Bangladesh, … a country about the size of the State of Arkansas, … is bursting with a population of 130 million. It consistently ranks among the poorest countries in the world. The people crowd along streets, on sidewalks, in boats and ferries. Often times, the people just stand around because meaningful employment cannot be found.
Most jobs are low skill tasks on farms, making brick, road construction, and other miscellaneous activities. With an illiteracy rate of nearly 50%, it is very difficult for this country to raise its economic status. Income from the few higher paying skilled jobs is insufficient to care for its most important resource … a hardworking and friendly people, … a people who seek only to survive each day.
Contributing to the dilemma of the country is unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and limited health care. Few resources are available to solve these problems.
Water-born diseases constitute a majority of the health problems in rural villages as well as in city slums. Help in improving the health and welfare of entire villages is accomplished by having safe and clean drinking water.
Drilling fresh water wells in the sandy rock-free soil of Bangladesh is easy and accomplished with simple equipment. Aid workers have trained this well drilling team to use readily available materials for construction of the tube wells. The aid workers also purchase 100 to 200 feet of PVC pipe and the pump. The total cost is less that $200 for a tube well that is used by the entire village or by segments of a very large village.
The drilling process is basically a water ram used to displace the soil at the bottom end of the pipe. One worker uses his hand as a flapper valve while others work the pump handle. The PVC pipe is forced into the ground at a rate of about one foot per minute. The entire process is accomplished in about two days.
The most difficult task is putting in the filter consisting of a perforated PVC pipe. When the drilling is complete, the entire 100 to 200 feet of PVC pipe is pulled out of the well, the filter section attached to the bottom end and the entire assembly reinserted into the hole. This must all be accomplished quickly before the surrounding soil collapses. Several hundred of these wells are drilled each year.
In the Chittagong Hill Tracts area, spring water is often available. Concrete storage basins are constructed and the water is piped down to the village below.
Sanitation for the villagers goes hand in hand with clean water to improve health conditions. In most villages of Bangladesh, raw sewage in open drains is often next to where people live, work, and play. A simple sanitary latrine can change the life of a family and of a village … bringing them strides forward in terms of health and human dignity.
Sanitary latrines are simply referred to by Western aid workers as “squatty potties”. The unit consists of a series of five concrete rings buried in the ground. These rings are capped off with a lid that includes a water trap to keep the fumes from the decaying waste from escaping. Here, our young friend demonstrates how it works.
Aid workers purchase the set of rings and the lid for about $20. The components are then taken to the village where the villagers install the assembly in a convenient location. Sometimes they construct a small concrete wall around the latrine. Other times, plastic or bamboo sides provide privacy. Often times it is necessary for several families to use the same latrine.
Adequate medical care is seldom available in the villages. Occasionally, an aid worker is asked to help with a serious illness. In this case, the young woman was severely dehydrated from a typhoid infection. Realizing the emergency of the situation, she was quickly transported to the nearest medical clinic where the illness was diagnosed and effectively treated.
Sewing is a male dominated job and few businesses will hire women. In order for a woman to earn a living at this profession, she must set up her own business. Training in the use of a sewing machine and instruction in how to make quality garments, blankets, etc. is provided. Those completing the three-month course are given a sewing machine and supplies enabling them to start a business in their own home.
Career development programs provide training for many young people in different areas such as computers, driving, village doctor or nurse, … as well as how to set up and manage a small enterprise. Micro-loans of $100 to $500 to start up a small business are also available.
Fish farming is an important income resource for many. Lakes and ponds are common throughout the country. The build up of decaying organic material, however, impairs their productivity. Frequently, aid workers provide the funds for renovating some of the fishponds. The pond is pumped dry and the accumulated mud is then dipped out. Using a bucket brigade technique and hard work, the pond is ready to be refilled in two to three days. Usually, the pond is restocked with tilapia, a fish variety that is very productive here. These workers each earn about $2 a day for this hard and messy job. The small community living next to the pond will now have a reliable source of fish for many years to come.
Agriculture is the major way of life for most of the Bangladeshi people, but few have time or the knowledge to improve their time honored farming methods.
The Development Service Center, … located in Savar near Dhaka, … was established in 1965. However, this 19-acre training facility was closed in 2004. During the 35-year tenure of the DSC, many farmers learned how to grow better rice, … how to manage and care for cattle and other farm animals, and how to make better use of products available to them. The introduction of a much more productive breed of ducks has made a major difference. The hatchery here on the grounds provided ducklings to rural areas as replacement of their less productive breeds.
The classroom activity at this facility included lectures and discussion during the training session. These lectures were reinforced with hands on experiences in raising chickens and fish and intensive
cropping techniques to take advantage of the year round growing season. Many of the things that were done at the DSC are now done by visiting the villages and surrounding farms.
In a country where most people struggle to provide basic needs for themselves and their children, school attendance is a luxury and is not required by the government. However, literacy among Christians in this country is above 80% because of the priority on education by various mission agencies. Christians place a strong emphasis on individuals learning to read in order to study the Bible. Other religions rely mainly on teaching and interpretations from religious leaders.
Most schools are located in larger villages and cities rather than rural areas. Thus, poor families with no nearby school do not have many options for their children. In order to provide an education, some send their children to cities where schools are located. If a village family doesn’t have relatives near a school, options for the child to attend the city school are limited.
The Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship manages several “hostels” where poor village children can live in a secure environment close to city schools. The use of hostels has dramatically changed the lives of many young Christians.
Other organizations have similar programs of training. Some provide advanced technical training in several different skill areas including welding, carpentry, and auto mechanics. The programs are very disciplined and are typically for two years duration.
The Bangladeshi people are willing and eager to do their part. But, … additional resources are required that will allow the people to go beyond survival, … to do more than just survive from day to day.
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