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Improve Education in BangladeshIn a speech given at a Boston high school in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For many of the world’s impoverished, education is not an option. Today, more than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school and nearly 759 million adults are illiterate. While many maintain the capacity to survive without an education, the knowledge and awareness garnered through school allows the impoverished to improve their living conditions and rise out of poverty. USAID and the World Bank are working to improve education in Bangladesh as a means of addressing poverty.

The State of Education in Bangladesh

In the last 10 years, there has been progress when it comes to improving education in Bangladesh. According to USAID, nearly 98% of children of primary school age are enrolled in school. In 2016, 50.9% of all enrolled students were girls, meaning total gender parity. Both of these statistics are major accomplishments but there is much more to be done to improve education in Bangladesh.

While enrollment is high, the quality of education that the children are receiving remains quite low. Reading fluency is the barometer that is used to measure a school system’s quality, and in Bangladesh, most students are unable to pass basic fluency assessments. To put exact numbers to this, USAID conducted an assessment and determined that “44% of students finish first-grade unable to read their first word and 27 % of third-grade students cannot read with comprehension.”

This lack of literacy not only puts these students at a great disadvantage but stunts prospects of economic growth for Bangladesh. Education plays a significant role in sustaining and developing countries and economies which is why USAID and the World Bank have invested in improving Bangladesh’s education system.

The World Bank’s Education Efforts

On January 18, 2021, Bangladesh signed an agreement with the World Bank, financing $6.5 million to help more than 39,000 kids receive primary school education. The package also allocates funds to vocational training schools for approximately 8,500 dropouts. Mercy Tembon, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, says that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the education of children from lower-income households. The additional financing will help slum children and vulnerable youth to build the foundations necessary to improve their lives and increase their opportunities. The World Bank has given Bangladesh the means necessary to improve the quality of their education system and thus support the greater economy.

USAID’s Educational Assistance

USAID has taken a more hands-on approach in improving the quality of education. It works directly with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to improve early grade reading for children to ensure that all children learn to read in their first years of schooling. USAID’s education programs in Bangladesh have:

  • Expanded access to schooling to almost 30,000 out-of-school children
  • Increased the reading fluency of third graders by 18%
  • Increased the first-word reading fluency of first graders by 36%
  • Trained nearly 17,000 new teachers on how to teach early grade reading
  • Issued more than two million reading materials to primary schools

Education as a Key to Poverty Reduction

Every young mind deserves the opportunity for education and with the help of the World Bank and USAID, Bangladesh has the means to offer that. Efforts to improve education in Bangladesh will uplift an entire nation. The state of education in the world is progressing and thus bringing about poverty reduction success.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

How Promoting Gender Equality Can Help Fight TerrorismA 2020 brief by the U.N. Office of Counter-Terrorism denotes a reciprocal relationship between gender inequality and terrorism, whereby terrorism underpins gender inequality by inspiring violence against women. In the same manner, gender inequalities fuel terrorism and gender equality fights terrorism, as most terrorist groups exploit gender norms to violate women’s rights. Research by The Brookings Institution revealed that societies that prioritize gender equality are less likely to engage in internal and external violence. Consequently, gender equality and female empowerment are two of the most critical strategies to put in place to fight terrorism.

The Correlation between Gender Inequality and Terrorism

A study examining the in-depth link between gender, terrorism and foreign fighters hypothesized that countries that tolerate domestic violence against women are more likely to experience political violence and extremism. The same study found that the majority of radicalized individuals have a past history of domestic violence and crimes against women.

A strong correlation coefficient of 0.6 exists between lower levels of violence against women and higher democratic quality. As a higher level of democracy implies a lower prevalence of terrorism, this implicitly indicates that promoting gender equality strengthens efficient and effective democracy, which weakens terrorism. Democratic efforts further support the societal benefits of efforts where gender equality fights terrorism.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why both men and women engage in terrorism, compounding factors that primarily affect women may be one of the answers. In a cruelly cyclical manner, such factors include a lack of decision-making power over household finances and a desire for greater independence.

Furthermore, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) lists rape and coercive familial relationships as among the factors that push women into terrorism.

Case study: Bangladesh & Morocco’s Success Stories

The strong correlation that exists between gender inequality and terrorism leaves no doubt that promoting gender equality and female empowerment is one of the best strategies to put into place to deter terrorism. This strategy has successfully worked in countries like Bangladesh and Morocco.

Since 2005, Bangladesh has not experienced any significant non-political terrorist attacks. Since 2011, Morocco has not either. A similarity between the two countries, apart from success in suppressing terrorism, is an emphasis on women’s empowerment and integration of counter-terrorism efforts.

As a Bangladeshi representative at the country’s Washington Embassy disclosed, the country substantially owes its success in countering terrorism to the inclusion of female empowerment in its local Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts.

Measures that the Bangladeshi Government has taken to empower women include employment efforts. The Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Industry is the largest employer of women in Bangladesh. For self-employment measures, the government established micro-credit and micro-lending programs for women, which have significantly improved the standards of living of Bangladeshi women. These lending programs have helped women start and successfully run small businesses.

The newfound sense of independence, self-esteem and self-worth among Bangladeshi women has increased their economic participation, furthered their education and boosted their social empowerment. Bangladesh has also worked to inspire girls through education by ensuring that 60% of remote primary school teachers are women.

Likewise, Morocco has implemented various measures which have successfully helped the country to curb extremism and terrorism. These include raising the minimum marriage age to 18 for women; allotting shared property rights through marriage; introducing restrictions on polygamy, which significantly lowered its incidence; allowing women to initiate divorce by law; and making it possible for women to retain custody of children after divorce.

Looking Ahead

Former Secretary to the U.N. Kofi Annan declared, “There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole — women and men alike — than the one which involves women as central players.”

Promoting gender equality and female empowerment has proven to be a crucial measure to fight terrorism. The level of success at which this strategy has helped control terrorism in countries clearly signals its efficacy. Ultimately, gender equality fights terrorism, weakening it across the board and limiting those who engage in it in a variety of ways. Based on national examples, promoting and developing gender equality promises the same — or even better — results if enacted at a global level.

– Divine Mbabazi
Photo: Flickr

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation ProgramOf the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the first one sets an ambitious target. To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere and to leave no one behind. One such organization embracing this challenge is Bangladesh’s BRAC. BRAC is one of the world’s largest nongovernmental development organizations founded in Bangladesh that has done a tremendous amount of work fighting extreme poverty in Bangladesh. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program has seen success globally.

Poverty Progress in Bangladesh

Nestled between India and Myanmar in South Asia, Bangladesh has made enormous strides in combating extreme poverty in a relatively short amount of time. In a little over a decade, 25 million people were lifted out of poverty. Between 2010 and 2016, eight million people were lifted out of poverty in Bangladesh.

Although poverty rates were seeing a steady decrease, those living in extreme poverty in Bangladesh still lacked basic safety nets and support from NGO services.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) Program

In 2002, BRAC introduced the innovative Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) program in an attempt to apply innovative approaches to solve extreme poverty in Bangladesh and across the globe.

The UPG program aims to provide long-term holistic support for those in extreme poverty to lift themselves out of poverty and graduate to a more resilient and sustainable life. This is done by addressing the social, economic and health needs of poor families while empowering them to learn new skills and better financial management.

BRAC believes that while traditional government interventions such as food aid and cash transfers are impactful and have a role to play, these benefits, unfortunately, remain out of reach for many in extreme poverty and are certainly not a long-term solution.

BRAC’s UPG program sets to build skill sets and assets to ensure families are equipped to become food secure, independent and achieve economical sustainability.

The Success of UPG Programs Globally

The program has found success inside and outside Bangladesh and has received praise and acknowledgment in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.

Take for example the country of South Sudan. From 2013 to 2015 BRAC piloted a project involving 240 women. The program provided support for the women to receive food stipends, asset transfers and various skills training that included financial and basic savings skills.

Shortly after the women received training and support, the South Sudanese Civil War escalated, ravaging the country and causing inflation and food shortages.

Despite these shocks, 97% of the 240 women were still able to increase their consumption thanks to the resources, assets and skills they obtained during the program. Also, their children were 53% less likely to be underweight and malnourished, compared to those who had not been in the program.

More Success in Afghanistan and Other Countries

Another example comes from Afghanistan, where a widowed woman in the Bamiyan province received a flock of sheep and training from BRAC. Since then, she has been able to generate enough income to feed her family, send her grandchildren to school,  sell additional products and save for the future.

From 2007 to 2014, a large-scale UPG program across Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan and Peru saw a 4.9% increase in household consumption, 13.6% increase in asset values and a 95.7% increase in savings pooled across all countries.

The success of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program can be clearly seen from the results. It is an innovative program that aims to end all poverty and leave no one behind and is successfully on its way to doing so.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

The Spreeha Foundation of Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, millions of children are living in poverty without any assistance. That is where the nonprofit organization, Spreeha Bangladesh Foundation, comes in and fulfills its mission. Spreeha greatly supports Bangladeshi children; the organization uses creative solutions to empower people to reach their full potential.

One Spreeha-run program that guarantees support for Bangladeshi girls is called Progga. The program is meant to empower young girls with important life skills, especially leadership values. Approximately 13.7 million Bangladeshi girls feel disorganized and vulnerable during their adolescent years and are lacking the correct guidance. Those who go without counsel are more likely to perform poorly or drop out of school. Additionally, they have a higher risk of mental and physical abuse. This inevitably leads to lower possibilities of female representation in leadership positions.

Spreeha’s solution is to motivate young Bangladeshi girls to become leaders through an interactive method. Progga groups educate young girls on how to make proper judgments that enhance their socio-economic situations and overall security. They achieve this goal by encouraging awareness of developmental changes in Bangladesh. They mentor young girls using group collaboration with speech and debate which develop their leadership skills and improve their self-confidence.

COVID Complications

The Covid-19 pandemic has made life hard to bear, especially for children in Bangladesh. Thankfully, Spreeha has developed solutions to combat the crisis. Doctors and healthcare workers make up the primary components of the organization. They engage in door-to-door visits, providing counsel and consciousness to the community. It also informs the community on how to prevent infections during the pandemic. In an attempt to support Bangladeshi children, Spreeha has helped prevent infection by temporarily shutting down the before and after-school programs, as well as adolescent girls’ clubs. Urban populated areas of Bangladesh are very dense, therefore they are more susceptible to coronavirus. The young children are unaware of how dangerous the virus is, which is why Spreeha is working tirelessly to make sure they are safe. With the economy in disarray, the daily wage-earning Bengali workers have been affected. Spreeha urges the communities to stay together during these uncertain times.

How It Began

Tazin Shahid is the founder of the Spreeha Bangladesh Foundation. He desires to help more Bangladeshi people and ensure that Spreeha can support the children. Along with education and job training services, Spreeha has developed a business incubator called Spreeha Studios. The company promotes startup companies. These services have helped over 125,000 people, including business owners with families. Prior to the founding of Spreeha, Shahid worked for Microsoft. This profession pushed him to contact one million people by the start of the new decade. He accomplished this by “hitting refresh”, meaning to start anew in a world with less poverty. According to Shahid, the first stage of Spreeha involved ending the succession of poverty. The second was to shatter social obstacles. Finally, the third involves encouraging people to follow whatever dreams and desires they possess.

The organization began in 2011 when Shahid still worked for Microsoft. He yearned to build a world where those living in poverty can be inspired to improve their lives. At first, Spreeha was a small transportable health clinic with only one doctor and very little medicine. Early on, the funding came from Shahid’s Microsoft companions. The medical center was generous enough to aid 10,000 – 20,000 people in two provinces.

Eventually, Spreeha was reworked to include many other ways to help Bangladeshi families. The Bangladeshi children received affordable health care from the Sneho Diagnostic Center as well as medical diagnoses from the mobile Amar Lab. New ventures included the aforementioned leadership program, Progga, and the early childhood development and daycare center for children and education center for mothers, the Udoy Center. Shahid has reached his objective of helping one million people by providing education to 3,669 children, in addition to 65,119 receiving health care and 68,033 gaining counseling.

The Overall Mission

The CEO of Spreeha, Ferdouse Oneza, spoke with The Borgen Project. He says, “Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty. We look at the root causes of poverty. Right now we have a clinic in Bangladesh as well as pre and after-school programs. We educate them for fun and teach them social skills”. With the pandemic, issues have worsened. Spreeha continues to create safe spaces for the less fortunate. It is a pivotal reason why the communities of Bangladesh are still intact. One issue of safety Bangladeshi children face is the legalization of child marriage. Girls in Bangladesh are in danger of being forced into arranged marriages with a significantly older man. Millions of these girls are under the age of 15. This is currently legal, as there is a loophole in the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

Ferdouse Oneza stated that the way Spreeha addresses child marriage is, “Raising awareness of the issue. Educating the children. Counseling with parents, go door to door. One of our girls was working for Spreeha but was engaged to someone way older than her. She dropped out of her university but after some campaigning, she was allowed to finish her education first and then get married. During the pandemic, a lot of families are moving to the villages. This puts the girls at risk because they don’t have the Spreeha service so their parents marry them off”. The nonprofit is unable to engage in policymaking, such as the Borgen Project. The Bengali government doesn’t abide by changes. Regardless, Spreeha supports Bangladeshi children through active community involvement and inspiring individuals to be better.

Shalman Ahmed
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Care in BangladeshBack in 1972, Fazlé Hasan Abed started a small organization called the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC). Originally dedicated to helping refugees after Bangladesh’s war for independence against Pakistan, the organization has since grown to serve 11 countries across Asia and Africa. One of the key focuses of BRAC is poverty alleviation and includes categories such as improving maternal care in Bangladesh.

BRAC’s Strategies for Poverty Reduction

BRAC engages several strategies to combat poverty, such as social enterprises. Social enterprises are self-sustaining cause-driven business entities that create social impact by offering solutions to social challenges and reinvesting surplus to sustain and generate greater impact. Some social enterprises include those seeking to promote access to fisheries, give people access to jobs in the silk industry and businesses that give seed access to farmers.

BRAC also prioritizes social development. These initiatives refer to BRAC’s on-the-ground programs. Social development efforts aim to build communities up by attempting to foster long-term development through the promotion of microfinance and gender equality and by eradicating extreme poverty.

The third focus of BRAC is investments. BRAC seeks to invest in local companies in order to create as much social impact as possible. This includes initiatives to expand affordable internet access for all and a range of other financial support services.

Finally, the organization founded a tertiary education institution called Brac University. The University, located in Bangladesh, aims to use its liberal arts curriculum in order to try and advance human capital development and help students develop solutions to local problems.

The BRAC Manoshi Maternal Care Initiative

Founded in 2007, the Manoshi program is specifically tailored to serve mothers and newborns by providing accessible care. There are a couple of unique methods that make this maternal healthcare initiative especially effective in reaching its goals of improving maternal care in Bangladesh.

One-third of people in Bangladesh live under the poverty line and a greater part of this group live in slums, making it difficult to access and afford necessary healthcare. Manoshi focuses primarily on empowering communities, particularly women, in order to develop a system of essential healthcare interventions for mothers and babies.

Manoshi’s Focal Areas for Community Development

  • Providing basic healthcare for pregnant and lactating women, newborns and children under 5
  • Building a referral system to connect women with quality health facilities when complications arise
  • Creating women’s groups to drive community empowerment
  • Skills development and capacity building for healthcare workers and birth attendants
  • Connecting community organizations with governmental and non-governmental organizations to further their goals

The main methods used in the Manoshi project to achieve desired outcomes are social mapping, census taking and community engagement.

Manoshi’s Impact on Maternal Care in Bangladesh

BRAC projected that improvement in healthcare access would cause neonatal mortality to decline by 40-50% and the most recent data from the Manoshi program shows just that. Manoshi’s data shows that from 2008 to 2013, both the maternal and neonatal death rates dropped by more than half. From 2007 to 2011, the percentage of births at health facilities increased from 15% to 59%, while national averages only increased from 25% to 28%, suggesting that mothers served by Manoshi have more access to resources and facilities for safe deliveries. Prenatal care also increased from 27% to 52% in the same years.

With the substantial impact of organizational programs like Manoshi prioritizing the wellbeing of women and children, advancements with regard to maternal care in Bangladesh will hopefully only continue upward.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr

Drinkwell Systems, Purifying Drinking Water for Water-Scarce CommunitiesDrinkwell is an innovative technology platform that won the first Imagine H20 Urban Water Challenge. The objective of the technology company Drinkwell Systems is to provide critical clean water infrastructure in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable. Drinkwell Systems not only purifies and provides clean water for underserved communities, but it also provides jobs in the communities in which the water ATMs are installed.

How Does Drinkwell Work

Drinkwell is a system that is able to purify water at an impressive rate with a lower waste rate than reverse osmosis. The Drinkwell system purifies water by using the patented HIX-Nano technology, which only wastes 1% of the water put into the system, compared to 40 to 60% of input water. This company operates in three stages.

These stages are separated into design, build and operation and maintenance. In the design phase, the company tests raw water samples and uses its cloud-based database to paint a clearer picture of where water quality is the poorest and access to drinking water is lowest. During the building phase, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority build sheds while Drinkwell makes and installs the ATM and treatment system. Finally, in the operation and maintenance phase, the local water authorities maintain the systems through the usage of mobile applications. Through these applications, the water authorities are able to report issues that may arise in their systems as well as keep an eye on finances.

Drinkwell’s Current Initiatives

Currently, the company is focused on serving communities in Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh is currently facing a water and sanitation crisis. In a nation with 165 million people, there are 5 million citizens who do not have a reliable source of safe drinking water. The great waterways, such as the Ganges, Meghna and Brahmaputra rivers, all begin within the borders of other countries. Bangladesh is left with only 7% of the land that makes up these large watersheds, which leaves them with very little control over how much water they can access from these sources. Paired with rising salinity levels in the water and arsenic contamination in the groundwater, Bangladesh’s residents are suffering from a severe lack of access to clean water.

In India, fewer than 50% of the 1.353 billion population face water insecurity. Similar to Bangladesh, India’s water is often contaminated by chemicals like fluoride and arsenic. This contaminated water is found in nearly 1.96 million households. In addition to concerns surrounding contaminated drinking water, India also struggles with a quickly declining groundwater source. This is in part due to increased drilling over the last few decades. In a region with a high number of people who do not have access to safe water, services like Drinkwell are critical to helping people gain access to these essential services.

Looking Ahead

After winning the H20 Urban Water Challenge, the company partnered with the Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority. This partnership led to the implementation of four water ATMs in Bangladesh. With these water ATMs, Drinkwell’s systems were able to provide clean drinking water to 5,100 people. Drinkwell Systems currently has plans to install an additional 96 water filtration systems and ATMs in Bangladesh’s second-largest city in 2020 and 2021. In total, the company has been able to roll out water ATMs in more than 230 locations across India and Bangladesh. In addition to providing people with access to clean drinking water, Drinkwell has been able to create 340 jobs for locals.

In a relatively short amount of time, Drinkwell Systems has served 300 to 2,000 households in water insecure areas of India and Bangladesh, as well as created jobs for people living in these water-scarce areas. Advancements in water supply technology such as Drinkwell are an important step in solving water insecurity worldwide.

—Maddi Miller
Photo: Flickr

GoliathonGoliathon is a nonprofit organization located in New Jersey, that uses obstacle courses to raise money for another organization, charity: water, which is based in New York. These two organizations jointly work to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

Water: A Universal Human Right

In 2017, 2.2 billion people worldwide did not have access to clean water, which is roughly one in 10 people. The lack of access to clean water is due to the contamination of water as well as the location of water. With 144 million people sourcing their drinking water from untreated lakes, ponds and streams, disease is a massive concern. Unsafe and untreated water is responsible for the transmission of diseases like cholera and dysentery. Diarrhea alone claims almost 485,000 lives a year. The matter of location is equally vital. Efforts to create safe water sources mean little if they are not easily accessible for those in need. More than 200 million people must walk more than half an hour to reach a safe water source.

The U.N. recognizes access to water as a universal human right. In the effort to solve this crisis, the General Assembly argues that water must be safe, acceptable and affordable and has to be within 1,000 meters of the home. The value of water is a key reason why Goliathon has chosen to work with charity:water.

charity: water

Founded in 2006, charity: water is committed to providing clean drinking water to developing nations. The majority of its work has been centralized in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a few projects located in Central America. These projects include well construction, water purification systems and rainwater harvesting.

Founder and CEO, Scott Harrison, recognizes the opportunities offered by technological advancements. He sees the solution to the water crisis as a possibility. He believes “It’s just a matter of getting the right resources to the right people.”

Charity: water prides itself on transparency, promising that 100% of proceeds go toward hands-on development of the projects.

Goliathon

Goliathon was founded by a group of friends who value athleticism and altruism. Their mission statement is “It’s not a race. It’s a mission.” This mission statement reflects that the water crisis is not one problem to fix but a collective mission to undertake. Goliathon’s fundraising for charity: water has resulted in several completed water projects in Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Malawi. Three more water projects have been funded and are currently under construction.

By signing up to take part in Goliathon obstacle courses, participants raise money for charity: water efforts. The courses are not a competition but a challenge that encourages everyone to be an advocate for global issues like water access.

The obstacle courses are open to all and vary in difficulty to appeal to both beginners and the more experienced. The Goliathon team has created several different obstacles for participants to overcome, each unique in design and requiring equally clever solutions. A particularly notable challenge in the course is the water carry challenge, which has participants cart jerrycans full of water as a way of connecting to those in developing nations who must do the same.

Impact of Goliathon and charity:water

Goliathon’s October 2017 event resulted in $50,000 raised for charity: water efforts in Ethiopia. Completed in September 2019, the project oversaw water spring protection and the creation of safe pipe systems. Over 1,600 people in Ethiopian communities were helped.

The most recent Goliathon event held in October 2019 had $34,000 raised for BioSand Filters in Cambodia. These BioSand Filters offer a simple and low-cost solution as a form of filtration. Their effectiveness is amplified by charity: water committing to educating the families that use them, ensuring a healthy cycle.

COVID-19 has prevented Goliathon from hosting any events in 2020. However, the Goliathon team is optimistic and is planning for a possible event in June 2021, with protocols in place if necessary.

– Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya refugee campsLow-income areas with a high population density are at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. This threat is very prevalent in the Rohingya refugee camps, especially for women and girls.

The Issue

Currently in Bangladesh, there are over 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps. The Rohingya people, a minority ethnic group from Myanmar, are fleeing from genocidal violence, persecution, discrimination and human rights violations. The Rohingya face violence because they mainly practice Islam while the majority of Myanmar is Buddhist. The large mass of people fleeing into Bangladesh has caused the refugee camps to become immensely populated. The result is overcrowding, only temporary shelter, communal bathrooms and water facilities and limited food space.

Overcrowding and limited space in refugee camps result in the Rohingya having an especially high risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently, the best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to social distance, wear masks and increase testing. However, the Rohingya refugees do not have the space or resources to do this. As of June 2020, there were four deaths and 45 confirmed cases within the Rohingya refugee population. However, because there is a huge lack of testing, these numbers are most likely not accurate. The hospitals in city centers no longer have resources themselves to treat any more people. As such, many infected Rohingya aren’t being accepted.

How Women are Fighting Back

Oxfam, an NGO fighting poverty, traveled to the Rohingya refugee camps to help build better water, sanitation and hygiene stations. This includes systems like water taps and hand washing stations, which could be potential risk areas for disease spreading. When designing the new water and sanitation facilities, Oxfam interviewed many girls and women to hear their thoughts. The women and girls contributed to design aspects like how the stations should stand, where hooks should go, and even suggested a mirror. All of the expertise given by those Rohingya women and girls has spread to other camps. Now 300 hand-washing and water stations are implemented in three different refugee camps.

Women also have taken on the important role of spreading information and discounting myths surrounding COVID-19 in the refugee camps. One woman, Ashmida Begum, walks around the camp dispelling myths. Begum explained that she uses the Quran to help explain the virus and disease prevention. She mainly helps other women and children who are a large majority of Rohingya refugee camps. Misinformation has led Bangladesh to lift internet restrictions on the Rohingya refugees. The barriers were originally in place to quell panic and stop rumors. Instead, rumors and myths spread and local women like Begum worked to stop them.

Why Women

Women have been so effective in helping the refugee camps because the local people trust them. They have special access in reaching other women, who normally do not leave their homes often and do not have internet.

Women are traditionally the primary caregiver of the family, so they especially need to be healthy and informed to keep the rest of the family safe. This is also why women’s input is needed in the sanitation and water stations; women will be using them the most.

Impacts of this Work

The work that the women and girls of Rohingya refugee camps have impacts beyond fighting COVID-19. Oxfam reports that the design process helped girls take a more active role in their own lives. They were able to think and speak for themselves.

The rise in panic and social tensions in the camps resulted in a rise in domestic violence and violence against women. Rohingya women stepped into leadership roles and formed networks to help combat that panic around the virus to counter the gender-based attacks.

The work done by the women in Rohingya refugee camps to fight COVID-19 is helping to increase cleanliness and knowledge about the virus. They are slowing the spread of the virus and giving women and girls a way to be leaders in their communities.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Glamour BoutiqueThere are a number of advancements in legal gender rights across the world. However, social norms still play a large role in preventing women from attaining economic independence. Globally, women are almost three times more likely than men to work in the unpaid sector—namely domestic work and caring for children. When the women who are confined to this lifestyle are able to find paid work, it is often part-time and low-wage. This sets them at a significant financial disadvantage. They must depend on their husbands and families to provide for their basic needs.

The Fix

The Inclusive and Equitable Local Development (IELD) sector of the United Nations Capital Development Fund fights to right these wrongs. They invest in small businesses in developing countries that are largely run by women. Through their investments, these businesses expand, hire more people, increase their consumer market and earn more money. When women achieve financial independence, the reward is multiplied. Economically secure women are likely to invest in education, health and their community.

The Entrepreneur

One of these businesses that the IELD benefits is Glamour Boutique—a fashion business in Jessore, a small town in southwestern Bangladesh.

Glamour Boutique was officially founded in 2007 by Parveen Akhter. Akhter had been kidnapped and forced into child marriage when she was in the ninth grade. Her husband—her kidnapper and a drug addict—made it a habit of abusing her throughout their seventeen-year marriage. Encouragement from her oldest son, 16-years-old at the time, led her to file for divorce and set up the Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre. It was based in her home and capitalized on the embroidery and tailoring skills Akhter had taught herself over the years. Once business picked up, she moved into a rented space.

This is when the IELD stepped in. Akhter had little money, a small market and limited machines. They loaned her nearly 30,000 USD to expand. Since then, Glamour Boutique has employed over 50 women and consistently trains around 20 in tailoring and embroidery.

More than anything, the company is female-friendly. It helps to lift women out of poverty and give them a purpose and community. Additionally, she is sensitive to her employees having outside commitments. She offers short four-hour shifts for women who are enrolled in school, have children or have other situations warranting a flexible schedule.

Mussamad Nafiza, an employee at Glamour Boutique, testifies to the beauty of working there. She describes her own and others’ financial gain and independence as well as her dreams of opening a business similar to Akhter’s. Dipa Monjundar, a friend of Akhter’s and fellow small business owner, commends Akhter’s work and celebrates the economic empowerment of women across Bangladesh.

Next Steps

Although important, investing in women’s businesses is not the only way to help women achieve economic prosperity. Commitments from men and the government are essential. They need to respect, uphold and uplift women’s rights to sustainably change the way communities approach gender disparity.

Jessore’s mayor participated in several gender equality training sessions before starting any major projects. If other community leaders encourage participation in similar training courses, economic gender parity may no longer be a far-fetched dream.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr