Reporting back from Bangladesh Part 2

Last weekend I hosted an event reporting back on my visit to Bangladesh to constituents including many from Edinburgh’s Bangladeshi community.

We had a great discussion following my presentation which included slides illustrating my experience in Khagrachari as well as information about my visits to Chittagong and Sylhet and the schools, college and hospital I visited at the end of my visit.

During the event, I circulated copies of the Water and Sanitation Report I prepared with youth club members which drew on our visits to case study villages.  You can read the report here.

VSO Report on Water and Sanitation in the Khagrachari Region of the Chittagong Hill Tracts

The report makes recommendations for government in Bangladesh at the national and local level.  The main issues highlighted were the need for an overall strategy to set out priorities for Water and Sanitation and better coordination of the delivery of water and sanitation investment to maximise the impact of work by government and NGOs.

However our report also highlighted the need for capacity building in communities both in terms of public health information as well as training to ensure that any water and sanitation facilities are appropriate given local circumstances and that they are kept in good working order.  Where new investment is put in place the opportunity to improve road investment should also be taken.  That would make it easier for villagers to access health and education services and to take their agriculture and jum produce to market. Changes in the local climate are already affecting crop production and long-term scarcity of water and unpredictable monsoon seasons need to be thought about now.   Long term sustainable food production will be dependent on how these challenges are addressed.

The local NGO that supported my visit, ALO, is working to sustain local youth clubs as part of a wider strategy of building community capacity.   VSO’s involvement is through a two-year volunteer placement and Gijs Herpers, a Dutch volunteer, is focusing on supporting the development of the youth clubs.   Having worked with youth club members and heard about their enthusiasm and ideas for supporting progress in the area, I am convinced that this capacity building is important for the development of social and economic development in the region.

I was impressed by the work that local youth clubs are already carrying out.  For example youth club members provide tutoring support to younger school children whose parents are on low incomes.  As I was leaving, Gijs reported that one of the youth clubs had been successful in their fundraising efforts to set up a library.   And since my return home the youth club members some of them have now got access to internet facilities.

Although villagers do not have electricity they do have increasing access to mobile networks through the infrastructure put in place by telecommunications service provider Grameenphone.   Even in remote villages some villagers now have access to mobiles – charging their phones and buying credit on their visits to Khagrachari, the main town in the region.  As access to the internet and mobiles becomes more common opportunities to promote e-learning and public health information must be seized.

In the third and final instalment of my report back from Bangladesh I will cover my final day in the country which was spent travelling to various projects including a cyclone shelter built with support from the Bangladeshi community in Edinburgh…