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Bangladesh

Courageous Shania stopped her own child marriage.

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“I know the consequences of child marriage. [From The Hunger Project, we also] learnt about the evils of drugs, as well as changes during adolescence. Knowing all of this has given me the courage to protect myself against early marriage. I was able to convince my parents. My marriage is over. Now I can realise my dream of becoming a teacher.”

The Hunger Project runs programs such as Youth Ending Hunger in schools in rural Bangladesh. Shania is in year 9 at school and lives in the Naogaon district 

In parts of Bangladesh that are very poor, many families struggle to afford to send their children to school. Because boys tend to be valued more than girls, parents typically pull out girls from school and marry them off, even before the legal age of 18. COVID-19 has compounded an already bad situation: the UN Population Fund estimates an additional 13 million child marriages will occur between 2020-2030 due to the pandemic. 

Shania usually rides a bicycle to school. The people of the village did not approve of her behaviour, so they approached her father with a marriage proposal. Shania knew that she had to do something to stop it happening. She had learnt about the negative consequences of child marriage through the Youth Ending Hunger’ program in her school – a program run by school students who have been trained by The Hunger Project tmobilise their classmates around the issue of child marriage. 

Because of this knowledge, Shania was able to talk to her parents about the consequences of child marriage, such as the health dangers of giving birth before her body was fully developed, and continuing the cycle of malnutrition for her baby. As a result, her parents helped her to stop her marriage, and she was luckily able to remain in school. 

It has never been a more critical time to empower girls to stop the harmful practice of child marriage today — invest here.

How these school students stopped child marriage.

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“I got confidence from [my training with] The Hunger Project and stopped my early marriage.” — Hira, Year 10, Bangladesh.

The Hunger Project runs programs such as ‘Safe Schools for Girls’ in rural Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, two thirds of girls are married off before their 18th birthday, and 1 in 5 are married off before the age of 15. This means girls are constantly vulnerable to being married off before they’re ready. 

One day out of nowhereHira’s relatives arranged her marriage to an unemployed boy. As part of The Hunger Project’s ‘Safe Schools for Girls’ program, reproductive health training had been conducted at her school. From this training, Hira had learnt about the harmful consequences of child marriage, including the dangers of getting pregnant before the body is fully developed. In addition, The Hunger Project had shown many short educational movies in her school. One particular movie called “Kusum’s Autobiography” had left a deep impression, as she saw in the movie how child marriage destroys the life of a teenager – essentially forcing them overnight to stop being a girl and to become a wife and motherShe knew that if she were married off before the legal age of 18, then her life could end up like that too 

With this knowledge, Hira enlisted the help of the other girls and boys in The Hunger Project’s Youth Unit – a group of school students who actively work to stop child marriage for the girls at their schoolTogether, they explained the negative consequences to her family members and were successfully able to convince them to call off the marriage. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. You could invest today so that even more girls can access this program and end child marriage.

Thank you for joining Badiul for ‘From the village frontlines in Bangladesh’.

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We hope you found the discussion between Dr. Badiul Majumdar and Deborah Protter insightful, uncovering what life under lockdown in Bangladesh is like and how THP’s unique approach to unleashing people’s potential has created the foundations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 in rural villages.

“If The Hunger Project’s strategy was replicated throughout [Bangladesh] then COVID-19 could be under control in 4 weeks.” — Dr. Mushtuq Husain, an advisor to Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) in Bangladesh.

For those of you who weren’t able to join us, you can catch up via our recording here [run time 59 minutes].

Our 5 key takeaways from the call:

1. Bangladesh is facing a huge health challenge: official data shows there are more than 220,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,000 deaths, but testing is very limited and unreliable so actual numbers are likely much higher. Plus: healthcare infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with the crisis, lacking sufficient ICU beds or ventilators; there is widespread corruption and political divisiveness across the country; expert opinions are ignored; and misinformation is circulating.

2. The pandemic is affecting lives and livelihoods. About 90% of people are employed in the informal sector and are daily wage earners (e.g. shopkeepers) – many are now unemployed and on the brink of starvation. Violence against women is rising and the prevalence of child marriage has increased.

3. The mighty force of 270,000 volunteer leaders (called Animators) trained in Bangladesh since 1993 are THP’s greatest asset in confronting COVID-19Watch this short video to learn about our unique approach in Bangladesh which THP has leveraged to face this new challenge.

4. Animators like Anju have mobilised themselves to create an incredible 1,500 coronavirus-resilient communities across rural Bangladesh.

5. THP Bangladesh’s 4-stage strategy of stopping the spread of COVID-19 has proven simple and effective:

1) Accepting the situation and creating a community mindset

2) Communicating to educate, dispel myths and change behaviour

3) Quarantine, testing and isolation

4) Community philanthropy

Take Action

“We have to mobilise the community. It’s up to us.” — Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar.  

On the call, Badiul made it clear that while a lot of great work has been undertaken already to stop the spread of COVID-19, more remains to be done. We invite you to partner with Badiul, his team and us to unleash the human spirit and create coronavirus-resilient villages across Bangladesh. You can invest here or start a conversation with us.

Thank you for joining us for our third online event in this series, and thank you to our presenting partner GJK Facility Services. We look forward to connecting with you again soon!

 

Animators Rise To The COVID-19 Challenge

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Many of you have been curious to hear about how your fellow Animators and Elected Women have been responding to the pandemic. You know better than most people the kinds of challenges they are facing – lack of access to clean water and sanitation, illiteracy and misinformation, long distances from health facilities and more. All this, on top of still dealing with the daily challenge of overcoming your own hunger and poverty. 

We are so proud to say that they have really stepped up to the challenge! 

What we have noticed so clearly is that rather than having a victim mindset or waiting for help to come from outside – which would be so easy to do under the circumstances – due to the years of mindset shift training with THP they have instead adopted a leader mindset and are empowered to take action. 

In fact, we have already seen the 500,000 Animators we’ve trained to date quickly mobilise and respond to COVID-19 with ingenuity and strength at the local level! 

 

Animators Rising To The Challenge – In Numbers

  • 3,326 Tippy Taps installed in villages to bring simple handwashing stations close to the homes of people. Animators have led the education and training in how to properly use them   

A Tippy Tap in Benin.

  • 8,000 Elected Women and 3,600 Adolescent Girls trained by THP formed phone trees and What’s App groups to deliver accurate, easy-to-understand health information to 500,000 people 
  • 9,400 community members participated in specially designed Water, Sanitation and Hygiene workshops so they are personally equipped to prevent the spread 
  • 913 Animators newly trained in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene best practice 
  • 81,414 face masks made and distributed – ‘sewing armies’ have been set up in some areas to learn from one another and keep collectively strong while giving back 

Sewing armies have been set up in Uttarakhand, India to produce face masks to protect against COVID-19.

  • 71,912 kgs of soap and 19,096 kgs of hand sanitiser distributed to people so they can protect themselves and their families 
  • 91 operational health units in action receiving patients for testing and treatment where possible. Animators are mobilising people to get tested if they are showing signs (where testing is available) 
  • 52,399 food rations distributed to those who have been identified by Elected Women as on the brink of absolute destitution. Although THP usually has aNo handouts’ policy, this new idea was put forward by Elected Women who saw the dire need in their villages 
  • 174,797 families receiving community philanthropy (goods and cash), mobilised by Animators in Bangladesh 
  • 87,334 public health leaflets distributed. These have often been translated into local languages or the information is shown in pictures, so that as many people as possible can understand them 

Thousands of pamphlets have been distributed as part of THPB’s information campaign.

 

And these are just the highlights…! We hope you feel as proud as we do to stand alongside our Animators and Elected Women across Africa, India and Bangladesh as they rise to the challenge to reach the 16.5 million people living in THP communities globally. 

 

Want to dive in more? If you’re wondering what the impact of COVID-19 looks like in India for example, we highly recommend watching this episode of Foreign Correspondent which shows how what started as a health crisis has quickly turned into a humanitarian crisis. 

Take Action. If you’re interested and able to, we’d love to partner with you on our COVID-19 response through our Stay In, Reach Out campaign. Go to www.thp.org.au/stayinreachout for more information. 

An update on our response to COVID-19.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges for the continuation and progress of The Hunger Project’s work throughout Africa, India and Bangladesh. Our innovative and integrated model of community-led development means that communities are empowered with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt and shift to challenging contexts and events with continued support and capacity building from The Hunger Project.

In working to build community resilience, leadership and ownership, our community partners are equipped to continue leading the way in implementing preventative measures to decrease the spread of the virus while supporting households to continue income-generating activities where possible, maintain food and water supply, and follow the advice and guidelines given by their governments.

Africa

  • Health clinics are remaining open. THP-trained Health Animators (local volunteer leaders) are working in partnership with the health clinics to disseminate information household-by-household. Clinics are also continuing to prioritise treatment of those who have serious health conditions and those who are HIV positive.
  • Rural banks are remaining operational where possible during this time with additional sanitation, safety and security measures in place.
  • Across each of our Epicentres, we are working with Animators and Epicentre Project Officers to continue our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene trainings and workshops. More than ever before, this program is vital to protecting our communities. In Benin for example, 1,200 Tippy Taps have been installed to increase the accessibility of hand washing facilities.

School students in Benin learning how to use Tippy Taps.

India

  • The Hunger Project is committed to working closely during the COVID-19 pandemic with Elected Women Representatives (EWR’s) across the 6 states where we already work. A task force has been established to get in touch remotely with every single EWR, as well as the Adolescent Girls Program participants, to spread awareness about keeping safe from COVID-19 and ensure no one is left behind. So far, they have reach 500,000 people!
  • The main priority is for every last person in The Hunger Project’s communities to have accurate information and understand what to do in the current situation.
  • EWR’s are active in monitoring the distribution of government entitlements, overseeing quarantine efforts and ensuring people are observing lockdown rules and sanitation.

EWR’s rallying to spread accurate information about COVID-19 to their communities. 

Bangladesh

The Hunger Project’s model of community-led development means that it is in a unique position where work is implemented by volunteers on the ground in villages. Volunteers are working to:

  • Mobilise thousands of community members via raising awareness with factual and accurate information on COVID-19
  • Provide sensitisation training on washing hands, good hygiene and social distancing – including the provision of soap where possible (pictured)
  • Ensure that people who are eligible for government support are connected to these benefits, and that people who are ineligible are instead connected with other locally available philanthropy funds

Providing soap to community members in Bangladesh. 

 

Jeremy Meltzer on his trip to Bangladesh.

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Jeremy Meltzer is the Founder of i=change, a tech platform for online retailers that makes it simple for brands to give back to women’s empowerment projects with every sale. So far, i=change has donated an incredible $111,169 (and counting) to The Hunger Project’s programs empowering women and girls in Bangladesh via 23 brand partnerships. 

Jeremy recently travelled to Bangladesh to see how the organisations i=change support are making an impact. Travelling with The Hunger Project Bangladesh team, he spent two days in an area called Manikganj, about 1.5 hours drive out of Dhaka, a very remote area that does not often host foreigners. He met with our village partners to gain an insight into the issues they face in Bangladesh and how our work is enabling people to transform their communities.  

We chatted to Jeremy after he returned from his trip to hear what he learnt on the ground. 

 

i=change has raised over $1.7 million for causes since it began. As the Founder, what is your vision for connecting customers, causes and brands in this way? 

It started from a desire to make an impact and create change for women and girls. I saw a lot of violence in Latin America in my early twenties and was very moved and upset by what I saw. I travelled around the world and met with NGO leaders and gained an insight into how extraordinarily complex these issues are. Of course, the NGO’s need more funding to do more of their work. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, I thought about how to bring these two worlds together. How could they exist in a way they haven’t before? It was about feeling, instinctively, that it must be possible to unite these two worlds in a way that could create significant benefits and, ultimately, create a new sustainable funding stream for women’s empowerment projects. 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in Bangladesh and how you saw The Hunger Project’s work in the communities? 

For all potential investors wanting to accelerate change, I believe the best thing you can do is visit these countries and communities; sit with the people, listen, learn and be immersed in their culture. It provides a remarkable insight into the complexity of the work — just sitting with the local teams who have been committed to working within their communities for decades. They have a deep pool of knowledge about how to create change in communities that have have entrenched beliefs which, regardless of the harm it may cause, are often unyielding and fixated to a practice as it’s simply “the way it’s always been done”. Like all of us, we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s about how to take communities on a journey that unlocks their own potential and growth and delivers significant benefits to the whole community.  

 

Pictured: A woman passing on the knowledge she learnt in a THP program.

 

Seeing the work The Hunger Project is doing in Bangladesh was very inspiring. What I really appreciate is how THP is committed to the process of unlocking the potential that people already have — they may simply need more skills and understanding in order to see the benefits for themselves. It’s about investing in long-term, community-led development, which we now understand is best practice in international development. This means working with what the community already has, which is their knowledge of the land and what works, and the nuances of their religious and cultural beliefs. We can think about working within that framework to help them see the greater possibilities when, for example, their cultural lens shifts and they don’t marry off their girls, or they work just as hard to keep their daughters in schools as their sons and understand their daughter’s wellbeing is intricately tied to the social and economic prosperity of the entire community.  

 

The cycle of subjugation of women and girls is severe in Bangladesh, and child marriage is common. What was your insight into those issues when you were there? 

I met a girl named Keya who was determined to stop her own marriage. Her parents had found a boy in their village and were preparing for her marriage. 

She worked with the male elders in her community so they could see the benefits of not marrying her off as a fifteen-year-old. In a very poor, remote Bangladeshi village, here was a girl with fire in her eyes. She realised she had to bring the male leaders in the community on this journey with her in order to change her destiny.  

She looked us deeply in the eyes and said, “I was determined not to be married.” 

She heard the work THP was doing and had been to one of the meetings about child marriage in her village. She understood it was her right to not be married, and that child marriage would harm her and her community.  

It’s an important story because girls are often painted as victims, but the girls we met were strong. Keya was strong.  

Her eyes lit up when she told us what she was doing. She was now still at school and doesn’t plan to be married for a long time. When she does, she explained she will have a small family only. 

I also spoke with one man in particular who you wouldn’t, on first glance, assume as someone who stood for women’s empowerment. He spoke very gently about how marrying off girls was not in the Quran and is actually a cultural practice that needs to be stopped. The engagement of men in the community and how they had become quite passionate advocates for change was very inspiring to see. In patriarchal communities — indeed, in most countries in the world — this is where it has to begin. Men need to be taken on the journey and understand how these practices do harm to everyone.

 

Pictured: Keya. 

How could you see THP’s programs in Bangladesh transforming communities? 

In a school we interviewed a number of women who were working in the community on a number of levels. One was a doctor in a poor, rural clinic, making sure young women could give birth safely (which in these communities often means not dying). We met another woman who is a counsellor, working with women survivors of sexual and physical abuse. 

It was inspiring to see such strong women stepping up to be the change. There were girls who went on a march that we participated in who chanted ‘we must end child marriage’. These school-aged girls, the average age probably 15 or younger, were passionately marching while the men led in front and behind, chanting equally as passionately for the end of child marriage. 

 

Pictured: School students lining up to protest child marriage.  

 

Of course, there’s no silver bullet to any of these complex issues. Yet even in this distant, rural community which most foreigners will never see, there was this galvanising, community-driven sense that the way we treat women and girls must change if we wish to thrive. It’s a global message that, while it filters slower to the poor and more rural corners of the world, is still a message that is being delivered and, slowly, being heard.

Even in those few days we spent in that community, there was a sense of change. The women we met were strong, proud, and less prepared to accept a patriarchal world view — and the ideas that hold them back — more than ever.

 

See the full list of i=change brands that support The Hunger Project.
If you’re an online retailer and wish to find out more about making an impact with your business and the benefits it can bring, check out the i=change website

 

Image credits: i=change   

The Dr. Badiul Majumdar Series: What Gets You Up In The Morning?

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Dr. Badiul Majumdar, Country Director of The Hunger Project Bangladesh, has been ending hunger for 28 years! In the final video in our special series, he talks about what motivates him every day to do the work he does.

The Dr. Badiul Majumdar Series: Why Young People Are The Future

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Young people are the future of ending hunger. Dr. Badiul Majumdar, Country Director of The Hunger Project Bangladesh, discusses how they engage young people in ending hunger in Bangladesh in the sixth video in our special series.

The Dr. Badiul Majumdar Series: A Big Lesson From A Small Bird

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This is the fifth video in our special series with Dr. Badiul Majumdar, Country Director of The Hunger Project Bangladesh. He talks about an important lesson he learnt from a small bird.

The Dr. Badiul Majumdar Series: Why Poverty Is Sexist

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This is the fourth video in our special series with Dr. Badiul Majumdar, Country Director of The Hunger Project Bangladesh. He explains why poverty is sexist.