Showing posts with label BRAC Bangladesh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BRAC Bangladesh. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Help us pick a winner for our intern video contest!

Commemorating BRAC’s 40 years of realising potential, our summer interns have taken the initiative to video document a few of BRAC’s several achievements since inception. The interns made their choice amongst the innovations of BRAC in the past four decades, the success stories of BRAC, and the various programmes/interventions of BRAC.

We at BRAC realise the effort and sincerity the interns have put into creating individual stories. As such, we feel the necessity to credit and award their work. However, we want YOU to be the judge of the best video. With your help, we will be able to find out which video is worth the acknowledgement.

Click here to read the contest details. (You'll need to login with Facebook)

Click here to start voting for your favourite videos. (You'll need to login with Facebook)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The story of the flood, its people and BRAC- BRAC's programmes reaches out to the flood affected regions in Bangladesh

The pervasive torrential rains in the Bandarban, Cox’s Bazar, Sylhet, Chittagong, & Feni district of Bangladesh have left a significant number of people homeless and distressed in the past one week. Roads and railways communication network are left in devastating conditions which has made any kind of aid or assistance impossible to reach. Under such circumstances, BRAC’s Disaster, Environment and Climate Change (DECC) programme has geared up to challenge the extremes and reach out to those in dire need.

Due to heavy rainfall and upstream water:
  • Approximately 2,500 people in the low land areas of Bandarban district have became homeless, 
  • 37 people have been reported dead due to hill slides caused by heavy torrential rainfall(Bandarban),
  • 28 people have been reported dead due to landslides, 
  • 3 people have died due to lightning, and 
  • Around 9,000 families have been affected by the flood.
  • In Cox’s Bazar district 47 people have been reported dead due to the heavy rainfall and wall collapse. 
  • In Sylhet district, 24 unions of Gwainghat, Jointapur, Companiganj and kanaighat upazila have been inundated. 
  • Rail communication from Dhaka and Sylhet with Chittagong has been disrupted because the rail line area at Sitakundo has been inundated with water and the rail bridge has become unstable. 
  • In Chittagong district, coastal low lying areas of Banshkhali, Anwara and Sandwip upazila are inundated as the ring embankment ruptured due to heavy rainfall. 
  • In Feni district, the embankment of Mohuri River is damaged due to heavy the rainfall over the last few days.

As an immediate response to such immense natural disasters, DECC with the help of other programmes has begun to provide relief support to these affected communities. So far: 

  • 19 shelters have been opened in the Bandarban Pourashava, where all of these affected people have taken shelter. 
  • Approximately 5,778 people of the Sylhet District have been moved to the 69 shelters. 
  • The 58,000 people in the affected areas of Cox’s Bazar district have moved to the 137 shelters opened there. 
  • Since July 1st, a total of 260 families have been targeted in Cox’s Bazar, out of which 232 families have already received the relief fund of BDT 1,000 ($12) and the rest will receive assistance soon.

To ensure extensive support and a significant/long term impact, the distribution areas are being selected based on the most affected population staying at these shelters. Moreover, priority is being given to those families who have physically challenged members, pregnant women, elderly people, small children and are women-headed.

In addition to this support, BRAC’s Ultra Poor programme is providing relief to their affected clients. So far, flooding has affected 682 programme members in the Cox’s Bazar and Sylhet districts, and they have received emergency support from the Ultra Poor programme. BRAC’s Health programme is providing financial support to 522 pregnant women who need special attention and the 575 lactating mothers with newborns as per their needs.

The Disaster, Environment and Climate Change programme was established in order to respond proactively to the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters as well as other manifestations of climate change. It is a comprehensive programme which acts beyond relief and rehabilitation into institutionalized preparedness, risk reduction and management interventions as well as long term adaptation strategies.

Monday, July 2, 2012

It's a good thing to throw like a girl

It's usually an insult to say that someone "throws like a girl," but the members of BRAC's adolescent development programme in Bangladesh have shown that throwing - or kicking, or hitting - like a girl is something to aspire to. Check out the video below to see how our girls - and boys!- are going from poor villages to national stadiums with their skills.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Journey through the grassroots: Inspiration from rural Bangladesh

It was the year 2010. I had been working with the BRAC community empowerment programme for only six months back then, when I embarked upon a trip up at North Bengal, exploring BRAC’s community based grassroots forums of poor women, called Polli Shomaj.

Travelling with mixed feelings of open mindedness, combined with much skepticism of a newcomer to the development field, my trip took me on a visit to a meeting of a local Polli Shomaj group of mostly indigenous peoples in Joypurhat. I watched in amusement as the Polli Shomaj members flooded me with details of all the good work they have done, and took on board with pride to show me the house they have built for a local, landless poor in their community through acquiring government allocated khaas land (land that is reserved by the government for distribution to the landless poor).

The enthusiasm of the young woman standing next to me piqued my interest even more, who I asked out of curiosity, “So, why do you come to the Polli Shomaj?”, to which she proudly replied, “Cause I want to help the poor in my community.”

It stunned me to silence, as I was expecting a more “rational” answer from a villager like she comes here to get an opportunity to get a VGD safety net card perhaps.

While her inspirational remark has stayed with me over time, as a newbie to the field, it for the first time made me realize that we at BRAC have created a cadre of grassroots social activists in our villages in Bangladesh. While scores of Polli Shomaj women won the local government elections last year, I read the recent case from Natore where Polli Shomaj members have stopped a Hilla marriage from occurring in their community, and wonder would I myself have dared to challenge local religious norms if I was in their place.

I look at picture of a pre-primary school opened by Polli Shomaj members in Jamalpur on a volunteer basis, as flashbacks come to me from my last trip to a Polli Shomaj in Gazipur, and I remember the intensity with which these women were challenging the elite local government Chairman present, and I realize that there is much that I can learn from them myself – to be a woman of power.

By Mehzabin Ahmed
Management Professional Staff
Community Empowerment Programme

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Safety net for the poor: BRAC Bangladesh - part 1

Syed Hashemi, head of the BRAC Development Institute at BRAC University, talks about BRAC's "safety net for the poor" - the ultra poor program - on the Microsave podcast. Check out the video below.

BRAC's initiatives to "graduate" the ultra poor out of extreme poverty are now being adapted and implemented all over the world. The CGAP-Ford Foundation Graduation program is an initiative to adapt the methodology of BRAC's ultra poor program in Bangladesh in ten countries across the world. BRAC Development Institute, in partnership with BRAC USA and the MasterCard Foundation, has researched and analyzed the results of these pilot programs.

Click here to learn more about BRAC's ultra poor program.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Court declaration in favor of slum dwellers

The eviction of thousands of slum dwellers of Korail slum in the recent past has been one of the most controversial acts of eviction in the Dhaka City. Several humanitarian and development organisations, along with BRAC, stood their ground against this coldhearted act, which, despite being legal and seemingly the ‘right thing’ from the authority’s view point, was utterly inhumane. Following the incident, the court had commanded RAJUK and BTCL to demarcate the Gulshan lake area by June 5 2012, and to cease any sort of evicting process without further notice.

At the court proceedings on June 5 2012, it was declared that RAJUK, together with BTCL and BELA had carried out the demarcation process of the Gulshan lake area, and have admitted their findings that the Korail slum is out of the demarcated area of the lake.

The court also directed the Authorities to take necessary steps to stop the earth filling taking place in four specific spots on Gulshan lake (including behind the Gausul Azam mosque which has been leased to motor garages, and also ordered that no further eviction is to take place of slum dwellers who are living within the designated protected areas of Korail (as per judgment of 1999). The Court further directed that RAJUK and BTCL are to inform and require the presence of ASK, BLAST and BELA at the time of eviction of the other illegal structures.

These steps taken by the Court are going to be quiet supportive for the slum dwellers who have been living under the threat of losing their homes and other belongings since the partial eviction last occurred, and are also going to be a strong platform in protecting their rights. “These are positive steps in protecting the rights of Korail bosti inhabitants. Although we have still a long way to go to ensure their tenurial security, these Directions are definitely an added protection to their right to shelter and livelihood. We are now trying to see if we can push the matter further and seek orders on compensation for the affected slum dwellers to be paid by RAJUK and BTCL for wrongful eviction based on faulty demarcation”, says Faustina Pereira, Director of the Human Rights and Legal Services programme, BRAC.

The slum, located near BRAC HQ, happens to be one of the largest slums in Dhaka, providing shelter to a huge chunk of the floating population residing at the capital in search of food, work, and shelter. The eviction, which came without any prior notice, left hundreds of families homeless, and thousands of people to sleep under theopen sky. Two of the families lost their youngest child when their dwelling places were being crushed by the bulldozers.

By Jannat Trina
Intern, BRAC Communications

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hope in the middle of complexity: Working with the urban poor

During the Social Innovation Lab’s last field trip to Hazaribag – a very poor area on the edge of West Dhaka– the team met Feroz (on the far left of the picture, wearing an orange lungi) a rickshaw-puller in his early thirties.

His wife and three children are still in their home district of Rongpur. He earns about Tk. 300 (U$ 3.75) a day on average, most of which he remits back to his family. With insufficient funds left to cover his daily expenses, Feroz lives on top of the garage where the rickshaw is parked.

The rickshaw he rides belongs to the garage owner (also pictured, standing next to Feroz) who takes a cut of his daily earnings. In return, he allows him to stay overnight at the garage. Feroz’s linkages with Rongpur are not limited to just sending money to his wife and children, but include strong ties with his extended village family and networks. On top of returning to his home town almost every two to three weeks, he also pays periodic visits for festivals or seasonal work.

With his current level of income, he cannot afford to bring his family to Dhaka, although this might create an opportunity for his wife to work, as there are many more jobs available for women here. Even if he manages to do it, the first economic shock may force him to send his family back.

Feroz is one of over 300,000 migrants that Dhaka city receives each year.

Keeping his case in mind, let’s look at a few questions. Is working with the urban poor harder than working with the rural poor? Is there a need to design development programs specifically for urban communities and contexts? Concepts of family, neighborhood, ownership and belonging change dramatically once rural people migrate to urban areas. And the context, the associated needs and challenges vary from slum to slum, street to street and pavement to pavement. So how does one define urban communities and the places where they live? When people are floating, or constantly moving between their home village and the city, how can BRAC track and support them continuously?

These are not abstract questions. More than 35% of Bangladesh’s urban population lives in low-income settlements, or bostees, and directly contribute to its formal and informal economies. While many work without formal recognition (or protections) as street vendors, garment factory workers, rickshaw pullers, and maids, their activities play an essential role in supporting the more glamorous work that the better educated and better connected do. But this is hardly ever discussed, let alone appreciated.

They are forced to live uncertain and miserable lives in slums like Korail where they pay rents that are higher, per square-foot, than some of the most posh neighborhoods in Dhaka but are deprived of even basic amenities like access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Indeed, in the Hazaribag slum that we visited, where all of the inhabitants are waste collectors working for the City Corporation, most of the garbage that the slum dwellers collected across the city is dumped right back in their front-yards! This is just one example of the new types of inequities that are rising as the numbers of people moving to cities continues to grow.

Many believe that urban slums lack the social cohesion of rural villages that creates a sense of community and social capital.  In this slum, we found an exception: Almost all of the families living here knew each other and many are even related! So, not only can they be defined as an occupation-based group, like Feroz, they also retain a strong sense of their rural community.

How should BRAC think about the identity of individuals like Feroz or others living in this neighborhood?  Already we are working in slums and confronting many of these issues programmatically.  Read more about some of our insights in a recent publication, Building to last: creating a platform to tackle urban poverty.

By Ishtiaque Hussain
BRAC Social Innovation Lab

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Investing in youth in Bangladesh

In April, BRAC hosted a forum for young entrepreneurs to voice their needs to fanaciers and innovators to help brainstorm a market-based solution. The above video provides an overview of the forum.

Youth represent 1/3 of the population of Bangladesh and the youth population is expected to grow to more than 60 million by 2020. That's a lot of opportunity!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Frontier workers of BRAC’s essential health program

With democracy comes freedom entailing the power and right to equality, legality, mobility, and essentially to live a healthy life. In the western part, one does not have to think twice about their ability to endeavor in good health. However, in other parts of the world including Bangladesh, citizens from the rural areas, especially the disadvantaged communities cannot be assured the pleasure of prosperous health although freedom exists.

BRAC, an organization who’s roots stretch deeply into the history of Bangladesh has taken charge in enabling the people of Bangladesh who have struggled with poverty, disease, and injustice to transition to a better way of life.

Essential health care is the basis of the health program initiated by BRAC focusing on health & nutrition education, water & sanitation, family planning, immunization, prenatal care, basic curative services and tuberculosis control. During a brief visit to two villages surrounding the town of Gazipur, I was fortunate to observe the benefits of the health program conducted by BRAC that touches the lives of over 100 million Bangladeshis across 64 districts.

BRAC’s health program is so effective because of its constant presence at the community level. Upon arrival at the Village Purba Dhigirchala, I was greeted by two ladies; Sahera Begum and Sahida Khanam, who I came to know to be the community health promoters (shasthya shebikas in Bangla) and community health workers (shasthya kormis in Bangla) of the community.

The health promoters are volunteers that receive a two week training session that allows them to provide basic health services including; health & nutrition, family planning, promoting & mobilizing sanitation & immunization, along with treating the 10 most common diseases such as anemia and diarrhea. They also receive a monthly refresher course. Currently there are 80,000 health promoters across Bangladesh serving their communities. In the case of Sahera she is responsible for 261 households, visiting roughly 15 daily.

Health workers, who are paid workers receiving an average 3000 taka salary in which their responsibility is to oversee the duties of 12 health promoters. Their duty also includes conducting monthly group meetings with the community, providing antenatal care, and postnatal care. A health worker visits the community of each health promoter for two days in a one-month period performing health services.

Today was the second visit of the health worker in the village Purba Dhigirchala, in which both Sahera and Sahida focused on assessing the locals’ knowledge of the danger signs during pregnancy and nutritious foods to consume during pregnancy.

Sahera also has the ability to purchase medicine and contraceptives from the regional BRAC offices that she sells to the community to earn a small profit. Although Sahera makes a profit on the delivery of medicines, she realizes the economic situation of the community and through translation added, “In the village, people respect me, and I also respect them. If the people need the medicine but do not have the money, I will provide it for them and receive the pay whenever they can pay me back”.

The second day of the field visit had me situated in Salna Village, where I received the chance to witness BRAC’s nutritional sprinkle program, reading glasses program, and tuberculosis program performed by the frontier health workers.

Children in Bangladesh suffer largely from iron deficiency and anemia, specifically among the poor and ultra-poor. Sprinkles, which contain ferrous fumarate (iron) and other essential micronutrients, are to be mixed with food before consuming. Children between the ages of 7 and 60 months can take advantage of this program to improve their nutritional status.

Together with VisionSpring, BRAC has introduced a reading glasses program where spectacles have been delivered to 7.9 million people with vision problems. Prior to obtaining the glasses from Rasheda Begum, in Salna Village, the people of the community have both their near and far vision screened. Often basic charts are used to screen near vision deficiency that can be treated with glasses sold at 195 taka (about $2.50), while far vision problems as well as complications are referred to professionals at local hospitals. Through the course of the program, I met a woman who, through the screening, was determined to be far-sighted. Although referred to the hospital to seek additional care, she complained that many of the villagers had no way of getting to the hospital to receive the care along with the ability to purchase eye glasses if needed due to their financial state.

Within the same village, I was also introduced to a villager, Ibrahim who contracted tuberculosis. BRAC’s tuberculosis control program has reached 89.5 million people with 23,771 cases diagnosed and 92% being cured. Prior to receiving treatment for tuberculosis, Ibrahim had to make a 200 taka (about $2.50) deposit that would be returned only once he completed the rigorous 6-month treatment. During the treatment Rasheda watches Ibrahim as he takes his daily medication in a strategy known as DOTS (Directly Observed Therapy Short course). Once the course of the 6-month treatment is completed, Rasheda receives a small incentive of 500 taka (about $6.00). Rasheda has been providing DOTS treatment for 13 years to over 30 tuberculosis patients.

When I had asked Rasheda what motivates her most to serve her community she told me that money is not the reason. When she was a child, her father had died of tuberculosis because of his inability to access treatment. As a result Rasheda believed that it is her responsibility to save lives of her community suffering from tuberculosis, so that a child will not have to live without a parent.

It is evident that the work of both the community health promoters and health workers are critical in BRAC’s implementation of health services at the community level. Although BRAC has made great strides in improving the health status of many Bangladeshis, there still exist a number of individuals who are unable to access health care services due to its financial burden. We look forward to a convenient health care system to ensure health.

By Daneal Doub, McMaster University
BRAC Health Programme.

BRAC markets solar lights to illuminate thousands of lives!

BRAC's agriculture and food security programme has taken the initiative to launch D.light Design’s solar products in Bangladesh, aiming to provide power sources for the marginalised people who do not have access to the national power grid. This initiative will help rural poor with an alternative low-cost light source to kerosene lamps and reduce the health risks posed by the kerosene fume. BRAC officials believe that this will also contribute in meeting the growing demand of electricity in Bangladesh.

Three types of solar lights with different features are being marketed; d.light S 1, d.light S 10 and d.light S 250. The products are sturdy, designed for maximum versatility and come equipped with a high-quality, efficient solar panel that is weather-resistant. Additionally, d.light S.250 can serve as a mobile phone charger and has multiple brightness settings. The prices of these products range from 780 to 2600 taka ($9.50 - $32.00). Primarily the products will be marketed in Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla, Mymensing, Kishorgonj, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogura, Jessore, Gopalgonj and Jhalokatthi districts through dealers, and in some sub-districts of Bagerhat, Khulna, Satkhira, Borguna, Potuakhali and Pirojpur through programme channels.

BRAC will distribute the products by using its extensive network and appointing local dealers. BRAC’s network will reach the poor in hard-to-reach areas who will be able to pay in instalments for the products. This system is expected to create a positive distributional impact, which will help to change the scenario of the rural Bangladesh in the long run.

D.light design is a social enterprise started out in Palo Alto, California in 2006 fathered by a socially-motivated team of business people and engineers- Sam Goldman, Ned Tozun, Gabriel Risk, Xianyi Wu, and Erica Estrada. D.light is operating with a mission to enable households living without reliable electricity to attain the same quality of life as those with electricity. The company targets to reach 50 million people by the end of 2015. BRAC, being the largest development organization reaching over 126 million people worldwide, presents the most suitable opportunity for a successful partnership which can change millions of people’s lives and create a better future.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Can entrepreneurship programmes transform the lives of the poor?

The following article was originally posted by Anik Ashraf on the International Growth Centre (ICG) website. The video was created by ICG based on recent research initiative lead by Robin Burgess to assess the success of BRAC's Ultra Poor programme in Bangladesh.

A new way of helping the world’s poorest people is proving to be a staggering success and is spreading throughout the developing world. Recent research co-authored by Robin Burgess of the LSE and Executive Director of the IGC finds that the scheme led to an increase in people’s incomes of around 35% after two years. For anyone this would be a big jump, but these are women who had previously struggled to feed themselves and their families.

The ‘Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction, Targeting the Ultra Poor’ (CFPR-TUP) programme targets the poorest 10% of people in Bangladesh, focusing on women. Run by Brac, the world’s largest NGO, the programme has two aims: to help these women ‘graduate’ from being ultra poor to have the basic skills, income, and confidence to begin fending for themselves, and to have enough stability to gain access to the mainstream development programmes, such as microfinance.

The programme starts with a temporary stipend to give the women involved short-term stability and breathing space while they are taught basic livelihood, healthcare and personal finance skills . They are then given an ‘asset’ such as a goat or a small plot of land that they can use to make money for themselves, whether by raising goats to sell milk or cultivating land to grow vegetables. Throughout, the women receive regular support through weekly visits, coaching and guidance. The programme ends with an invitation to join a microfinance scheme and further expand their business. Atiur Rahman, Governor of the Central Bank of Bangladesh said of the programme: ‘The ultra poor who have never been getting any kind of support are now becoming entrepreneurs.’

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Behind the scene

As parents, we are always curious about examination results, how we can get admission for our children in good schools and how to give education through private tuition etc. Second and third generation students’ parents can think in this way, but what about those students who are the first in their family to be going to school? An untrained teacher in a classroom can not provide good education facilities for them. There needs to be a strong educational foundation to empower these first generation students to join the mainstream education system. 

"In the old days [in Bangladesh], Panditmoshai (teacher) used to send the Sardar (class captain) to bring students who were absent. In today’s world we still feel the need of ‘sardar’", said Syed Shamsul Huq, an award-winning Bangladeshi author and poet, in his speech.

With the changing era, we have realised that, students will take interest in study if we can create a learning environment for them. Attendance rate and drop out rate in secondary schools are quite high in Bangladesh. Only 2% of secondary schools in Bangladesh are directly managed by the government. The majority of the schools, known as non-government secondary schools, are owned and managed by local communities, even though about 90% of teachers’ salaries and maintenance expenses are paid by the government.

To bring qualitative change in secondary education, BRAC started training secondary school teachers. While giving the training, BRAC focused more on how to make students more active and participative in classroom. At this age, students follow their peers. BRAC realised that we should create structure which will be managed and run by secondary school students. Mentoring Programme was introduced with this very thought. Mentoring is an initiative to work with those students who are the first generation in mainstream education system.

Is the mentoring programme really an effective initiative by BRAC?

On 21st April 2012, in Shilpakala Academy, Professor Mahbuba Nasrin, Sociology department of Dhaka University, presented her research paper on BRAC's initiative. Ten schools from each of the Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi districts, 15 from Jessore, and 5 from Rangamati districts were selected randomly for study purposes. She discussed the scenario before introducing the mentoring programme in secondary schools, and the current scenario after implementing the mentoring programme. In those secondary schools, SSC examination pass rate has increased from 56% to 83%. Attendance rate has become 69% to 76%. Her team found that, students have become disciplined and are having positive attitude towards life & participating in co-curricular activities. like 91% are participating in debate and contributing to the wall magazine. Students are now concerned about cleanliness of classroom.

Now questions may be raised on how these activities can reduce drop out rate and increase attendance rate?

The answer is, mentoring programme also teaches how to create group for group-study. Usually meritorious students lead each group. In group discussions, comparatively weaker students try to resolve their problems by sharing it with peers. When they can not solve the problem by themselves, they share it with their teachers.

“We used to do chitchat in our free time. After going through the mentoring programme, we have learned how to utilize time and group discussion for study”- This is how Shima from Narshingdi shared her opinion about this programme.

In city schools we see these activities are run by school’s own initiatives, but the numbers of these schools are very few. Dr. Mohammad Niaz Asadullah, Reading University, mentioned that students are not responsible for dropping out from school or being absent in classroom. Total school system is the main reason for this situation.

Samir Ranjan Nath, Research Coordinator, Educational Research Unit- BRAC, mentioned that we cannot measure learning outcome by CGPA or marks. We have to create the environment in school and make learning sessions more enjoyable.

BRAC has learned secondary education system, its barrier, issues with its experiences. Now BRAC wants to start a few standard model secondary high schools which can serve as good examples in the country. Dr. Mahbub Hossain, Executive Director of BRAC, mentioned this at the end of the event and also added that hopefully by the end of this year, BRAC will open 10 more secondary schools in rural areas.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mothers saving mothers

The following was originally posted by BRAC USA Program Manager - Communications Michelle Chaplin on the Half the Sky website.

Mother's Day is about being thankful for one of the most important women in your life: your mother. She gave birth to you (one of the most dangerous things a woman can do), fed you, clothed you, and made sure you went to school (and did your homework), among many other things.

Even before becoming a mother herself, Sweety Akter was intimately aware of the dangers of childbirth – both for mother and child. Sweety’s younger brother died soon after he was born because of complications resulting from childbirth, which the untrained birth assistant was unable to address.

“From my childhood I have always heard about the death of my brother. My poor mother always remembers him and I see tears in her eyes every time she talks about him,” says Sweety. “Whenever I heard this and similar stories, I longed to do something for such mothers and to save the lives of their young babies.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Healthy, happy and wise: nutrition for under five

On a gloomy morning, Rabiya (4) sat with her legs crossed on the front yard of her parents’ mud hut. A pot of steaming white broth made of rice water laid innocently beside her lap, and she was carefully blowing on it to cool it down.

The rice water, with its dull flavour and gluey consistency, would have been too plain for most of our tastes. Besides, who would fancy such a bland liquid meal that is nearly devoid of all nutrients? But for Rabiya, this happened to be the scrumptious version of an ultimate breakfast. Moreover, she was too hungry to complain and it was not like she had any option for our regular eggs and bacon/ roti-chapati.

At noon it gets better, she thought. Her mother would cook rice and boil edible leaves that she always collected from the riverside, and she would then garnish them with green chilies and onions. Rabiya liked chilies, unlike most of the children of her age, because they were hot and made it easier to overlook the tastelessness of the plain meals she ate.

She loved eggs, and despite the abundance of chickens at their house she was hardly ever allowed to have one, as her mother sold eggs for money to pay her debts to the local landlord. But Rabiya barely complained. She was too young to understand any of this, and may be because of that, she hadn’t had the faintest idea why she was so short of her age, or why despite being underfed she had a bloated belly. She could not even understand why she had problems seeing in faint light, or why she fell sick so often.

Rabiya didn’t have any idea of the fact that she was unjustly malnourished, and neither did her parents.

This scenario could be seen in almost every corner of the rural geo-space in Bangladesh. A study conducted in 2007 found that one in 15 children born in Bangladesh dies before reaching their 5th birthday. According to a World Bank study in 2004, malnutrition rates in Bangladesh were among the highest in the world. Approximately 50 percent of children under the age of five had been stunted and underweight.

During infancy, the risk of dying in the first month of life (37 per 1,000) is nearly 2.5 times greater than in the subsequent 11 months (15 per 1,000). Death in the neonatal period accounted for 57 percent of all under-five deaths. It all became too obvious, and it was about time someone step in and make some essential changes in this extremely important socio-cultural phenomena. That is the when BRAC health programme started the Alive and Thrive project.

The first phase of Alive and Thrive was initiated in three sub districts and one slum in order to test and refine the model. The results were promising, so we extended the to many other districts and sub districts in 2010, following the advice of the Gates Foundation and the AED/FHI 360.

Currently, the project is active in 16 districts across the country, and is providing nutritional care to 1.9 million children under two years of age. The front line workers of Alive and Thrive the infant and young child feeding promoters (pushti kormis in Bengali), the community health workers (shasthiya kormis in Bengali), and the health volunteers (shasthiya shebikas in Bengali). At present, a total of 1,082 promoters, 633 community health workers and 7,154 health volunteers are providing infant and young child feeding services in their communities.  The front line health workers are recruited carefully and are expected to develop and improve the community-based Alive and Thrive initiative.

The health workers are trained by BRAC in order to counsel, coach and show the mothers how to breastfeed their children as well as on how to give them cost-effective proper meals with complete nutrients. Mothers of children less than 12 months of age are prioritised because infancy is a vulnerable period for all children.

The health promoters also demonstrate how to make age appropriate meals for children, for example, mashing the food, or removing a portion from the family’s food for the children before adding spice, etc. The parents and caregivers are not only enlightened about the different consistencies of food needed for children at various ages, but also about the importance of personal hygiene and hand washing before and after meals and after using the toilet.

Different social groups, such as religious spokespersons, village doctors and the government health workers are also involved with this nutrition project, providing with their unconditional support to communities.

Sabina Yasmin is a infant and young child feeding promoter in the village of Zinari, who was recruited by BRAC after completing her high school-level education. Initially, it was a challenge for her to convince parents and caregivers on how to provide proper nutrition to their little ones, because no one paid attention to a young girl teaching them about proper and improper means of feeding, and it takes time for people to learn and adopt new behaviours.

However, things eventually started changing, especially when a mother complained that her two-month-old son Yasin was sick and fatigued due to an intake of powdered milk that she gave him as she was not providing him enough breast milk. When Sabina showed her how to breastfeed properly, correcting her positioning and the way of holding the baby, the mother found out that she was in fact producing enough breast milk. Thanks to Sabina's advice, Yasin is alive and thriving now.

A thousands health promoters and health workers are working relentlessly countrywide just to ensure that the infants and children are receiving proper nutrition and growing up healthy, and the BRAC family is proud of them.

By Miftahul Jannat Chowdhury
BRAC Communications

Click here to learn how you can support mothers and their children in Bangladesh.

Monday, May 7, 2012

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets the “two national treasures” of Bangladesh

Knight Commander, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, have been marked as the creators of the world’s two best organizations – BRAC and Grameen Bank – by the visiting US secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In an early morning 9 o’clock meeting on 6 May 2012, at the Gulshan Residence of the US ambassador of Bangladesh, Dan W Mozena; Sir Fazle and Dr. Yunus met with Secretary Clinton for an hour long discussion which was primarily focused on the development of Bangladesh and women’s rights and empowerment.

Various other national and regional issues were also brought into focus which included feasible solutions to the electricity crisis, the current political situation, mobile phone technology usage in disseminating developmental services, the country’s poverty reduction capacity, youth empowerment, development success achieved so far in Bangladesh and its enduring potential. The two visionaries of Bangladesh have requested the continued support and assistance from the US in regard to these issues.

During the meeting, Secretary Clinton expressed her deep condolences to the family and friends of Mohammad Mohiuddin, BRAC’s Area Manger in the western province of Ghor, Afghanistan, who died in an armed attack on 3rd May 2012. She praised and appreciated the micro credit system, giving due credit to BRAC and Grameen Bank for the sustainable progress in the social structure of Bangladesh. She expressed her gratitude to both of them for their commitment and hard work towards such development work.

For a developing nation like Bangladesh, she has ensured continued US assistance for the betterment of humanity. Secretary Clinton said that she has known Sir Fazle and Dr. Yunus for almost 25 years and honours them as “national treasures” with the hope that the Government will also treat them accordingly.

By Sumaiya Haque
Intern, BRAC Communications

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Poisoned: the silent screams of arsenic victims


Many can attest to its necessity, few can argue against its importance. From health and nutrition to agriculture and energy, one doesn’t have to look far to see the critical role water plays in our lives.

But what happens when this crucial necessity threatens our very livelihood?

This conundrum was the focus of a recent dissemination seminar hosted by BRAC titled “Rethinking the Arsenic Crisis: Strategies Towards Ensuring an Arsenic-free Bangladesh.” The seminar, hosted by BRAC on Thursday, March 29th, highlighted findings from a field study I conducted which was centered on understanding the villagers’ perspectives on the arsenic crisis. The seminar also featured a panel consisting of UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist Peter Ravenscroft,  WaterAid Country Representative Khairul Islam, as well as leaders from a cross-section of institutions ranging from the Ministry of Health, Bangladesh Attorney General’s Office, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewage Authority (WASA), and the US Embassy.

What brings such a diverse cadre of people together?

In a word, arsenic.

Unsafe levels of arsenic have been found in over 1.4 million tube wells across Bangladesh, a phenomenon the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “the largest mass poisoning of a population in human history.” Arsenic is a colorless, odorless, naturally-occurring metal that is poisonous if consumed over long periods of time. Long-term exposure results in Arsenicosis, an incurable cancer-causing disease with a high latency period (it takes 5-20 years after initial exposure to show the first signs of skin lesions on the hands and feet, and patients eventually suffer from various forms of internal cancers).

Over the past nine months, I have visited 26 villages across five arsenic-affected districts ranging from Meherpur, a border district in Western Bangladesh, to Chandpur, a heavily-affected area in Southwest Bangladesh. Across the country, the BRAC Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) field staff and a team of research assistants worked hand in hand in order to understand what villagers think of the crisis, how they are coping with the lack of arsenic-free water, and where they see a way forward.
Collectively, we surveyed 1,239 households and hosted over 50 focus group discussions and in-depth interviews for a better understanding of the villagers’ attitudes pertaining to water and the impact arsenic has had on their lives.

What did we find?

For starters, the fact that arsenic was colorless was news to 33% of the households (20% believed it was red, 11% yellow).

As a response to the crisis, safe tube wells were painted green (safe in Bangladesh means less than 50 ppb of arsenic, the WHO standard is 10 ppb) while the unsafe ones were painted red. In some villages, some people have been undoing this intervention and repainted their red tube wells green. Why would they do such a thing?

Well, in parts of Meherpur, school children with Arsenicosis were ostracised. Roughly 1 in 20 parents would allow their children to marry someone with Arsenicosis. The social stigma attached with living next to a red tube well was immense, and parents viewed repainting red tube wells green as the only way to ensure a prosperous future for their children.

This was a stark contrast from the realities in Golaidanga village in Manikganj, an area where there were no Arsenicosis patients, and people voluntarily desired to have red coloring on their tube wells. During my stay in Golaidanga, I noticed how all newly-installed private tube wells featured bright red piping. When asking the drillers why the tube wells were being installed with red pipes, they all stated how red was now popular amongst tube well manufacturers. This was emblematic of the disconnection that lays within the water ‘ecosystem’ of the awareness campaign planners, communicators, and the private tube well installation companies.
Many people knowingly drank from arsenic-contaminated tube wells because they hadn’t suffered from Arsenicosis, and hadn’t met anyone that did.

You can’t see it, can’t smell it, and neither you nor anyone you know has gotten sick from it. So what’s the harm in drinking it?

This was the type of thinking we found in arsenic-affected areas that had relatively low numbers of Arsenicosis patients. At the seminar, Peter Ravenscroft of UNICEF emphasised the need to motivate villagers who live in areas such as Golaidanga. The low risk perception such people attribute to arsenic is one of the most challenging aspects of confronting this crisis. Arsenicosis does not catch on immediately; it is a stealthy, slow poison that gradually builds up to skin lesions and various internal cancers. By the time the skin lesions appear, it is usually too late. Vitamin supplements and certain medications may be able to slow the health effects, but the most effective treatment is ensuring the consumption of arsenic-free water.

Khairul Islam of WaterAid discussed the sobering reality the arsenic dilemma has brought onto the larger water and sanitation sector in Bangladesh. In 1997, 97% of the rural population had access to safe drinking water. According to Mr. Islam, this number was brought down to 81% upon the discovery of arsenic in groundwater. He cited the 60% increase within the first year of the current administration’s water and sanitation budget (from 800 crores to 1400 crores) as a promising sign for progress, but noted how despite the increase, there have been no newly-funded projects related to arsenic mitigation.

The Health Secretary contextualised the arsenic issue amongst the larger public health challenges existent throughout Bangladesh. He spoke to the trending prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as Arsenicosis, a new normal for a nation that has been mired by communicable diseases such as typhoid and cholera since its birth.

The Additional Attorney General reminded us of how the United Nations recently declared access to basic water and sanitation services as a human right. He called on all actors to re-focus their attention on devising feasible solutions by putting the people first, and  switching the focus on understanding the villagers, as well as inclining towards delving into the lab and designing technologies that have faster flow rates or a higher capacity.

Dhaka WASA Managing Director Taqsem Khan stressed how fortunate he felt in the fact that arsenic had not been found in Dhaka. News to the contrary would be an unsettling scenario considering how reliant the city dwellers are on groundwater (even the best surface water filtration technologies seem to meet their match when used against the heavily polluted surface waters of Dhaka).
The keynote was delivered by US Ambassador Dan Mozena. The Ambassador emphasised the fact of how water looms large not only in Bangladesh, but also in the global scope of challenges across South Asia and the world. He cited a newly published report on global water security by the US Government when making the case for water as a critical issue that will increase regional tensions and put a great impact on national security. He emphasised how arsenic is focused as “the one key aspect of water in the Bangladeshi equation of life,” and that the other emerging issues such as salinity must also be considered when tackling the water crisis in Bangladesh.

Such interdisciplinary dialogues are crucial in understanding the full breadth of issues that stem out of the arsenic crisis, and underscore the need to work across a multitude of sectors in finding a way forward to overcome the crisis. To sum it up, the willingness to have such a diverse group of stakeholders to work together was itself a promising development, and the conversations that ensued helped to sow the seeds to a fresh approach to mitigating the arsenic crisis.

By Minhaj Chowdhury
Fulbright Intern

Monday, April 30, 2012

Immunising little ones: Observing World Immunisation Week 2012

Imagine a small world. A world devoid of the harsh tales about unfortunate children – children who are not deformed by the cruel grasps of polio – children who are protected from the malicious glares of debilitating illness – children who are healthy and thriving. Imagining a world like that might have been something like daydreaming even in the recent past, but the world is changing. People are changing, and in the course of that, positive changes are being made. Now, immunising children from incapacitating diseases, followed by disabilities and death is very much possible by means of vaccination.

This year, World Immunisation Week is observed worldwide from 21-28 April with great perseverance and exhilaration, where vaccinating children against deadly diseases is performed across the globe. World Health Organisation, along with the countries around the world, ensure that the governments are putting their best efforts by providing necessary resources, guidance, and technical support in conducting the event. The weeklong activity performed worldwide puts specific actions, such as raising awareness on how immunisation saves lives, increasing vaccination coverage as a means of preventing disease outbreak, reaching underserved and marginalised communities, and emphasising on the benefits of immunisation, under limelight. Like every year, BRAC had also participated uncountable vaccinating campaigns across the country under the initiatives of Bangladesh government, providing access to immunisation to the vast infants and children population in the country.

Immunisation, being one of the most successful and fruitful health interventions in the world, helps prevent around 2 to 3 million deaths every year. Provided to people of all age groups, especially infants and children, immunisation prevents debilitating illness, disability and death from the diseases such as diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, tetanus and yellow fever that can easily be avoided by the use of vaccines. Adolescents and adults are also receiving their regular doses of vaccines, being provided with the protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancers (e.g. cervical and liver cancers) that occur in adulthood.

However, some diseases like diphtheria, measles, and polio were thought to be almost eradicated, and hence many parents and health professionals found the immunisations against them to be no longer necessary. This perception had caused numerous gaps in vaccination coverage in certain parts of the world, which resulted in those diseases to make a comeback, which is most likely to affect everyone if any outbreak occurs.

Manzima Akhter, 5, is the youngest of three daughters in her family. Her elder sister, Muhaimina, is a 15-year-old girl suffering from disability caused by polio. Living in a secluded village in the farthest corner of Bangladesh, their village had no access to vaccination. But thanks to the NID campaign, BRAC, Bangladesh government, and the GAVI Alliance, as Manzima and hundreds of other children in her village are getting access to vaccination. Even in those of the farthest and secluded most parts of Bangladesh, little children, curious and wide-eyed, marched towards the vaccination camps accompanied by their parents/guardians since early morning, and it is that moment when it is realised that people’s perceptions towards the idea of immunisation by means of vaccination has changed, and they have finally started believing in it. BRAC’s shasthya shebikas have worked relentlessly since years in bridging the gap between the health care services and the people, and finally their work is being paid off as this has actually helped change their perception towards vaccination.

This year, the country has made a significant investment for the health of its children by completing the rounds of National Immunisation Days (NID) properly. During this year’s NIDs (first round in January 7 and second round in February 11), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)/ NGOs like BRAC, with the collaboration of Bangladesh government , has performed outstandingly in vaccinating a huge population of infants and children across the country. Hundreds of thousands of field workers and volunteers worked endlessly to vaccinate millions of children in the camps, which included established health facilities and health centers, schools, and mobile sites like bus terminals, ferries and train stations.

During the NIDs, the infants and children received polio vaccines and vitamin-A capsules, and the enthusiastic turnouts of them and their parents exceeded all expectations as more than the estimated number of eager parents and children showed up and received their doses adequately. The BRAC field workers and volunteers were more than willing to serve them all those times, happily struggling to cope with the enormous number of children and their guardians.

Apart from the centers assisted by the BRAC Health Program workers along with the government and local volunteers, many medical officers who work at the Upazila Health Complexes and Union Health Centers were also ensuring the NID to be carried out efficiently. Nevertheless, the collective effort of the government and CSOs like BRAC has no doubt enabled this noble initiative to prosper.

BRAC is incredibly proud to be a part of the 20th NID 2012  that the country has observed with increased participation and awareness. The children, their parents and/or guardians, the government and non-government health providers, community health workers, students, teachers and above all the community people have made it possible along with BRAC teams collaborated with the Bangladesh government. . These unbeaten events proved it again that the Bangladeshi people have realised the essentiality of vaccines and immunisation and they have effectively utilised the opportunity given to them. This NID will not only be protecting the children from Polio and night blindness through the administration of vaccines and Vitamin-A, but also happens to be an indication of how much Bangladesh cares to save the nation’s future.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Assessing BRAC’s Health Program in Tanzania

Jade Lamb, a Masters student at Duke University, recently wrote a research paper on BRAC's community health promoter model in Tanzania. Below is an abstract of her paper.

Life expectancy in Tanzania is 58 years for women, and 53 for men (WHO 2011). Tanzania’s maternal mortality ratio is among the world’s highest at 454 per 100,000 births (UNDP); likewise, its infant mortality ratio is high at 51 per 1,000 live births (TDHS 2010). Overall, under-five mortality (U5M) is 81 per 1,000 (TDHS 2011), 16% of which is due to malaria, and an additional 13% to diarrheal diseases. To address these ongoing health issues in a low-cost, scalable way, BRAC began to implement a Community Health Volunteer Program in Tanzania in 2007. BRAC trained volunteers, all of whom were female and most of whom were also active in BRAC’s microfinance programs, to go out into their communities and educate community members on common diseases, identify pregnant women and new infants and encourage them to seek prenatal and antenatal care, sell over the counter medications, and post contact information for emergency first aid for children.

The intervention was conducted for 3 years, until 2010. BRAC collected survey data in treatment and comparison communities assessing health behaviors such as insecticide treated net use, sanitary latrine access, contraceptive use, and antenatal care in 2007 and 2010 in order to evaluate the program. Though the scaling up of the program before 2010 meant that comparison communities received the treatment, the program was still associated with increased contraceptive use and piped water access, and a small but statistically significant decrease in insecticide treated net use. I recommend that BRAC focus any additional health programs in Tanzania on contraceptive promotion, where there seems to be an effect, and postnatal care access and antenatal care quality, where there appears to be unmet need.

Click here to read the full paper (PDF).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shalighor Polli Shomaj Pre-Primary School, A Light for the Future

The government run pre-primary schools at Shalighor Village have limited capacity for talented students. Also there is no BRAC school in the locality. It is very difficult for poor families to enroll their children to school here. Hence, this leads to learning problems and drop outs.
In 2011, to tackle this problem, community women’s forum called Polli Shomaj, convened by BRAC Community Empowerment Programme, collectively mobilized and opened the “Shalighor Polli Shomaj Pre-Primary School” , a home school in Shalighor village in Gouripor, Mymensingh.

The school currently has 40 students: 21 girls and 19 boys. The students are about five years old and they are taught by their teacher, Helena, who is the secretary of the Polli Shomaj in that village. She started teaching there on a volunteer basis and now receives an honorarium of 350 taka per month. The class lasts one hour, from 10 am to 11 am everyday with lessons in Bangla, English and Mathematics. The children’s parents pay 1 taka per day per child. The income received by the school is used to pay the teacher, the classroom rental, and to buy books and stationary in the school. Currently, the classes are held in the outside portico of a local neighbor’s house. The Polli Shomaj members want to move the class to a better location and class room in the future with a better school environment.

The Polli Shomaj members and the community people share that they hope to see their children do well in the primary school, and pursue higher education and have a good career and thus better life. Recently, 12 of the students from this school: 5 girls and 7 boys have enrolled in the government primary school in their locality.

Nadira Calevro
BRAC Community Empowerment Programme

Seminar on promoting education for adolescent girls

BRAC hosted a seminar on April 16, 2012, presented by our Research and Evaluation Division (RED) on: The role of incentives and institutions in promoting education for adolescent girls: Insights from research and practice. Director of Gender Justice & Diversity Ms. Sheepa Hafiza and Prof. W.M.H. Jaim, Guest presenters Dr Niaz Asadullah and Dr.Zaki Wahhaj, and Chief guest Ms. Rasheda Chowdhury and Dr. Binayak Sen, all gave incredible insight that hopefully provoked some form of reaction in each person that will result in an exchange of dialogue to take a stand and contribute to the research and initiatives being taken to pave a way for girls to receive an education in a safe, comfortable environment.

Girls in Bangladesh face a different and devastating reality. Recently, there is an increasing number of news and information on incidents of sexual harassment, murder of teacher and parents, and suicide of students and parents, increase number of drop outs, victims are pushed into early marriages, hinders development, high psycho-social tension in society, restricts mobility, of girls in particular, builds fear and diminishes confidence, and ultimately deprives youth of any education, let alone future. In Bangladesh, almost 90% of girls aged 10-18 have been victims of S.H ( BNWLA-2010) with 36% of girls experiencing such S.H. in front of their schools ( Baseline survey report on MEJNIN programme, 2010, BRAC).

Researchers such as Dr. Niaz Asadullah and Dr.Zaki Wahhaj have dedicated themselves to understanding female schooling and social norms that maybe affecting the enrollment of girls in secondary schools. Their research looks at the institutional origin of the growth in enrolment which highlights the hidden challenge to female education arising from social and/or cultural barriers to female mobility in Bangladesh. Both Dr. Niaz Asadullah and Dr.Zaki Wahhaj provided critical information based on the key pathways through which Bangladesh has made exceptional progress in improving access to secondary education for girls over the last two decades with a particular focus on incentives and institutions.

BRAC has made education a priority, as a result, a innovated scheme called MEJNIN, has been implemented in directly supporting secondary school going adolescent females in overcoming social barriers in the form of sexual harassment. Director of Gender, Justice & Diversity Ms. Sheepa Hafiza explained how the institutional context in which the incentive scheme was introduced played an important role in successfully bringing a large number of girls into the secondary education cycle. MEJNIN’s goal is to build awareness and confidence of students (girls and boys) and community members to protect and protest sexual harassment, and establish and form an alliance with government and non-government leaders.

As the seminar ended, Chief guest, Ms. Rasheda Chowdhury, Executive Director (CAMPE), asked some questions that demand immediate attention. These girls, and boys, going to school are our children, brothers, and sisters and what are we doing to ensure their security? What message are we trying to give the government and are we packing it in such a way that they sense our urgency? The problems and social barriers are evident, and BRAC has and will continue to make education and the rights of girls and women its priorities. But drastic changes can only be made, when each individual realises the fact that they play an important role in the lives of these children, from the maastan who teases little girls on their way to school, to the teachers who harass them in the classroom.