Uttaran website

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18, 2010 by bd79

It’s been a while since I last posted but in that time I’ve been a busy man and to prove it you can visit Uttaran’s brand new website.

It has been an interesting experience guiding my colleagues through the design stages and it took a bit more than the two weeks I allocated in my work plan to get it up and running but we hope that it will help us to raise awareness about the development challenges in the southwest of Bangladesh.

We will be adding more to the website over the next few months so keep checking in.

Eid Mubarak!

Ethnic violence and human rights abuses in Chittagong

Posted in Uncategorized on March 7, 2010 by bd79

Arrived back in Dhaka on Friday, after spending the last month travelling around Cambodia. It is a fantastic country and it was great to be able to relax for a few weeks. To be honest I don’t think I realised how much I needed the break.

It was my first day back in the office today and it was really good to see all my friends and colleagues from Uttaran again. Unfortunately the news in the rest of Bangladesh hasn’t been so good while I have been away.

Since late February there have been a number of violent clashes between Bengali settlers and the indigenous communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The CHT is in the southeast of the country and borders India and Myanmar (Burma). There is quite a long history of violence in the region but things have settled down since a peace accord was signed between the Government of Bangladesh and the tribal rebels in 1997 but tensions are ongoing.

The trouble began after a demonstration by indigenous groups came under attack from the army and Bengali settlers. Two indigenous people were killed and number of others injured, whist many houses have been burnt down both during the initial violence and in the following days. The VSO Volunteers working in the area had to be evacuated, although most have now been able to return as the security situation has stabilised.

Amnesty International has called on the Government of Bangladesh to investigate the deaths of the two indigenous people and the role of the army in the violence. The Bangladeshi parliamentary body for the CHT has promised to take prompt action against those responsible for the violence but at the moment there has been no indication that this will include investigating the actions of the army. If you want to petition the Government of Bangladesh for full implementation of the 1997 peace accord you can do so at Global Voices for Peace in the CHT.

The flood affected communities in the southwest have also been facing difficulties. Several embankments in Khulna district collapsed on Monday and Wednesday of last week, leaving thousands of poor households homeless. The Government has said that the army will step in to take charge of repairing the embankments damaged by cyclone Aila if they have not been repaired by the wet season. However, that could mean help is still months away and army involvement may lead to the embankments being constructed with little regard given to the communities needs or the environmental impact. Uttaran is continuing to work on the issue and hopefully we will be able to get a resolution before the rains come.

Will keep you all updated on any developments and hopefully I’ll have some happier news to report in my next post.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 by bd79

Well my New Years resolution was to write a post a month and I’ve already managed to fail …

Anyway, I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and New Year. A lot of the volunteers went home or left Dhaka for a few days so it was pretty quite over here.

I organised a little Christmas party in the office for my colleagues. Another volunteer is working with my organization now and she helped with the decorations, which included a little Christmas tree left behind by some previous volunteers. I bought some crisps, soft drinks and a couple of cakes from the bakers with ‘Merry Christmas’ written on them, although we had a little communication problem at first and I nearly ended up with two cakes that said ‘Messy Christmas’.

Unfortunately my stomach is now very acclimatised to the Bangladeshi cuisine and it did not react well to so much sweet stuff. I don’t think I have been so ill since I arrived and it meant I had to take it a bit easier than I had planned starting with an alcohol free night at the VSO Christmas party, which I also had to organise (I’m not sure why I ended up organising two parties when I don’t even like them but there you go).

I was still feeling pretty rough on Christmas day but decided I wasn’t going to let it stop me so took a few Imodium, went for a meal at a Japenese restraruant with a couple of other volunteers and then a few beers at one of the ex-pat clubs.

New Years Eve wasn’t a bad night. A few of us went to a roof top party that had been organised by a local promoter. Nice place to have a party and we got to see the partial eclipse of the moon. Just after I arrived back in June the Government of Bangladesh decided on a whim to put the clocks an hour forward like BST then decided in October that, unlike BST, they were not going to put them back. Ever. New Years Eve they had a change of heart and decided that at 12am 1/01/10 the clocks would go back one hour to 11pm on 31/12/09 so in Bangladesh we actually had two new years. Pretty crazy but I think the Government is about to top it with it their new inovative policy to deal with the traffic congestion in Dhaka.

In January we had the annual VSO volunteer’s conference in Cox’s Bazar, a sort of Bangladeshi Blackpool that has the longest natural beach in the world. It doesn’t have any fair ground rides or trams but it does have donkeys on the beach (seriously). The theme of the conference was on Monitoring and Evaluation. It was quite nice to spend a bit of time with all the volunteers and it did give me a chance to reflect on my placement and the work I’ve been doing so far which was quite useful.

Tomorrow I’m off on holiday for a month. Spending a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur and then I’ll be in Cambodia for the next month.

Quarterly report

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2009 by bd79

A quater of my placement has already gone and I still feel as if I have only just arrived. Been pretty busy here with my placement these past months and with working 6 days a week it feels like an effort to have to compose a post for the blog in the evening or on my solitary day off. But that’s not much of an excuse for taking so long between posts and I’ll make it my New Years resolution to do better. As you can see I’ve added a few more pages to try and give some background into the development issues in southwest Bangladesh. I’ll be adding some more soon and will post links to any articles or policy related information I come across.

My placement is really interesting and the organisation I’m working for is doing a lot of good work in some challenging circumstances. It works on a number of issues (see the page on Uttaran) but one of the biggest projects it is currently engaged in is around the distribution of Khas (public land) to the landless communities in the southwest of Bangladesh. This is a very contentious and sensitive issue in Bangladesh and Uttaran and its staff have faced some harsh consequences because of there work to support the rights of the landless, including the arrest and torture of the Director.

I spent the first few months with Uttaran trying to learn about their programmes and the context in the southwest. The focus of my work so far has been on helping Uttaran to develop their policy/advocacy capacity on issues like land rights, climate change, access to safe drinking water and water management (i.e. flow of rivers, dams, etc) and supporting their networking activities (i.e. with donors and decision makers). I have also had to do a fair bit on the fundraising side, like drafting or editing project proposals and concept notes, which can be a little boring but unfortunately it seems to be the bread and butter of every VSO volunteer placement. The field visits I had have been a great experience but at the same time are often a little unsettling and sad. I recently went to some of the areas that were affected by Cyclone Aila, the people there are still living in terrible conditions which were made worse by the flooding in September and they are very vulnerable to further floods once the Cyclone season starts again in March because the Government have not yet repaired the embankments damaged by Aila. This is an issue Uttaran has been doing some advocacy on so hopefully we can get the Government to take some action soon.

I’ve also done quite a bit of work with the VSO Bangladesh (VSOB) Programme Office helping them to develop a paper for the International Development Select Committees Inquiry into Bangladesh and joining VOICE (the volunteers representative committee) But I won’t go into that too much because I’m not sure I could describe my experiences using language that would be suitable for my Mum to read.

Outside of work I’ve not been up to much. The shock of living in a country where I can’t get a pint whenever I want hasn’t worn off yet. Trying to do a bit of sightseeing when I can but never seem to have the time, the 6 day week really is the bane of my life. I went to watch India Under 23 play the Maldives in the final of the South Asian Football Federation Cup, which was held in Bangladesh. Poor game that finished 0-0 (India won on penalties) but it was only about 35p for the ticket so can’t complain. They should bring in prices like that at Old Trafford.

Dhaka is a pretty tough city to live in and I’ve got to admit that the thought of spending 2 years of my life here got me down for few weeks after the novelty of the first couple of months wore off and it still does every so often. It’s got all the hassle of the big city without any of the benefits. On top of that is the grinding poverty in your face everywhere you turn and people constantly pestering you because you are a bideshi (foreigner), asking for your mobile so they can ‘talk English with you’ which other volunteers tell me (I never give them my number) means you get people phoning you up at 3am asking for money or a visa.

I walk to the office (which is about 30 minutes away) and the rickshaws in particular wind me up everyday, they see a bideshi (foreigner) and think it means you will have money (which to be fair most do) so they either try to overcharge you (which isn’t too bad because haggling is part of the culture and now my Bangla’s has gone from rubbish to bad as they don’t get too cheeky with their starting price) or much more annoyingly for a pedestrian is when they follow you around ringing their bell trying to get you to go in their rickshaw even though you tell them no ten times. But what really f***s me off (sorry mum) is that they sometimes do this when you are crossing the roads. Now crossing the roads in Dhaka is dangerous enough as it is without some idiot stopping his rickshaw in front of you while you’re in the middle of the road so you can’t get past and there are trucks doing 60 mph behind you. I’ve made my peace a little with the rickshaws of late but it must be an amusing sight for the locals to see me booting the back of them and shouting at the driver, not that they have a clue what I’m saying. Of course that kind of behaviour is not very VSO but it makes me feel better.

Fortunately for my sanity Uttaran is a community based organisation and I’ve been able to spend quite a bit a time out of Dhaka in the southwest (mainly Satkhira district which is on the border with India). It is a stunning part of the world and right next to the Sunderban’s, the worlds largest mangrove forest where the Bengal tigers live, but its also one of the poorest parts of Bangladesh. Wish I was based in the southwest to be honest and if anyone is thinking about becoming a VSO volunteer my advice would be don’t let them talk you into a placement based in the capital city!

Flooding in southwest Bangladesh

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2009 by bd79

I owe you all an update on what I’ve been up to these past few weeks but this post is to let you know about the current situation facing the people of southwest Bangladesh.

The communities of southwest Bangladesh are in need of urgent support. Ravaged by cyclone Aila earlier this year they are now facing a devastating flood. Heavy monsoon rains arrived much later than normal, decimating crops and livelihoods and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Waterborne diseases are rife and most people do not have access to adequate health care. A situation assessment report Flood situation report 2009 has been developed by my colleagues at Uttaran, please take a little time to read it.

Uttaran, the organisation I am working with, has been working in the southwest region of Bangladesh since 1985. The organization assists the disadvantaged people of the area in their struggle for human rights and social justice, ensuring their effective participation in various spheres of development. Its focus is on the landless, women, outcastes, untouchables and religio-ethnic minorities who are victims of socio-economic dislocation, hierarchic caste system and the male-dominated society. Uttaran is currently implementing programmes in partnership with Shiree/DFID, Manusher Jonno Foundation, ActionAid Bangladesh, Oxfam GB, Trocaire Ireland, Missereor Germany, UNDP and the Embassy of Japan.

Uttaran have contacted numerous aid agencies, including DFID, to raise awareness of the situation and to request emergency relief. At present no international aid organisation has provided any support to the victims of the flooding.

I had visited Tala several times before the rains came and to see it again this week after the flooding is very sad. You need a boat to visit areas you could walk to only weeks before. There are thousands of families living on the roadside, many with no proper shelter and the elderly and children are particularly vulnerable to the disease and food shortages.

If you know of any individuals or organisations that might be able to help please forward the report on and extend your support and solidarity to the communities of southwest Bangladesh.

Thanks.

Dhaka 1209

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2009 by bd79

I think I might have given the wrong impression about how I’ve found Bangladesh in my last post so this time I thought I try to talk a bit more about Dhaka and my experience of Bangladesh so far …

Most of what I’d read and heard about Dhaka before I arrived meant I expected to be confronted with an unbearably monster of a city spewing out noise and pollution, and teeming with people but I have to say that as a city I don’t really find it that hectic when compared to London or Manchester. In fact I quite like the place and if anything it’s a little too quite for me! Admittedly the roads are very chaotic. You take your life into you own hands crossing a main road, particularly at night, and it really isn’t nice to be stuck on a bus or a CNG (a motorized 3 wheel taxi) in a traffic jam for an hour. The pollution from all the vehicles is also noticeable, although it does seem to block out most of the UV from the sun meaning you save a bit of money on sun block even if your lungs do feel like you’ve smoked 20 B&H.

I’ve started to get used to the open air municipal waste disposal system they use in Dhaka, with the odd exception when it can still surprise me. To give you one example, last week I was invited to a colleague’s house for lunch (meals are a big social occasion here) on my day off and as the house isn’t too far from my flat I decided to walk. Needless to say I got a bit lost and ended up wandering around an area populated almost exclusively by tanneries and let me tell you the smell of the corpses of various animals, drying hide, excrement, urine and rotting food mixed together in the heat of a Dhaka afternoon is unique.

What I do find difficult to deal with in Dhaka is the poverty. The sheer scale of it is hard to describe. It might give you some insight if I tell that the allowance for a VSO Volunteer in Bangladesh is about ₤3 a day and I feel relatively wealthy. It is enough to buy food, clothes and even one or two treats like a meal at Nandos or a night at one of the ex-pat clubs which are well beyond the means of the vast majority of Bangladeshis. The city itself is scarred by this poverty. With the exception of a few places like the National Parliament, the Prime Ministers residence and the odd historical site most of the city looks like a building site, even the most affluent parts of town have and unfinished feel to them. I am think part of this is a consequence of the harsh climate, which can make a new building look old in a matter of months, but the biggest problem is the lack of sustained and planned development.

The highlight of my time in Bangladesh has been Bangladeshi people. The people here are warm, friendly and particularly hospitable towards foreigners. The country and the Bengali language are a source of great pride for Bangladeshis, and I always get a delighted reaction whenever I attempt a little bit of Bangla that I’ve managed to pick up no matter how poor my pronunciation is.

This evening I’m flying out to Satkhira in the Southwest of the country to visit the field offices of my placement organization. I’ve finally got the camera I brought with me to start working properly and will put some photos up when I get back to Dhaka.

Induction over

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2009 by bd79

The induction is finally over. It has felt like quite a long process and you spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for sessions that tend to get delayed or cancelled at the last minute. I really enjoyed the sessions on the history and culture of Bangladesh, and the Bangla classes were excellent. I’ve had fourteen two hour classes and can now just about haggle at the market, etc. Still want to pick a bit more up and might start evening classes once I’m settled into my placement.

Part of my induction included a week living with a Bangladeshi family. The entire week was a bit awakward with the weekend being a particular nightmare and included me getting a thirty minute one on one sermon (following a 2 hour Baptist service) about the moral decay of the West (apparently every western man is like JR from Dallas, “always up to monkey business”) and the impending fall of America and her friends. I knew it was going to be a bit of a nightmare when within ten minutes of meeting my host mother a friend of the family told me that cyclone’s hit the south west of the country because many of the NGO there are not christian and therefore God gets angry. What a crank! Still, I got to practice my Bangla and I learnt how to eat with my hand so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

The rains have finally come (about 2 weeks later than they should have but that’s global warming for you). It’s a bit cooler than it has been which makes it a lot easier to sleep but on the down side the sewers do overflow on to the streets when its been raining for three hours non-stop!

Went to a press conference the other day. Couldn’t understand a word but they gave out a box of take-away fried chicken at the end so you can’t really complain.

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