We recently visited Bangladesh to evaluate our projects in the urban slums of Dhaka and Chittagong. We are always thankful for the chance to connect with our colleagues abroad and to see how our projects are changing lives.
Below are a few highlights from our visit.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty—Girls like Isra can go to School
Isra Jahan is a smiley, smart 12 year old, who dreams of one day becoming a doctor that serves poor clients. Her dad, Ibrahim, is a street vendor, selling snacks from his handcart. Ibrahim doesn’t earn enough money for the family to live in an apartment with running water, so they live in a slum. With no access to water, Isra’s responsibility was to make daily trips to the river, which meant not going to school.
Thanks to your support, our Bangladesh partner helped the Jahans and their neighbors construct a water system right in their compound. Clean water is now readily available for all their needs. Isra told us she is especially excited—instead of collecting water every day, she can stay in school and pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
Using Theater to Promote Hygiene Messages
It’s hard enough keeping a child clean and healthy in the best of circumstances. Imagine raising a child in a slum. The slum environment presents the worst circumstances when it comes to hygiene.
Our local partner, DSK, is well aware of the challenges children face in Dhaka’s poorest neighborhoods like Kamrangirchar and Pallabi. Getting hygiene messages across can be difficult, but success can mean the difference between life and death. DSK has recently enhanced its hygiene-education program by adding a Cultural Program Team, employing local talent to perform songs and skits with hygiene themes.
We were fortunate to see a performance during our visit to Pallabi. Dozens of local kids crowded the stage and gave their full attention to the actors and singers. Their laughs and smiles convinced us the skits and songs were effective tools for grabbing attention and providing children with a few simple steps to protect their health.
Going One Step Further—Improving Sanitation
One goal of our visit was to assess our local partner’s efforts to improve the handling and treatment of sewage. In most urban areas around the world, human waste is disposed into local waterways untreated. Much of it flows in open ditches. Dhaka is no exception—only about 2% of the waste of the city, including the most affluent neighborhoods, is treated before it empties into open waterways.
All the clean drinking water in the world won’t protect people’s health if human waste is untreated or flowing in open ditches.
Wastewater Treatment System
To improve sanitation issues, DSK is piloting a decentralized wastewater treatment system for a cluster of community toilets serving roughly 750 people. They are using a simple process that does not need electricity and relies on microorganisms to break down the biodegradable material. If the treatment process is effective, we can replicate it in other locations.
The most immediate and apparent sanitation improvement we witnessed with the pilot project was the use of buried pipe. Instead of open ditches of flowing sewage, communities have an underground system of sewer pipes, making this a noticeably cleaner, odor-free, and healthier place to live.
Our Projects are Leading the Way
We are very pleased to be taking on this new challenge in partnership with DSK. Wastewater treatment is almost always the responsibility of government and very seldom managed by private enterprise. In our own country, this next step began in 1972 when we passed the Clean Water Act. That legislation was accompanied by generous federal and state grants covering up to 90% of the costs. However, for this to be sustainable in our project areas, we need to find treatment options that can be sustained by the people we serve.
Community members appreciate these changes and are proud to be leading the way towards an improved standard of living for themselves and all of Bangladesh.
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