November 2007: Investor Leaders Visit Bangladesh

Field report from Supriya and Jenna

It has been four days of non-stop action for the team of investors and staff visiting our programs in Bangladesh. It's working! Big time!

Chris, Viv, Cath, Rick, Mel, Richard, Annett, Jenna and Supriya are having the time of our lives. We started our trip by meeting several of the dynamic staff of The Hunger Project-Bangladesh hard at work under the leadership of Dr. Badiul Majumdar. The courage, courage, clear focus and vision to create a hunger-free and self-reliant Bangladesh was the foundation on which we began our trip.

On Monday 5 November, our journey to see the inspiring work of the animators began at the Rayer Bazar Primary School in the slums of Dhaka. This school is for approximately 150 children who spend most of their day collecting paper from the rubbish for recycling. These children, who range from the ages of 4-12, are now taking classes under the guidance of our animator Shanti and her daughter. They are learning to read and write -- an opportunity that their parents did not have. We spent over two hours with them learning the alphabet and listening to poetry and musical performances. An eight year old boy performed a skit where he was the marriage mediator brokering a marriage for an underage Bangladeshi girl -- watching children at such a young age addressing this issue was a little discomforting.

From there, we attended the 1,257th batch of the animator training in its first day of a four-day course. The highlight of this particular training was that 80% of the participants were women - an unusual occurrence in Bangladeshi society.

Over the next two days, we visited animator- and Youth Ending Hunger (YEH)-initiatied activities in several Union Parishads in two districts in northern Bangladesh -- 6 hours of a bumpy ride from Dhaka city. The daredevil team did a balancing act on boats stuffed with more than 50 people (standing only), man-peddled rickshaws with nothing to hold on to, and single-piled bamboo bridges straight out of a Indiana Jones movie. We did all of this as we were being cheered on by the children. During our time in these UPs, we attended (1) a non-formal school run by animators, (2) a women's meeting on early marriage, dowry and violence against women, and (3) a campaign for safe drinking water, nutrition and sanitation. We handed out birth, death and marriage registration certficates to newborn babies as well as people born as early as 1942. In addition we visited several income-generating activities: a cow-fattening project run by Madhu and an embroidery and block printing initiative organized by two women's groups (this resulted in a free for all auction of the products made by the women which we all participated in). For the very first time, these women put a price on their creativity and there was light in their faces - showing that they were truly energized and empowered.

Instead of being exhausted on the 6-hour bumpy ride back to Dhaka, the team was energized and enthusiastic, singing songs and playing games the entire ride. The repertoire was truly astounding!

Today, we participated in the National Youth Ending Hunger Committee meeting to prepare for the 12th Annual YEH Conference in December. Forty-five young men and six women from all five regions of Bangladesh had traveled long distances to attend this meeting. They used the opportunity to share their successes - which included blood donation drives, flood relief including fundraising for distribution of supplies and distributing medicines for water-borne diseases, stopping early marriages, and empowerment of girls and women. When asked the question why they were there, one of the young men answered for the whole team: he realized that it is his social responsibility to do what's needed for the betterment of his society. His vision was for a self-reliant Bangladesh, free from poverty. We challenged the YEH team to increase the participation of women in their membership and asked them to make as their top priority that 50% of the participants at their national conference be women- they wholeheartedly accepted our challenge.

And then, as promised, we returned to the graduation of the 1,257th batch of animators to spend an hour with them. We held a Q&A when the animators asked us questions, one of them being: do you have animator trainings in your country to mobilize the people? -- Rick answered that yes, in Australia, they held an animator training led by Badiul. We handed out certificates to all the participants along with the minister of youth and the volunteer animators who led the training.

And the icing on the cake for today was a home-cooked meal at Badiul and Tazima's home, where we all had the opportunity to share what the trip has meant to us so far. We are inspired by the courage and ownership of The Hunger Project animators and the YEH leaders -- and their commitment to create a "Shonar Bangla" - a Golden Bangladesh.

We still have two more days visiting our programs and will share more on the call on Saturday morning 10am Dhaka time.

We send all our love and look forward to sharing more of our experiences when we get back,

Supriya and Jenna