Poverty and political instability are the two greatest challenges facing Bangladesh, compounded by frequent floods, monsoons and cyclones. Since independence in 1972, the level of poverty has diminished significantly for a population that consists mainly of landless laborers and small farmers, but there are still ultra-poor and tribal communities who are excluded and ignored by NGOs and government. The LWF/DWS-related program focuses on community empowerment to serve the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the northwest regions of Rangpur and Dinajpur.
Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), one of Bangladesh’s longest-serving and largest NGOs and a lead actor in rural development, has been an associate program of DWS since 1997. Since beginning as a DWS program in 1971 following the war of independence, RDRS has continually challenged the causes and effects of poverty, ignorance and powerlessness. Evolving from a needs-based approach to a rights-based approach, the aim of the program is to enable the rural poor, including their institutions, to achieve meaningful political, social and economic empowerment, democracy and gender equality, and a sustainable environment through their individual and collective efforts.
RDRS development programs benefit over 1.5 million of the poorest people (300,000 households) in almost 17,000 groups and 262 federations through which its development approach operates. Some of these are among the most extreme and marginal environments found in Bangladesh, especially the shifting river islands of the Brahmaputra.
Institutional Development and Peoples’ Organizations
RDRS supports a tiered network of federations, local groups, group members and group member households in capacity building and empowerment. Poor rural people living under economic constraints are motivated to form groups for mutual support and solidarity. Federations are the key organizations for sustainable development, enabling liaison with more than 7,000 member groups and 113,000 households. To expand the role of federations as self-managed, community based organizations (CBOs) of the rural poor, program activities focus on: improving governance, democratic values and management practices; developing community facilities; raising awareness of women’s and human rights; and promoting grassroots advocacy and civic activities.
Building social awareness is a crosscutting program emphasis for building sustainable communities. Activities include: popular theater shows on gender equity and advocacy workshops on gender rights; adolescent training on gender and reproductive health; awareness of primary health care including STDs and HIV/AIDS and arsenic contamination; training on environment and disaster preparedness; and orientation for pregnant women on family laws and birth registration. RDRS staff (and spouse) training addresses gender and development, HIV/AIDS and disaster preparedness.
Over the past fifteen years, loans from NGOs have provided a lifeline to the poor of Bangladesh. Although successful, the system of micro-finance introduced in the 1990s continues to evolve in order to achieve sustainable development for families and communities. RDRS activities at the grassroots level include savings mobilization, credit assistance schemes, skills training and support for income generating activities. Micro-finance management is now separated from social development activities, and self-financing is receiving increased emphasis.
For more information please contact:
Mr Duane Poppe, Program Officer
Dr Salima Rahman, Country Representative