4 years. He much prefers working here as he can look through the waste and if he finds anything that can be reused he can take it and sell it, this could be something like a small plate. By doing this he can increase his income by about 50% . He told me that most precious thing he found was a locket which he didn’t sell but gave to his daughter.
- Kitchen waste is also sorted by ladies at the landfill site. They spend up to 5 hours a day separating it out from general waste. Not a job many people would like but they said they were happy because they have work and the are given safety equipment.
- The kitchen scraps collected in these two different ways are then put into the digester and mixed with water where the marvellous microbes get to work. Conditions for these anaerobic digesters are perfect, The right pH, temperature, moisture and oxygen levels mean that in 15-20 days the kitchen scraps have changed to fertiliser that can be used as slurry and converted into compost, plus lovely biogas. Slurry is used in the plant itself and surrounding fields, in fact I was told the biogas plant is known as the ‘green garden’ because the plants in it grow so well. The compost is sold on to generate a small income for the plant.
- Biogas is piped out of the plant to 25 lucky households. They receive the biogas gas three times a day. Women who are lucky enough to get biogas for cooking much prefer it to the more traditional stoves because it is cleaner, and also food doesn’t have to be watched to the same degree, reducing drudgery as it allows the women time to do other things whilst the food is cooking. The plant has the capacity to provide biogas for up to 50 households, the limiting factor being the cost of building the pipes.
I came away feeling …what a great idea, basically a win win situation.
To find out more about Practical Action’s work on biogas go to www.practicalaction.org/biogas-fuel
For a technical brief on biogas to use with pupils go to practicalacton.org/technical-briefs-schools-energy
…And watch out for that Marvellous Microbes video coming soon on Youtube!1 Comment » | Add your comment
Before my journey to Bangladesh I was told to prepare to be stared at, as some of the people I would meet might never have seen a white lady before. So I was expecting comments on my white skin, maybe my blond hair showing from underneath my headscarf, or even my height… at 5ft 7” I must seem like a giant compared to women in Bangladesh. I am sure all of that happened but I was told that what was really causing a stir and a few giggles was the fact that I was wearing boots!
Despite being obviously different the welcome I received when I visited a small village, which had benefited from Practical Action’s support, was simply wonderful. Some of the braver children tried out their English asking me ‘How do you do’ and ‘what is your name’. Abkor, one of the older men an I was told was the ‘unofficial boss’ insisted on having his photo taken shaking hands with me and throughout the visit tried to get his baby boy to call me ‘auntie’! The women all wanted to know how many children I had and how old they all were. I made them laugh when I showed them how tall my boys were.
Then I met Ria. Ria is an 18 year old girl who lives in the village with her husband. She spoke good English so we could speak without an interpreter. She was thrilled that we had visited her village and very quickly invited me into her home and insisted on making me a meal. I am in Bangladesh with the film company Ignite Creative to film for some science videos and Ria was keen to help. She quickly became the ‘star’ in our first video which will show how important water access is in technology justice.
Ria explained how the village has two water pumps, one is ring pump, that takes water from deep in the ground and can be used for drinking, while the other pump, a tube pump, does not go so deep and the water can be used for washing and cleaning. She said her grandmother remembers before they had any wells and they had to drink water from the pond, just filtering through cloth, and that this often made them sick and gave them skin diseases because of the viruses in the water. They were all very grateful for the wells, as well as the toilets and houses that Practical Action had helped them build.
As I was shown round the village, feeling a bit like the pied piper, I felt incredibly proud to work for the organisation that had helped improve the lives of these lovely people. People who despite being poor and having very few possessions are happy, proud of their achievements and live in a close knit and supportive community. I came away feeling there is an awlful lot we could learn a lot from them.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I know it’s probably not grown up to talk about poo and pee, but the alliteration was just too tempting. It’s interesting though that we do use these coy words like ‘poo’, ‘pee’ and ‘no. 2s’ to talk about a function which is so fundamental. Sex, politics, religion and even what money you’ve got these days are no longer taboo subjects but to ask someone how often they defecate is completely off limits, unless of course, you’re talking to your doctor. But everyone does it, even the Queen, and Elvis famously died while on the toilet. Here in the developing world, designers and manufacturers have become rich creating wondrous bathrooms – quiet, private, beautifully decorated rooms, with toilets that keep your bottom warm while seated, ensure you are fresh and clean afterwards with carefully directed sprays, that the toilet is completely sanitised once the automatically closing seat comes down and a sweet smelling aroma is sprayed afterwards to ensure no-one knows what you’ve been doing.
Visit somewhere like an informal urban settlement in Bangladesh and your experience will be the complete opposite. If you’re lucky, there may be a room which you share with all the other families around you, young, old and the sick, with a hole in the ground that you have to perch over and hope that your aim is good. If you’re elderly or a child, this can be challenging, and for very small children extremely dangerous, with the risk of falling into the toilet pit. There’s also the threat of disease with no flushing with water to carry away the faeces and so it piles up, attracting flies, creating the ideal conditions for cholera, dengue fever, etc. After a while the toilet needs to be emptied and this is where people like Fadhiya come in, a young woman of 29, abandoned by her husband, with a child to take care. Desperate for work, Fadhiya visits these toilets, usually after, dark, climbing down into the pits to clear them with her bare hands into a bucket which she then heaves out of the pit, walking many miles to find somewhere that she can hopefully dispose of the poo and pee. She comes home to her family, smeared with excrement, dangerous to be near for her small child, and outcast by her community.
Practical Action can’t bring flushing toilets to all the people living in informal urban settlements, but we can begin to make a difference by protecting people like Fadhiya with equipment such as a manual ‘gulper’ (a hand driven pump) so that she doesn’t have to climb down into toilet pits. We can provide a tricycle rickshaw so that she doesn’t have to carry so many buckets of excrement, and we can find somewhere for all that poo to be deposited that isn’t going to contaminate a water supply.
So, next time you have a ‘poo’ or a ‘pee’, maybe think about putting a £1 or 1p aside each time just for a month and send the money to Practical Action. Just nine people doing that for one month and donating £38.50 each could provide one gulper, and ensure that one less toilet cleaner has to climb into a pit of poo and pee to make a living.
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It was announced yesterday that the minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh was to go up by 77% – to £42 a month.
In April 2013 the Rana garment factory in Dhaka collapsed killing 1,129 people and injuring more than 2,500 others. 157 of the victims were only identified by DNA this week. 165 bodies remain unidentified.
Also this week Primark one of the clothing chains most associated with the Rana disaster announced a 44% increase in annual profits to £514 million.
I am not trying to single out Primark – to attack one organisation would be too easy.
I look at these three statements of facts and can only conclude that something is very, very wrong.
I am also conscious that for years Primark advertised their membership of the Ethical Trading Initiative.
So what’s happened to fair trade – has it become so mainstreamed, engaged so much with business that’s its values have become meaningless? We used to talk about beacons on a hill – organisations that lead by example, showing that change can happen and pushing forward best practice. These ‘beacons’ would be idealist and probably quite shouty. On the other hand, we recognised the need for ‘salt in the stew’ people who would take and translate fair trade into a way that real life business could work with.
£42 a month – sitting here in Bangladesh it seems to me that we need more customers and businesses willing to shout. We need to re-establish beacons for change. People working to produce our clothes deserve a better wage.3 Comments » | Add your comment