Bangladesh: On the Road to Achieving the MDGs

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“When my husband mentioned making an investment in The Hunger Project, I had a lot of questions. But over the last few days, meeting the women, men and children of Bangladesh, I see the difference our money is making. I will share my experience with everyone I know and invite them to invest.” – Maureen Bryant, investor, Australia

November 2011

We, a small group of investors from Australia, Sweden and the United States, traveled to South Asia this November to express our solidarity with the people of Bangladesh, and deepen our understanding of The Hunger Project’s (THP’s) programs in nearly 20 projects showcasing the three elements of THP’s strategies: mobilizing people to be self-reliant; empowering women to be key change agents; and ensuring responsible governance through local partnerships.

The theme of the trip was Bangladesh – On the Road to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Everywhere we went, we witnessed the incredible passion, commitment, resilience and tenacity of the Bangladeshi people as they confront the end of hunger and poverty in their lives and communities. This was eloquently communicated to us by Ranju (pictured here), THP-Bangladesh regional coordinator for Khulna Region, when he said, “Being part of this process is not a job, it is our destiny. I came to THP right out of college and the difference we are able to make in the lives of the people of my country is the most satisfying experience of my life.”

Our journey began with a briefing of THP programs from Country Director Badiul Majumdar, key volunteer activist Tazima Majumdar and the national office staff. They explained how every action that the THP team is taking to address hunger is deeply rooted in achieving the MDGs.

We had the opportunity to interact with several hundred THP partners who, despite many challenges, welcomed us with immense joy and words of love and friendship. About the interactions, Lynn Freitag, an investor from Chicago, USA demonstrated MDG 8 in action – Building Partnerships:

“With every meeting and every handshake, it became clear of what was missing for me – the recognition that there is no divide between the people ending their hunger and those of us who live in the developed world. I will bring home the faces of those I’ve met, as I meet the challenges in my life. They are my partners as much as we are theirs.”

At one village, we met girls as young as 12 and women as old as 50 engaging in embroidery and karchupi (needle-point). They sell their wares to local and city markets, earning incomes of up to 3,000 takas (US$41) per month. This income has given them a voice in decision-making within their families and communities, as well as built a savings for the future and taken their community ever closer to achieving MDG 1: Eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

In another village, we met with women leaders working towards MDG 2 – achieving universal primary education – by running a non-formal school for 35 children aged three to ten, whose parents did not have the resources to send their children to school.

Learning about simple methods used to increase the birth weights of babies was next on our trip’s agenda. Mothers are encouraged to bring their children to health clinics for regular check-ups and, there, receive training from a female doctor on making balanced nutritious meals from local grains and molasses to increase weight, height and the overall well-being of their children. These women work daily towards MDG 4: Reducing child mortality.

Image: Woman feeding her child in Chokrakhali village, Jalma Union

Other amazing stories from our time with our partners include:

  • Hari Priya, a 20-year old animator (THP-trained community organizer) and youth leader, spends several hours a day taking care of her cattle, and then goes to computer engineering college. With no sons to take over her family’s business, tending the cattle has been Hari’s responsibility since she was eight years old.
  • Vibrant young animator Savitri Roy exchanged views with investors on what it means to be part of THP. She is an effective organizer of women’s groups in her community in Chyghoria village in Jalma Union.
  • Rehana Akhter, a woman leader from Khulna City, met with investor Lynn Freitag. Rehana operates a handicraft producing business with 15 women from her local community. (Pictured at top of article)
  • An animator-organized women’s cooperative leased a fish pond from the government for 5,000 takas (US$65), and is in the process of generating an community-wide flow of income in a predominantly male-oriented business.

Sixteen year old Rachel Bryant from Australia (pictured here with youth leader Probhati Biswas) was inspired to see the youth of Bangladesh selflessly dedicating their time and energy towards building the capacities of the rural poor.

Investor David Bryant was also inspired by the youth he met in Bangladesh. He had the opportunity to meet with Youth Ending Hunger (YEH) activists at a Health and Hygiene program at Ghona School in Rangpur Union. YEH students become mentors for young children in the community and teach them to clean their hair and nails to promote sanitation, health and hygiene. YEH students also promote education by raising money and contributing from their own savings to provide books and uniforms for the children they mentor.

During our trip, we also engaged in dialogue with community leaders and activists, government and law enforcement officials at a UP coordination meeting. About 200 participants from Shujan, YEH and Animator groups attended this celebration of achievements by the community.

Image: David Bryant in a classroom with Youth Ending Hunger activists at a Health and Hygiene program at Ghona School in Rangpur Union.

As we shared our thoughts and experiences with each other, we agreed and appreciated the immense hard work and the “never give up” attitude of every Bangladeshi we met – whether it was Bulbul’s perseverance, Reverend Premanando’s thoughtful care of the village elders, or Aalia’s fighting spirit. The return on our financial investment is expressed through the high leverage actions and accomplishments of our partners. Every investor on this trip returns home with a deeper commitment and personal responsibility to raise more awareness and even greater resources for the achievement of our shared vision for the end of hunger.

Special thanks to the following investors and THP staff for this report: Supriya Banavalikar; Magdalena Bergqvist; David, Maureen and Rachel Bryant; Icke Hamilton; Lynn Freitag; Tazima Majumdar; Ahsanul Kabir and Ranju

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