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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

Our third partner in August’s Give Together campaign for global health is BRAC Haiti, an organization fighting chronic poverty by providing prosthetics, orthotic  and other comprehensive support programs to rehabilitate physically disabled Haitians. In the organization’s own words, here’s more information about this month’s project:

What’s the inspiration behind your organization?

BRAC is a development organization dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives. We started in Bangladesh in 1972, and over the course of our evolution, have established ourselves as a pioneer in operating innovative antipoverty interventions at scale. BRAC organizes the poor using the communities’ own human and material resources to catalyze lasting change and create an ecosystem in which the poor have the chance to seize control of their own lives. BRAC has developed support services that are geared toward inclusion in the areas of human rights, legal aid, education, social and economic empowerment, finance and enterprise development, agriculture, environmental sustainability, disaster preparedness and of course, health care.

Renade below the knee prosthetic

What’s the story behind your project?

BRAC has worked directly in Haiti since shortly after the devastating earthquake that hit in January 2010, drawing on its own experience of starting up and operating relief and rehabilitation programs in post-conflict and post-disaster environments. Our immediate disaster relief efforts included replication of BRAC’s Limb and Brace Center in Bangladesh to help victims of the earthquake. BRAC Haiti’s Limb and Brace Center opened in September 2010 in Port-au-Prince and continues to make and fit low cost, quality artificial limbs and braces, in addition to providing counseling and rehabilitation services. The Center is staffed by qualified local Haitian technicians and a medical officer that received hands-on training and guidance from BRAC’s team of professionals from Bangladesh for over two years.

By providing artificial limbs and braces to the poor, BRAC is helping to reduce the burden on families of physically disabled individuals by increasing their ability to participate in daily life and other social and economic activities, thereby allowing disabled Haitian citizens to contribute to ongoing, post-earthquake recovery and rebuilding efforts.

How did you become connected with Jolkona?

BRAC has been acquainted with Jolkona since your organization started after your founder reached out to us to offer a platform to raise funds for our important programs – his family is Bangladeshi and he was aware of BRAC’s work and so extended the invitation to our team in the US.

Can you tell us more about your current project?

The BLBC offers physical therapy and other rehabilitation services, and counseling to the physically disabled and their family members. It is equipped to accommodate patients who come from outside of Port au Prince or who otherwise require overnight facilities. BRAC’s Limb and Brace Center is the only provider of customized, durable braces in the Port-au-Prince area. All prosthetics and orthotics are manufactured onsite using suitable technology deemed appropriate by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) that takes into consideration the Haitian context and convenience and ease of maintenance to the beneficiaries.

The clinic has served over 2,392 patients as of April 2013. While the BLBC continues to see patients injured as a result of the earthquake, it is increasingly serving patients injured by accidents, and children born with limb deformities and disabilities. Approximately 74% of patients treated at the BLBC are under the age of 15.

Patients receiving treatment from BLBC are shown as below:

Particulars Total Male Female Adult Child
Total Patients 2,392 1,158 1,234 636 1,756
Total Prosthesis 123 48 75 52 71
Total Orthosis 1,926 964 962 470 1,456
*Others 343 146 197 114 229

What kind of lasting impact do you hope to achieve?

Haiti’s population of citizens living with untreated physical disabilities was high even before the earthquake due to a lack of sufficient development in the health care sector and poor infrastructure conditions fed by unfavorable economic and social conditions. Everyday life in Haiti paints a picture that can be harsh at best and those living with a disability are often regarded as economic burdens or social pariahs. A locally-based and consistent supply of quality, cost-effective limbs, braces and patient services, including counseling, are required to unlock the potential of this often disregarded segment of Haiti’s population.

Let’s say Give Together raises $150 for your project by the end of August. What’s our impact?

The BLBC offers a range of treatments to individuals – from brace and split orthotic devices all the way through to prosthetic limbs. A donation of $50 provides a foot orthosis that can correct a prohibitive deformity. A donation of $75 can provide a long leg brace that can make walking possible in spite of lack of certain leg muscles or can provide a custom ankle foot orthosis that will allow a patient to perform a wider range of physical activities. A donation of $530 would mean that a patient could receive a needed below the knee prosthetic limb and $720 would provide a full below the hip prosthetic limb to an individual in need. Beyond providing the devices themselves, these amounts include the cost to provide important counseling, rehabilitation and follow-up care to the Center’s patients by a team of qualified and caring professionals.

We love stories at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite impact story you can share?

Viola is 34 years old. She had a small roadside business and was working there when the earthquake started in January 2010. When the tremors began, she fell down and a neighboring building collapsed on top of her. Viola faded in and out of consciousness for several hours and was taken to the hospital by community volunteers, where she finally woke up. The doctors there informed Viola that her leg was severely damaged and that they had no choice but to amputate. After the amputation, Viola was unable to walk. She could no longer operate her small business and had no way of generating income for herself and her daughter. Viola’s partner had left her after the amputation and the little support he provided went toward school fees for her daughter. Each day was a struggle for Viola and her child.

Then one day a neighbor told Viola about BRAC’s Limb and Brace Center and she made her way to the Center. After her first visit, she thought, “They will give me the ability to walk… I was happy”. Two weeks later, Viola was fitted with a prosthetic leg, designed out of durable material that is easy to clean and maintain. She practiced walking on her leg, which felt heavy at first, and gradually grew accustomed to it. Soon after, Viola was back to work. “I do the same business as before,” she says. “I have no problems.” Now, instead of worrying about how to provide for her family, Viola spends her free time playing with her daughter. She hopes that her daughter will grow up to be a doctor, so that she can help others.

This is one post in our ongoing Partner Spotlight series. Throughout the month of August, you can sign up to join Give Together and choose BRAC or two other global health projects.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

Our theme for Give Together in August is Global Health! 1094765_10151501495977396_94142620_n

We have three partners making a difference worldwide by providing quality healthcare to underserved people and their communities. Check out their profiles, and join our Give Together program to donate to your favorite. Make a difference in Global Health today!

Adopt a New Mother in India’s Slum’s

CalcuttaKids2

Calcutta Kids is a medical treatment and preventative healthcare initiative based in the slums of Kolkata. In addition to providing needed medical treatment, they also gather and analyze data to effectively battle major issues — such as malnutrition and poor development — by treating them before they become crises. Their Maternal and Young Child Health Initiative focuses on making sure that pregnant women receive the prenatal, postpartum and pediatric care their families need to survive and thrive.

The key to improving global health is effective preventative medicine. Calcutta Kid’s data-based method has reduced malnutrition in the slums they work in by 75% in 3 years. Through Give Together, you can help make even more of an impact. Your donation will contribute to “adopting” a mother/child pair, providing counseling, vitamins, vaccines, check-ups and a safe delivery.

Make Bolivian Babies Smile

Esperança provides medical treatment and much needed surgeries to some of the poorest and most remote communities in South and Central America. The organization brings mobile teams of volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists and technicians to villagers who would otherwise be unable to seek treatment for chronic or emergency health problems. In addition, it trains local doctors and medical practitioners so they can make a sustainable difference on the ground.

Last year, Esperança treated more than 1,000 patients. A surgery from Esperança, such as repairing a young child’s cleft palate, costs as little as $156 and has a permanent, positive impact. Contribute through Give Together to Esperança and begin building the supplies for a surgical team to treat rural communities.

Get Haitians Back on Their Feet

In many communities, people with permanent physical disabilities are unable to work, and are therefore stuck in poverty. BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) recognizes that providing medical care is central to fighting poverty, resolving this problem by providing services like prosthetics, orthotics and training for poor people living with disabilities.

The devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti resulted in thousands of additional amputees, overtaxing a healthcare system that already struggled to provide major medical care. BRAC stepped in to turn their Limb and Brace Center into a sustainable health enterprise, not only by supplying much-needed prosthetics and orthotics, but also through counseling and other patient services. By contributing to BRAC Haiti, you can provide the means for Haitians with disabilities to lift themselves out of poverty.

By contributing to any of these three projects, you can improve the quality of life for vulnerable people, and make an impact in Global Health. Give Together today!

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.

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.
 

Note from the Editor: this post was written by the Jolkona

 

This month six Jolkona volunteers, including co-founders Nadia Khawaja Mahmud and Adnan Mahmud, are traveling to Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand to spend time visiting our partner organizations in Southeast Asia. Jolkona’s mission has always been to connect our donors to global philanthropic opportunities and show donors the impact of their donation, whether it’s a photo, video or a card. During this trip, we intend to capture the spirit of our mission. Our goal is to experience face-to-face the impact of Jolkona’s partners, and share our stories back with our donors and friends in the most effective way. Visiting our partners is also an invaluable part of evolving our giving platform. On top of that, we’re planning on experiencing the culture, food and having some fun along the way!

Past trips to Africa and South America have been key in developing closer relationships with our partners and directly experiencing the impact we’re making on the ground, as well as helping tell those stories to our donors.

Southeast Asia (Bangladesh specifically) is where our work first started. Three years later, we’ve scaled to over 110 projects around the globe, and 28 specifically in SE Asia. During our trip, we’ll be visiting:

  • Bangladesh – DCI, BRAC limb center
  • Thailand – Rockefeller Center, Thai Action Committee
  • Camdodia – 1. KMR, Tean Thor, FEDA Cambodia

Two new campaigns

To build excitement and garner support for the partner projects, we’re launching two campaigns. Both support projects that we will be visiting during our trip. Help raise funds for these great projects!

1. Provide a Supporting Brace & Rehabilitation in Bangladesh:

Our first partner visit in Bangladesh will be our partner BRAC at their Limb and Brace Fitting Centre (BLBC). Their primary goal is increasing the independence of physically disabled persons by enhancing their ability to participate in daily life, social and economic activities. BRAC supports the disabled population with rehabilitation aids and services using appropriate technology. Our goal through your donation is to provide a total of 4 braces for those in need. Donate to our campaign here.

2. Provide Medical Supplies to Bangladeshi Kids:

Our second visit will be with another of OUR inspirational partners in Bangladesh — Distressed Children & Infants. Through your donation, you can provide medication to help alleviate preventable illnesses related to lack of proper sanitation and water among impoverished children in Bangladesh. Make a donation here.

When you contribute the full amount to either projects, you will receive a proof of impact for your donation. You can also give different amounts, starting at $5, though you will not receive a proof for a partial gift.

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

Gratefully,

Nadia, Adnan, Chi, Krishnaja, Melinda & Zanoon

The Jolkona SE Asia Team

Please Note: This trip is a 100% funded by the volunteers who have graciously given of their own time and money. No funds from Jolkona have been used to sponsor any portion of this trip.

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?

Thanks to the generous support of the Jolkona community, we have raised almost $4,000 for our partner, Barakat, to help families displaced by the floods in Pakistan! As a result of your donations, the 70-75 households that took shelter in Attock, Punjab have all been taken care of. We’re excited to announce that this project is now completely sold out!

In our last blog post about Pakistan, we discussed how much of the $1.3 billion raised for Haiti’s earthquake relief still remains unused. Jolkona and our partner have learned from this experience and have decided to cap the Pakistan project at this point since our non-profit partner does not have the capacity to distribute additional funds for flood relief outside of the village they work in. You can rest assured that YOUR donations to this project are being used for aid and distributed to the families affected by the floods. Everyone who has made a donation will receive a proof of impact as soon as the gifts are implemented.

Thanks to your help, we were able to meet the immediate needs of the affected families who took refuge in Attock. We are working hard with our partner to add another project which will provide long-term benefits for these families.

Unfortunately, the need in Pakistan is still great. The UN reports that the flooding in the Sindh province of Pakistan is going from “bad to worse.” Whether you’ve given to our project or not, we encourage you to give what you can to other relief organizations working in Pakistan. See the short list of organizations we recommend below:

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Within 30 seconds of reading this you can get a seven-day weather forecast for Rio de Janeiro, Delhi, or Tokyo. You can learn how vaccinations work, get instructions on how to construct a pig pen, and even learn the definition of poverty… in Japanese. The point being, we live in an information rich world. With 1.7 billion internet users, some of us clearly have access to limitless amounts of information that the remaining 5.3 billion do not. However, when one goes further and looks at the billions who do not even have access a public library, the world’s 72 million children who are not enrolled in school, or 774 million that are illiterate, this information gap becomes almost unimaginable, but its consequences are very real.

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Taylor Corbett is a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA, pursuing a double major in Economics and Diplomacy and World Affairs. This post is part of a series he wrote as part of an internship with BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra-poor program in Bangladesh.

As an American student in Bangladesh I have quickly learned that there is one question that I inevitably face in every greeting. Wedged somewhere between the handshake and friendly smiles slips the question, “What are you doing here?” It’s something I have been asked by customs agents, taxi drivers, chai wallahs, school teachers, businessmen, village leaders, and even friends. In Bangladesh this is a completely justified question. With virtually no tourism industry and monsoon season fast approaching, many wonder why someone would come to their country to tromp around isolated villages for days at a time. The simplicity of my response has, thus far, never failed to solicit a smile. “I have come to learn from you,” I always tell them.

The context of my response can be found eight months prior as I read Nicholas Kristof’s column titled “More Schools, Not Troops.” In his column, Kristof compares the different developmental paths of Bangladesh and Pakistan in the 30 years since their partition in 1971. Pakistan, choosing to spend its aid dollars on military spending has come to face a militarized and divided society. In contrast, Bangladesh has chosen to focus on educational and societal development, which Kristof argues, has led to healthier, better educated, and less radicalized society. He went on to attribute this progress, in part, to an NGO called BRAC for their education and development initiatives. As an international relations and economics major, studying how development organizations can provide effective solutions to pervasive transnational issues (such as terrorism or insurgencies) is my academic dream. Clearly interested, I did what any information hungry American does, I Googled-it.

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