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Addressing the repeated cycle of loss and devastation brought about by excruciating poverty and climate related disaster. Through this project six of the most impoverished and flood prone communities in Bangladesh will learn to mitigate against the impact of future disaster, improve their environment and build resilient, sustainable and alternative livelihoods.

Washed away

Almost every year disaster strikes in the low lying district of Kurigram in Bangladesh. 2020 was no exception. Heavy rainfall in Tibet and the Indian state of Assam overwhelmed the Brahmaputra river which flows into Bangladesh. On the 26th June the river, and its many tributaries burst their banks and sent flood waters spilling across Kurigram, inundating 18 districts and affecting 2.4 million people. Over 548,816 people had to flee their homes in search for higher ground. All this, on top of the already overwhelming economic and health challenges brought about by the coronavirus lockdowns.

Devastating flooding has been a repeated reality for Abiron Begum, her husband Sattar and their family. Daily life in Kurigram, the poorest district in Bangladesh, is already hard enough but having their lives turned upside down at a moment's notice has been almost unbearable. Like Abiron, over two million people who live in this impoverished district have almost no resilience when illness or disaster strike. Food and work is so scarce, that people live a hand to mouth existence. Anything that disrupts people's ability to get out and work means a loss of income and families begin to face starvation. In addition, when it comes to flooding, the very crops on which people are utterly reliant for food and income are submerged and totally destroyed. Wells and latrines are also damaged through flood water contamination resulting in a loss of clean water and rapid spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Uneducated and without their own land Abiron and Sattar struggled to get by every day. Sattar’s only options for employment were limited to hard manual labour, either working in other people’s fields or repairing roads. Despite working exceptionally hard, his daily wage averaged a meger 300 Bangladeshi Taka (£2.83); barely enough for his family to survive on. Abiron tried to supplement her husband's income by working as a domestic worker in wealthy homes in the city. However, the infrequency of work, the distance she had to travel and the fact that she had to leave her children meant that this wasn’t a viable option.

With three children to care for and living in abject poverty, Abiron and Sattar faced many heartbreaking decisions over the years. When their oldest daughter was just ten years old the family were offered a good dowry price for her. So, even though she had only just completed her primary education, Abiron’s daughter was given away in marriage.

To have prevented the need to resort to such actions, Abiron and Sattar desperately needed a way to earn a better income. They also desperately needed a line of defence to protect themselves from the impact of disaster. Yet they had none and so they remained vulnerable to every type of stress or shock which life would throw at them. And when the floods came, what little progress they may have made since the last disaster, was simply washed away.

Shoring up defences

‘We had many days when we only ate one meal and we have not been able to educate our children’ explained Abiron sadly. Sattar also shared the turmoil he has lived through; ‘It was not possible for me to provide for the family alone, so I was always under physical and emotional stress’.

Then one day, Tearfund partner LAMB came to Abiron’s village. They taught about Self Help Groups (SHGs) and suddenly Abiron caught a vision of a life filled with greater provision, protection and hope. Guided by LAMB, Abrion and others in her community formed groups of around 15-20 people. In their groups they would come together each week to save small amounts of money which could later be drawn on as loans. They also provided each other with much needed emotional and spiritual support.  LAMB ran various types of training for the groups such as livestock rearing, health and hygiene, waste management and disaster risk reduction.

Tearfund and LAMB believe that whilst it may not be possible to relocate Abiron and her community away from the flood prone areas, it is possible to teach them how to prepare for and protect against disaster. If communities can prevent the health related diseases and destruction of income which results from flooding then they gain the upper hand against the waters. Such training has increased resilience to poverty and instilled confidence and self-belief in Abiron and the other group members in her community.

In 2017, Tearfund and LAMB embarked on a three year project, designed to increase the resilience of six communities (Nunkhawa, Bamodanga, Kaligonj, Kachakata, Narayanpur, Bollverkhash) in the flood prone district of Kurigram.  Great progress has been made and many people like Abiron have seen their lives improve dramatically.

Following the initial project phase an evaluation was carried out which revealed that further work is required in order to cement the progress already gained within the communities and to ensure sustainability of this development.

With your support, the most vulnerable people in Kurigram will be made more resilient to disaster and will begin to improve their quality of life. This will be achieved by building on the advancement made during the first phase of this project and further strengthening the communities in the following ways:

Improving and diversifying livelihoods

Increasing health resilience

Preparing for disasters and improving the environment

Developing networks between communities, government and NGOs to enable advocacy

Standing strong

Life is so much better now for Abiron and her family. After joining the SHG and receiving training, Abiron saved with her group and eventually took a loan to purchase two ducks and two hens. Just one year on her poultry rearing enterprise is really coming into its own and she now owns 12 ducks and 13 hens. By selling the surplus eggs and birds at her local market, Abiron has already earned a profit of 10,000 Taka (£94.51).

‘I feel good! I have left domestic work now and instead I can contribute financially by rearing poultry and earning savings for my family. I am even supporting my grandchild’s education now’ beams Abiron.

They are full of self-motivation, enthusiasm and hope for the future. ‘When our savings become large, we will purchase cultivable land so that we do not have to work on lease lands’ said Sattar. But the dream does not stop there as Abiron shared they also have plans to rear cattle.

Having seen what can be achieved through her SHG and by being open to trying alternative livelihoods Abiron and her family want to encourage others to do the same. Their success is proving to be contagious as fellow villagers are now inspired to start poultry rearing for themselves and are seeking advice from Abiron and her husband.

Can you help others like Abiron?

In Kurigram district there are many others like Abiron, desperate to change their situation but lacking the skills, support and confidence to try. Can you help them to become resilient and take charge of their future? Will you journey with them as they become their own agents of change, unlocking their God-given potential, transforming their lives and the lives of those around them?

We’re aiming to raise around £53K towards the second and third year during phase two of this project, and we are inviting you to join us. Your help will make a lasting difference

A note on coronavirus

COVID-19 is still having a huge impact and has affected our partners' work across the world. We are hoping to implement this work as planned but would ask for your patience and understanding if future restrictions affect some of the activities.

I have suffered much, O Lord; restore my life again as you promised. (Psalm 119:107)

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