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Today – April 24 – marks the first anniversary of the Savar garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1,133 men, women and children, and injured more than 2,500 others. In the weeks that followed, Jolkona donors raised more than $20,000 for our campaign to buy artificial limbs (through BRAC) for the survivors who had lost arms, legs, or both.

In January, our co-founders Adnan and Nadia Mahmud met with two of the survivors. Here are their stories:

Adnan’s column in The Huffington Post’s Impact section explains more: 3 Lessons from the Biggest Industrial Disaster in Bangladesh.

You can continue supporting Jolkona’s Bangladesh partners through our Lift Bangla program. Collectively, we can make a big difference for the Savar families and the people of Bangladesh.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on Facebook and Twitter

Last April, an 8-story garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring more than 2,500. Many of them had lost arms, legs, or both. Jolkona’s campaign to fund artificial limbs for the survivors of this unprecedented disaster raised close to $25,000 in 5 days.

Last month, Nadia and I visited Bangladesh and met with some of the survivors. One of the women had been trapped for three days under the rubble, finally cutting off her own arm to free herself. She was 21 years old. Thanks to Jolkona donors, our partner BRAC has fitted her with an artificial arm, a monthly allowance higher than her old income from the factory, and the resources to start her own business.

Nadia and I were thrilled to see Jolkona’s impact in action. There are three components to this success:

  1. Partnership: BRAC  is one of the largest NGOs in the world and one of Jolkona’s founding partners. Over the years we have developed a very strong relationship with BRAC, allowing us to partner with them and respond quickly to disasters in Bangladesh and the other countries it serves.
  2. Feedback:  Jolkona has always prioritized direct feedback to the donor. We were able to assure donors that they would receive reports of the specific people helped by their funds, leading to a high volume of donations.
  3. Impact: Working together and with others on the ground, Jolkona and BRAC had a true impact on this disaster relief effort.

I believe this model can be adopted for other types of social work, not just disaster response. What do you think?

To continue making a true impact in Bangladesh, check out Jolkona’s LiftBangla projects.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

While observing Ramadan last month, Asim Khan, 36, decided to contribute his zakat – Muslim charitable giving – to Jolkona’s Give Direct projects in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Welcome to the Jolkona community, Asim, and tell us a little about yourself!

asim_pic_bw

Occupation:  CEO, Event Blossom

Location: North Tustin, CA

Hobbies: Weight training, surfing, basketball

Volunteering: President of NAASER – charitable organization that gives relief to the needy in Bhopal, India; former president of the Islamic Center of Irvine.

Skills: Public speaking, persuasion, competitiveness, impersonating Keanu Reeves…

How did you hear about these Jolkona projects?

My brother went to UCLA with [Jolkona CEO] Nadia, and we have mutual friends. I have always thought it was fantastic that she and Adnan have dedicated so much of their lives to giving back to those that need it.  I try to do what I can in my capacity, and have always admired those that help others. The idea of being able to directly change people’s lives by way of micro-financing really caught my eye. I carefully pick organizations that I choose to contribute to, and am happy to be in a position to help… the little I can. In some parts of the world, even small donations from here can make a big impact.

What’s  your impression of Jolkona?

It is amazing to see how far Jolkona has come in such a short time. The level of professionalism, and the amount they are able to accomplish is a bounty to the many that they affect. I guess I fit one of their core values, they have inspired a young professional like me to become a better philanthropist and provided me with an avenue to do so.

How would you define “philanthropist?”

It’s embarrassing to me to be referred to as a philanthropist… but if I must answer, I’d say “someone that has more than he needs and gives to those that need it more than him.”  But it’s more than transactional. Giving is something more innate, more spiritual. A favorite quote of mine from Rumi that has become my personal mantra is, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

What other causes do you support?

Event Blossom was set up from the get-go to give a percentage of profits back to causes that are in need. In the past year, our charitable donations have ranged from Hurricane Sandy relief, to sponsoring orphans around the globe. One of our favorite projects in the past few years has been setting up a Banana Cultivation Project in Sri Lanka. The profits from this project provide regular income that directly supports a local orphanage which houses, educates, and creates opportunity for orphans.  Here are a few pics of the project breaking ground:
bananacultivation

What would you say to encourage others to become philanthropists?

Not everyone is dealt the same hand when it comes to life. You may have earned it, or you may have been born with it, but I’m fairly certain a good amount of has attributed to any successes you have had. By giving back by donating, you are really doing the least you can do.  There isn’t really hard work involved with giving, the hard work is wrestling the money out of your hands.
But money isn’t everything. Happiness is. And there is no greater joy that you can get out of life than helping others.
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Monsoon season in Bangladesh brings in the flood waters, and as a result, thousands of students are unable to attend school. Many of these students are rural and have issues accessing schooling in the first place. This brings to mind perhaps the most essential tools a student needs for learning: a school. One man came up with a creative solution to address the issue and brought the school to the students during times of flooding, rather than leaving them behind.

Mohammed Rezwan founded a nonprofit called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sansgstha, which runs a fleet of boats acting as schoolhouses, libraries and adult education services. Since his family had a boat growing up, he was able to go to school year round, but he saw that many of his friends didn’t have the same access. He started with one boat and a few small grants, then his project garnered much more attention. With the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2005, he added solar powered electricity and computers, and expanded the fleet to its current size, with 20 school boats, 10 mobile libraries, and even 7 centers for adult education on practical issues like agriculture, and 5 clinics. Since it’s beginning, Rezwan has brought schooling to 70,000 students, and hopes to reach 100,000 more in the next five years. This is an amazing project, since, for many in Bangladesh, it is the only way to learn.

Shidhulai imageThis story shows that creative educational tools can overcome adverse conditions, and with enough support, bring schooling to more people than ever. Here at Jolkona, we know that making a big difference starts with a small and creative idea, just like Rezwan’s single boat has turned into an expanding educational flotilla. Through our Give Together Program, you can support similar innovations, and help students all over the world to expand their education.

One project that also approaches impediments to education with creative solutions is Enlighten Playgrounds Inc. which you can support this month through Give Together. This project provides innovative LED lanterns, charged with playground equipment to rural Ghanaian students to take home and study with at night. By providing something as simple as light, EPI improves the access and the quality of education in villages that don’t even have electricity.

Both Shidhulai and Empower Playgrounds Inc. confronted a seemingly immoveable issue, such as flooding and natural disaster, or lack of electricity with creative and clever solutions. Support the efforts of innovative educators like those behind EPI with Give Together. Many students do not have access to things like light at night, or even solid ground on which to attend school, that we take for granted. When we think about the tools needed for a successful education, we do not think of those needs, but they are absolutely vital.

With just a $5 donation, you can join in on Give Together, and make a difference on education. We only have a week left to focus on education, so remember to vote for your favorite organization!

Photo Credit: Amy Yee, NYT

You can keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Twisted. Mangled. Buried. Crushed. As the bodies seem to defy gravity, so too does the photo seem to defy belief.

The devastating collapse of an eight-story factory building in Savar, Bangladesh on April 24th rapidly made the headlines around the world. The death toll, just two weeks later, has risen to over 700. It has been the nation’s deadliest industrial disaster. The International attention it has drawn has focused not only on the tragic scale of loss of life, but also – and rightly so – on the appalling conditions that so many people in developing countries are constrained to work under.

Most appalling of all, of course, is because it is so often at the behest of us in the West with our infantile addiction to cheap prices, which we are so happily spoon fed by smug Multinationals.

Tragedy for the workers and their families

The first tragedy is the loss of life – immutable, irreversible, and harrowing. Families have lost their loved ones. Nothing will repair this.

The second tragedy is that most of those workers provided a living for their families. In all likelihood, for many families it would have been their only source of income. Those families have been plunged not only into heartbreaking tragedy, but also complete destitution.

The same, though, goes for many of the survivors, who have suffered life-altering injuries: brain damage, broken backs, crushed bones, and severed limbs. Many of these workers will never be able to work again.

Hope for the injured: prosthetic limbs

We have partnered for a long time with BRAC. We visited their Brace and Limb Center in Bangladesh during our Partner Visit trip to South East Asia in the summer of 2012. BRAC has been helping design, build, and fit prosthetic limbs for thousands of Bangladeshi people for many years.

To respond to the tragedy in Savar, we have partnered with BRAC to start a campaign to provide survivors of this terrible accident with an artificial limb.

A new limb for these workers can mean the difference between livelihood and destitution, between life and death – for an entire family.

For $220 you provide one limb for one victim of the Savar tragedy. You can also donate as little as $5. We have already raised over $4400, reshaping the lives of 20 victims. Help us reshape the lives of many more. Give today.

You can also help support the campaign by sharing about it on Facebook and Twitter.

Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. Pumpkin carvings, haunted houses and zany costumes. October 31st traditions are commonplace among U.S. households to bring fun, laughter – and inevitable sugar highs – to children. The first Halloween I remember involved cladding my young self in armor, a young but valiant knight. Another year around kindergarten age I danced in and out of the shadows as a trick-or-treating ninja. The vibrancy of kids’ imaginations, not to mention the overwhelming allure of free candy, turns an ordinary day into a happy, costumed spectacle.

UNICEF’s Inspiring October Month

Children deserve the stable health and peace of mind necessary to fully engage in cultural community traditions like Halloween. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is a riveting campaign created to assure such an accomplishment for our youth. UNICEF concentrates on developmental work and human rights for children and women all over the globe. If most adults are still just kids at heart, then helping children out in the world right now should be a no-brainer. The Trick-or-Treat campaign has already accumulated tens of millions of dollars for causes which champion the education and success of kids.

We admire the widespread efforts of UNICEF in its autumn campaign. Similarly, Jolkona would like to emphasize a few of its child-minded partners who continue to make life less scary for their communities of focus. Take a look below at engaging non-profits in the fields of healthcare, education and nutrition.

Children are the Future


Supply Medicine to Children in Sierra Leone: All As One is a non-profit medical clinic that combines professional nurses, doctors and resources under one roof for ailing children in Sierra Leone. Lack of access to proper healthcare services greatly contributes to the country’s high child mortality rate. Improve their quality of life in a substantive way today.

Sponsor a Child in Bangladesh: Underprivileged is an understatement for many Bangladeshi youth; Distressed Children & Infants International works tirelessly to secure children equality and education. School supplies, adequate medical treatment, clean clothes – these are essential factors during childhood and adolescent development. Partner with DCI by sponsoring a child’s future well-being.

Rescue Nepali Children from Severe Malnutrition: Poor nutrition, as well as a scarcity of food in general, significantly contributes to Nepal’s struggling population of kids and mothers. The Nepal Youth Foundation operates Nutritional Rehabilitation Homes where they can come to live, learn, and grow healthy and strong. Mothers learn how to prepare nutritious meals with local, affordable staples; children are periodically checked up on after returning home.

Halloween’s festive day is filled with otherworldly ghouls, goblins, witches and werewolves – but consider joining Jolkona in its aspirations for regular, extraordinary people. Children are in need of healthful treatment and care everywhere.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest and keep up to date with all we are doing and the impact you are making.

Editors Note: This post was written by the one and only Chi Do!

I grew up in Vietnam, where I witnessed first-hand the inequalities of the health care delivery system in third world countries. Access to medical care was only for the more privileged, smaller sector of the population. If you were poor and lived hundred miles from the city, disease would almost be a death sentence. My childhood dream was cultivated from this knowledge. I wanted to become a medical doctor who would bridge that gap, bringing health care to the poorest of the poor, and to the most remote areas of the country.

That childhood dream took a back seat when my family immigrated to America and as I worked hard to build up a new life, aiming for the American dream. In 2006, the University of Washington, my alma mater, started a new tradition called the Common Book, in which every first-year has to read the same book prior to attending their first college quarter. The first book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains: the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World” by Tracy Kidder captured my heart. It reminded me of that childhood dream I once had – the dream to bring health access to all. I started seeking for opportunities to get involved and found the Jolkona Foundation. The idea that a small donation makes a large impact speaks so much to me. Everybody can be a philanthropist. Everybody can help make life better for another person, whether they are right next to you, or half the world away.

A couple months ago, I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the middle of the largest urban slum in the country. There was a small building nestled in the corner, away from all the noises of daily life. It served as the slum’s clinic sponsored by Distressed Children & Infants International (DCI). While we were there, a middle-aged woman came in carrying an infant on her arms while a young girl walked shyly behind her. I came to find out the baby was born to this young girl, who was barely 17 years old. She was married when she was 13. The older woman was the baby’s grandma. They came to seek medical care for the baby boy who had a common cold. Hearing their story, my heart flew to them. Many young girls in developing countries today have never had the opportunity for education, never known anything else beyond the 4×4 wall of their family house in the slum, and have often entered motherhood and faced too many maternal health problems at such a young age.

I am proud to be volunteering for Jolkona, to spread the word, to cultivate philanthropy within my social circles, and to lend a helping hand. I do all this with the hope that more young girls and women around the world are given the health care and educational opportunities they deserve. I urge every one of you to do the same, to seek the passion that speaks to your heart. And if it is to share or to serve the underprivileged, join us!

During the month of July, your donation to any Global Health project will be matched. Consider donating to the slum clinic in Dhaka that I mentioned above. With $50, you can provide medical supplies for the whole clinic or cover the cost of a general practitioner, both for an entire week. For the majority of people living in the slum, this is the only place they can go for medical care. In addition, join us tonight at Maker’s Space, where Socializing for Social Change is hosting an event benefiting Jolkona. To attend, you must make a $10 donation to one of three health-related projects!

Inspired? Find more Jolkona on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Read more about Jolkona’s visit to the DCI Clinic here!

During our recent trip to Bangladesh we visited Greenovation Technologies – a small social enterprise that was founded by 4 fresh graduates from Dhaka University. An inventor, Dr. Mahbubul Khan, is also involved with the startup. Greenovation Technologies is trying to commercialize one of Dr. Khan’s inventions, called jutin. Jutin is created by combining jute with resin. Alternating layers of jute and resin are placed together. Between each layer or jute and resin a special “glue” (invented and patented by Dr. Khan) is added. The more number of layers there are the stronger the final jutin sheet is. The entire stack is than placed outside in the sun and allowed to bake for 20 minutes. The resulting material is called jutin.

 

Greenovation Technolgies team with one of their model homes made from jutin.

Jutin is more durable than tin, lasting for almost 20 years. The team expects jutin to be cheaper than tin, once economies of scale is achieved. The team also believes jutin can be a great alternative to other building materials, especially those used for cheap construction. There are millions of families in Bangladesh who live in very weak structures made from low-quality tin or hay. Greenovation Technologies believes that jutin will make a far better alternative for such homes, being cheaper and stronger and hopefully, therefore, far more sustainable. They are passionately focused on making that happen.

However, the team faces significant challenges:

  1. Lack of funding. The team has very little capital. They have taken part in business competitions and have done very well. However, the winnings from these competitions are not enough to offset the full cost of setting up a production service. This issues effects all the other issues below as well.
  2. The need to do more research. The team needs to do more research into the long-term effects of jutin. Jutin contains resin (a polymer). The team needs to find out the environmental effects of its long-term presence.
  3. Find the quickest way to scale. The team wants to set up a manufacturing plant to create jutin sheets. However, that is a extremely risky undertaking, especially for a team with little capital and no experience in manufacturing. They will be looking at other options like licensing the technology to other existing manufacturers.

Greenovation Technologies serves as a great example to all of us that the social entrepreneurship journey is filled with challenges and setbacks. Like other social entrepreneurs, this team has to prove that they have the resilience and the creativity to overcome these problems.

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Note from the Editor: this post was written by our brilliant Jolkona volunteer, Zanoon Nissar.

I’d travelled through India many times before, and so I felt pretty at ease when I arrived in Bangladesh.  As we roamed the streets amidst the buzzing rickshaws, overflowing gutters and oily food carts, it felt very much like the childhood trips we’d make to Kerala. This time around, though, I was going to experience this part of the world through very a different lens than which my upper-middle class background had provided.

The Kalyanpur Pora Basti slum is one of Dhaka’s largest, housing over 20,000 people of the 30 million people living under the poverty line in Bangladesh. One of Jolkona’s earliest partners is Distressed Children and Infants (DCI) – an organization committed to providing basic necessities such as food, shelter and education to disadvantaged children around the world. Romel Nasher, the Executive Director of DCI and his warm staff greeted us at their headquarters, and took us to two of their projects – their free health clinic and their girls orphanage.

Our first stop was the DCI health clinic, which offers preventative and curative healthcare including basic immunizations, health check ups for pregnant women, and health education. Although Dhaka has many modern clinics, the poor cannot even access their doors. The existing health support for them is minimal. The health clinic serviced over 3100 patients last year, with a staff of just 6 doctors, 3 social workers and a few staff working 5 days per week. The number of patients this small clinic receives in a day is a real indication of the need for these kinds of facilities in the slums of Dhaka.

The clinic was located in a corner of the slum, close to a sea of parked rickshaws (Dhaka is the rickshaw capital of the world, and many slum residents make their living as drivers). As we walked towards the simple concrete building, we were greeted by dozens of children. Some were shy, others were curious about our multi-ethnic group of volunteers, and others were bashfully waiting to take our picture. The smiles and joy emanating from the children – many without shoes and with ribs sticking out of their malnourished bodies – struck me.

The children followed us to the doors of the DCI health clinic, a building that is well known in the area since it’s the only free health clinic accessible to the 20,000 residents. One of the staff members showed us an enormous, worn out book that was crammed with names of their patients and vaccination information. Forget about technology or computer access here – this book with rows of handwritten information was the key to patient management.

We then had a chance to meet one of the 6 doctors. Dr. Majid, like the other staff doctors, splits his time between a government hospital and the DCI health clinic. When we asked him why he decided to spend time at a slum clinic, he replied “the people at the hospital say thank you when I help them, but at this clinic in the slums I feel like they are giving me blessings. That’s how grateful the people are here for this free clinic.” Dr. Majid explained that over 80% of the slum children are malnourished and that the most common types of medicines he administers are for fever, anti-diarrheal and pre-natal shots. In an attempt to help prevent such problem,  the clinic provides 5 pre-natal care and educational check-ups for mothers prior to birth.

Outside the window, we began to hear children’s voices and soon a dozen or so were at the window, mischievously peering in at us. We went outside and were immediately surrounded by children, excited to tour their neighborhood with us. We walked through the narrow dirt streets amongst the noise of rickshaws and motorcycles. Men played caroms, a local game similar to billiards. We got to examine the creative ways in which slum residents made their living –  through small food stalls of poori and fried goods, and others worked on sewing machines, mending and making clothes for a living.

Where were the women residents of the slums, I wondered? It wasn’t until we entered the “units” that we peered down an extremely narrow pathway filled with rows of homes that we saw them in action. The women were busy cooking fish in clay pots outside their homes, tending to children, drying their clothes or watching TV on a small refurbished model. They smiled as we walked through their unit, and one kind young women in a green salvar kameez invited us to see her home. The woman smiled at us and asked us to sit on the bed, which also served as her couch, in this dark, hot room with a small fan blowing in the corner. She lived in this room with her husband, 2 children and also her sister and mom. It was at this moment, as I sat on the bed  –  in this home that was smaller than bedroom back in California  – that I was truly hit by the magnitude of poverty here. I held back tears as the woman kept thanking us for visiting her in her house — didn’t she know that it was our honor?

At the very end of each “unit” is a space of 3 toilet rooms that are shared by the residents. Slum residents don’t have access to water in their homes, so water pumping stations throughout the complex are extremely important. We watched as young, muscular boys clambered over each other, laughing and pumping fresh water into buckets. It’s essential for the residents to get their water from these pumps rather than the polluted waters that surround the slum. We were happy to learn that DCI’s health clinic also spends time raising awareness about hygiene and sanitation in order to reduce common waterborne diseases in the slum area.

My favorite part of the afternoon with DCI and the slum residents was when we got back to the health clinic after our tour. The children had followed us back to the clinic, and right before we re-entered the building, we felt the beginnings of rain. While the group of us volunteers were quick to get inside the building, shrieking and laughter ensued from the kids. As one of the DCI staff explained, it hadn’t rained in the area for over 3 weeks. Our trip had corresponded with some good fortune for the community. Though I resisted at first, I soon joined a group of kids in the rain, slipping, sliding, jumping, even shampooing their hair! They played with us without a care in the world. I felt deep moved and inspired by their resilience and courage.

What DCI is providing for the children and residents of the slums is basic access to the healthcare, both preventative and curative. As a result of the work of this small, dedicated staff, over 3100 residents have received treatment, 48 pregnant mothers have received prenatal care, and 110 patients were referred to specialized hospitals for support. I’m so impressed by their work and proud to call them a Jolkona partner.

We’ve launched a campaign to support DCI’s health clinic. Visit our campaign page for the DCI Health Clinic here to donate and learn more about how you can make a difference by providing medical supplies to Bangladeshi kids.

Please keep up with us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter as we share Team Southeast Asia’s experiences!

 

Note from the Editor: this post, fresh from Bangladesh, is written by Jolkona volunteer Melinda Moseler.

It’s not every day you get to meet someone who is getting a new lease on life having just received a prosthetic leg just a week ago.

Meet Pratik. His positive energy is contagious and his story is profoundly humbling.

A seemingly simple fall on a bridge turned into an alarming diagnoses of cancer in his leg. After copious of costly visits to India over the course of three years, he was only to be ill informed about treatments and – shockingly – netted out in having to have his leg amputated above the knee.

Fortunately, through referrals and a network of doctors, he was put in touch with Dr. Ehsanul Haque, the Medical Officer from BRAC Brace & Limb Center (BLBC). Dr. Haque handled every detail for Pratik, such as arranging travel, accommodation on site while away from home for several weeks, physical therapy, etc. There there took all the appropriate measurements, prepped the molds and the shape casts, built the limb, and fitted it. It’s one of the only facilities of its kind in Bangladesh.

Pratik was given a second chance.

Pratik’s new leg. Photo credit: Sergio Paolantonio

After all that he had been through his spirit was in a great place. He is looking forward to so much in life now that he has a prosthetic limb and is quickly regaining the ability to walk again. He can’t wait to see his parents and be greeted by his students once returning to his village after his stay at BLBC.

We were all deeply touched with his profoundly positive attitude and his ability to overcome something so drastic. I really walked away feeling like I’d learned a lesson in accepting life and its gifts – good with the bad – in whatever form they come. I am forever thankful for getting the opportunity to meet Pratik , Dr. Ehsanul Haque and the rest of the BRAC Brace & Limb Center staff and for being able view the extraordinary work they are doing for the disabled patients in Dhaka.

10% of all patients in need are funded through Jolkona’s Partnership with BLBC. Because of donors like you, patients like Pratik can receive care from BRAC Brace & Limb Center.

We’ve launched two campaigns that support projects we’re visiting during our trip. Visit our campaign page for the Brace & Limb Center here to donate and learn more about how you can make a difference by funding up to 4 supporting braces.

Please keep up with us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter as we share Team Southeast Asia’s experiences! Also be sure to follow NadiaAdnan, and Melinda on Twitter as they’re posting some great live updates.
 

This is the last in a series of posts from Saman Nizami about her experiences and observations while interning for BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh. You can read her previous posts in the series, A Tough Graduation, part I and part II.

There is much to explore in BRAC’s innovative Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) program, given its comprehensive approach towards breaking this vicious poverty cycle for hundreds of thousands of ultra-poor households.  In my previous post, we discussed the healthcare and social development aspects of the program.  We saw how these two components empower women in their communities and households and help them lead healthy lives. In this post, I’ll discuss the final two aspects of financial discipline and the subsistence allowance.

Financial discipline

As I mentioned earlier, microfinance can’t be deemed to be a solution for these ultra-poor women. Since these women were engaged with distress occupations (e.g. domestic servant, begging, etc.) to secure sufficient food to sustain their families on a day-to-day basis, the circumstances inhibited the development of their financial dexterity. These women were intimidated merely by the prospect of taking a loan and could not contemplate saving some of their scant income as a safety-net. As a result, I noticed that the majority of the new TUP recruits were unable to articulate their investment plans for the future due to the lack of training, experience, and confidence.

BRAC helps them achieve financial literacy and assists them with building their savings. Through training and experience in micro-enterprise development and financial planning, the graduates actively participated in the credit market with microfinance loans and successfully managed their portfolios. These women took loans for enterprise investments, house repair, or incidences like their children’s weddings, but not for survival. Additionally, nearly all the graduates I met were building their savings with BRAC, and some with multiple sources.

Thus, giving them opportunities to hone their financial acumen is vital in preparing them to take on microfinance loans and reap the benefits from other conventional development programs.

A snapshot of a Village Organization (VO) Microfinance meeting I observed in Rangpur, Bangladesh
A snapshot of a Village Organization (VO) Microfinance meeting I observed in Rangpur, Bangladesh

Subsistence Allowance

Some may think that the subsistence allowance (i.e. a cash transfer) is simply equivalent to traditional charity. However, in the situation of these women, who are suffering from dismal poverty and hunger, it serves as a buffer until they are able to stand on their own feet. These subsistence allowances serve as a means to ensure food security for the women and their families. It allows them to focus on their enterprise development and eat three times a day, effectively preventing their families from begging, borrowing, or taking on distress work.

These women can’t benefit from any initial investment if they’re suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Thus, it becomes critical to fulfill their nutritional needs in the initial untenable stages of the program until they establish their micro-enterprises and achieve self-sufficiency.

My final thoughts….

Spending time with these women and observing their challenges (and progress) is when I realized that these components may not be effective individually, but rather the optimal impact is created by addressing all of these areas collectively. Given where these women lie on the poverty scale, if you only address one of the problems, they may inevitably falter in other areas, ultimately reducing the benefits of the intervention. These various support mechanisms are important to the initiative because many different aspects of a woman’s life are intertwined and are thus mutually dependent on each other for strong impact. For example, Tasmeena’s health condition needs to be conducive for managing her economic activities. Similarly, Masooda needed to feel empowered as she may have lacked the confidence and motivation to build her livelihood if she remained isolated in her community.

Nasreen (TUP 2010), Shaheena (TUP 2010), and I in the Sirajganj district of Bangladesh.
Nasreen (TUP 2010), Shaheena (TUP 2010), and I in the Sirajganj district of Bangladesh.

As a result of the program’s holistic approach, a substantial number of the graduates I met had the confidence and know-how to expand their enterprises, to make critical decisions for the well being of their families, to provide healthy environments for their families, to establish a support network in their communities, and to promote their rights. Consequently, these women were equipped with the right skills to participate in and benefit from mainstream development programs like microfinance. The optimal combination of interventions to address the myriad needs of these neglected women is no easy task, and BRAC should be commended for their innovation and promising success to date.

Saman Nizami graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and History. She is currently working for a Pakistan-based NGO, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education), primarily in disaster response projects aimed to help the victims of the recent 2010 floods. She’s also a Project Team Lead for ADP (Association for the Development of Pakistan). During her spare time, Saman enjoys trying new restaurants (particularly sushi), learning North Indian classical singing, watching Bollywood movies, and most recently – tweeting. You can follow her @saman_nizami.

This post is a reflection of Saman Nizami’s experiences and observations during her internship for BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh.

To recap on my previous post, BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” (TUP) program takes an integrated approach towards empowering women at the bottom of the poverty ladder. In addition to providing income generating assets and enterprise development training, the other four components of the program play a subtle but vital role in lifting these women out of poverty as well. In this post, I’ll discuss two of these powerful catalysts (i.e. healthcare support and social development) and the other two (i.e. financial discipline and subsistence allowance) in my next post.

Preliminary Healthcare Services and Education

Tasmeena

Meet Tasmeena (above). She is a domestic servant, who was recently recruited into the TUP program. Tasmeena suffers from fever frequently, which hinders her from working. Even when I met her, she had a high fever – which I had to diagnose by touching her forehead and wrist because she couldn’t afford basic healthcare essentials like a thermometer. In the past, she has met physicians who suggested she get blood tests, but she never followed through because, again, she could not afford it.

Her weak livelihood and poor health condition were inter-dependent. Her meager income would not allow to her seek formal medical care for treatment or purchase medication. Similarly, her poor health condition was pushing her into further destitution by limiting the manual labor she could perform or making her take days off from work. For Tasmeena and her family, not going to work for a day meant forgoing a day’s income which had dire consequences. Her family may have to starve for the day or she may have to resort to begging for cash and food. Fortunately, BRAC will provide her healthcare services to improve her health condition which will ultimately strengthen her livelihood.

Another strategy of the program is health education. I sat in on one of BRAC’s health education sessions with the TUP members where BRAC’s health volunteers were discussing the importance of feminine hygiene and family planning. See my picture below.

BRAC health education session

These women are also given hygiene education and essential items like sanitary latrines and tube-wells for safe drinking water to protect them from communicable diseases.

BRAC’s integrated health services aim to improve the nutritional and health statuses of these women and their families. As a result, this improvement in their families’ health plays a key role in stimulating any improvements in the households’ economic conditions.

Madhu Bi, wearing sandals and using a tube-well, BRAC, TUP Program
Above: TUP member, Madhu Bi, wearing sandals and using a tube-well she received from BRAC for safe drinking water. She explained that in the past, her children have suffered from diseases like jaundice and diarrhea, but now they have been much healthier as a result of changing simple practices and receiving key facilities (i.e. sanitary latrine and tube-well).

Social Development

Another important mechanism propelling the program’s success is mobilizing the community and building the human social capital of the rural poor (particularly women). The first time I went to a Gram Daridro Bimochon Committee (GDBC) meeting, a local rural elite committee formed to protect these vulnerable families, the leadership proudly described their responsibilities including information dissemination on health issues, protection of the women’s assets , and advocacy of their rights to the local government. At the meeting, the TUP members were closely following the meeting’s agenda and openly expressing their thoughts on how to address their communities’ needs. Towards the end, the women and the GDBC gifted a tin house roof to an ill widow purchased through collective donations from the community.  I was amazed to see this strong affinity and urge to help others among these women, despite the difficult conditions they’re in themselves.

Here is a short video I took from one of the GDBC meetings:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1CiM9KwvpY&version=3&hl=en_US] As an additional effort in socially empowering women, BRAC’s field staff trains them on social issues that plague their communities. This includes teaching them how to write their name, the importance of marriage and birth certificates, and laws on early child marriage, dowry, etc. These women are then encouraged to uphold their rights, play a more active role in their communities, and strongly resist abuse and exploitation.

BRAC's field staff teaching Rukhsana
Above: BRAC’s field staff teaching Rukhsana how to write her name as part of the social development training.

I met a TUP graduate (2006) named Masooda who has progressed significantly in terms of social development.  When she was recruited to the TUP program, Masooda felt alienated as a poor widow living on her own. Further, she had no time or energy to interact with people because of her arduous manual labor as a domestic servant. However, after graduating from the TUP program, she plays an active role in her community. She frequently gives her community members advice, and even stopped two early child marriages among her relatives by vehemently protesting against it. She is approaching local government representatives to secure her entitlements (i.e. widow allowance) as well.

Another TUP graduate, Afreena, used to be physically tortured by her husband, but she felt like she had no one to turn to. However, now that she generates income and has assets in her ownership, she has authority within the household and her husband treats her with respect. Now, the question that arises is if her husband is treating her well because he considers her to be a source of income, or have his fundamental beliefs about women changed? Will this change be sustained unconditionally in the long term even if Afreena decides to sell her assets and stop contributing to the household? A little too soon to tell…

Nevertheless, it’s clear that lifting these women out of poverty requires the need to intrinsically empower them, where they learn how to protect themselves from marginalization and control their own lives. It also involves instilling perception changes among men and women and dismantling the entrenched ideology of gender inequality.

And it doesn’t stop here…more to come in my next post!

Saman Nizami graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and History. She is currently working for a Pakistan-based NGO, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education), primarily in disaster response projects aimed to help the victims of the recent 2010 floods. She’s also a Project Team Lead for ADP (Association for the Development of Pakistan). During her spare time, Saman enjoys trying new restaurants (particularly sushi), learning North Indian classical singing, watching Bollywood movies, and most recently – tweeting. You can follow her @saman_nizami.

This post is a reflection of her experiences and observations during her internship for BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” program in Bangladesh.

Woman with baby

About 40% of Bangladesh’s population lives in poverty while 20% fall below the poverty line. This bottom 20% can’t meet 80% of their dietary needs despite spending 80% of their meager income on food. They are so deeply trapped in poverty that they are unable to benefit from mainstream development interventions like microfinance. Among these ultra-poor households, it is imperative to focus attention on women because, while their role as a caretaker is pivotal for the family, they are at the bottom of the poverty ladder and discriminated against because of their gender. Targeted efforts on these marginalized women have the potential to catalyze long term social change by improving their families’ quality of life and raising their status in society.

An initiative to empower these women living in abject poverty was thus born.  It was determined that their various needs must be holistically addressed, coupled with extensive monitoring and training by field staff.  This, in turn, would change the perception of the woman both within the household and the community.  I was fortunate enough to observe and work for this cause in Bangladesh, dubbed BRAC’S “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” (TUP) Program.

So, what is the TUP program?

The TUP program identifies and targets these ultra-poor households in the most impoverished districts in Bangladesh through a participatory wealth ranking survey tool.  The TUP program empowers these women through various channels:

  1. Transfer of income generating assets (e.g. livestock, cultivable land, etc.)
  2. Enterprise development training
  3. Preliminary healthcare services
  4. Social development
  5. Subsistence allowance
  6. Financial discipline

The women are expected to “graduate” the program within eighteen months, after which they will be considered moderately poor (i.e. closer to the poverty line) and economically active. It is then that they can be effectively mainstreamed into microfinance and other conventional poverty alleviation programs to further improve their lives.

The micro-enterprise development component of the program, which includes providing productive assets and enterprise development training (i.e. numbers 1 and 2 above, respectively), is crucial to help these women achieve financial self-sufficiency. Micro-enterprise development has been discussed at great length and, in some respects, appears to be a straightforward solution to alleviating poverty.

Meet Golapi Begum, a TUP member who received 3 goats and poultry as her productive assets. And on the right, Golapi Begum happily showing me the first two eggs her chickens had just laid.

Meet Golapi Begum, a TUP member who received 3 goats and poultry as her productive assets.Golapi Begum happily showing me the first two eggs her chickens had just laid.

However, my experience with TUP has shown me that perhaps giving women the means to build their own enterprise is not the silver bullet to truly improving their livelihood. The program’s other four aspects (i.e. numbers 3 – 6 above) complement the micro-development component bringing about powerful impact in these women’s lives. I’ll delve into these four components of the program in my next post. So, stay tuned to see how these pieces fit together to solve this puzzle.

Saman Nizami graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and History. She is currently working for a Pakistan-based NGO, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education), primarily in disaster response projects aimed to help the victims of the recent 2010 floods. She’s also a Project Team Lead for ADP (Association for the Development of Pakistan). During her spare time, Saman enjoys trying new restaurants (particularly sushi), learning North Indian classical singing, watching Bollywood movies, and most recently – tweeting. You can follow her @saman_nizami.

Related post: Taylor in Bangladesh: What are you doing here?

Maheen with the children at Distressed Children International clinics

About three weeks ago, I walked into a room with a bench on one side and a desk on the other. There was another room in the back with a curtain partition for privacy. There was a doctor on the other side consulting with a patient I walked back into the waiting room, there was a mother there that had come in with her baby. The baby was strangely silent, and the mother was mentioning that her child had a constant fever and she didn’t know what was wrong. This “room” that I had walked into was one of DCI’s (Distressed Children & Infants International) clinics in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The clinic cares for and provides medical supplies and prescriptions to those cannot afford it and have nowhere else to go.

What led me to this clinic in Bangladesh was the Jolkona campaign I was a part of called the 12 Days of Giving. I decided to promote a health related project in Bangladesh and chose to support the DCI sponsored clinic, as public health is an interest of mine. I had never raised funds for anything prior to this experience nor had I promoted any type of project before! To be perfectly honest, I was attempting to pick whichever project I thought would be easily marketable so I would have a remote chance of fulfilling the looming $1,000 target goal. Not until I had a chance to visit the clinic and an orphanage also sponsored by DCI, and actually see those that were positively affected by the money raised, did I realize what $1,000 in Bangladesh really means.

Think about the anxiety that you feel when you’re sick for a couple of days and don’t know what is wrong. Not fun, huh? Now multiply this feeling times 100 to emphasize what toll that it takes on those “living” on the streets of Dhaka. The grave impact is felt not only because they do they not know what’s wrong with them when they’re sick, they know that they absolutely cannot walk into a hospital and get help, and whatever they have will probably only get worse.

Maheen with the children at Distressed Children International clinics

There are 450,000 children who live on the streets of Bangladesh and 30,000 die everyday due to circumstances of poverty. Through the DCI orphanage and with very little money, about 20 of these children are taken off the streets and are provided with healthcare, a good education, food, and shelter. With $10, a baby is provided with doctor care and relief. As demonstrated by the patients and kids at the DCI projects, a couple of dollars does not mean much to us here, but can most likely save a life and provide a child with a chance of having chance to enjoy a view of what life without poverty could really be…a reality.

I will never think about this project, these children, or $1,000 the same way again.

Maheen Aman is the Campus Outreach Lead for Jolkona and is extremely passionate about global health and development. She recently went on a global adventure that took her to Bangladesh and Turkey. This is a snapshot of one of her adventures.

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