Monday, March 30, 2009

Learninig From the Neighbours

A seven member team of Inter-Agency Group partners from West Bengal, India, led by Fr. Sarto of ABCD visited Cox Bazar and Chittagong districts of Bangladesh for a cross-learning program on Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) program in the country. The team visited the disaster prone country between 18 – 23 March 2009, in collaboration with Caritas Bangladesh which hosted the visit of the team.


Caritas Bangladesh works in all the six regions of the country on various developmental works and disaster mitigation and preparedness measures with support from various national and international agencies and governments, with an annual budget of over two million dollars. “The way the lay people have built and manage the Caritas Bangladesh with minimum support from the Church is a great pride of lay leadership”, commented Fr. Reginald Fernandez, a member of the team and Director of Seva Kendra, Kolkata.


In Pekua and Chakaria the team attended two programs each on School level preparedness and on community level preparedness, besides various interactions with the people, government officials, and meetings with local, regional and national staff of Caritas Bangladesh. The disaster preparedness program has been a great gender leveler in my community, said Mrs. Hamima Begum. “I have passed through the days when people would through stones and cow-dung at me for going to work, or shouting expletives at me saying that I have become a Christian. Today, the community has accepted me. People respect me. And I continue to live as a good Muslim, because of Caritas”, she said.


The Disaster Preparedness programs have both soft skills and hardware support from Caritas and from the Government, which is quite different from the CBDP programs in India. Caritas and Government have supported several multi-storey cyclone shelters which are also being used as schools. Villagers in Bara Beaula commented that the best part of Caritas shelters are just this : the multi-usability of the cyclone shelter vis-à-vis the government built shelters.


Caritas Bangladesh is the fifth largest non-governmental organization in Bangladesh, and it can boast of the most diverse types of activities handled by any NGO with over 64 different projects in the running.


“My own very outlook on Bangladesh has changed after the visit”, said Mr. Job Thekkedath, a member of the team and Development Consultant to Caritas India, on how the people of Bangladesh have worked together to eradicate poverty and build resilience to disasters in many parts of the country. Fr. Soosaiappan of  Palli Unnayan Samity of Baruipur pointed out how the coping mechanisms differ between the people of the Sundarbans in India and in the coastlands of Bangladesh with regard to cyclone and flood management. “It is truly a joint effort with all stakeholders participating in it here”, he said.


“One of the most positive innovative approaches I found in the CBDP program in Bangladesh is the way Caritas and community have developed the methodology for following-up Plan of Action in a country where local governance systems (Panchayati Raj systems) are weak. Here the local Ward Disaster Management Committee meets quarterly and follows up the plan with government, Caritas and other NGOs working in the area, who may be of help to fine-tune and achieve the plan.” Observed Fr. Puthumai A. Nazarene who had trained the national and regional staff of Caritas Bangladesh in 2006 on CBDP.


While speaking to the team, Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Dhaka mentioned that it is good that the Caritas is managed by the lay persons as it creates ample space between religion and developmental action. “Although the key is with the Church, it is the whole lot of lay persons of all regions who manage and sustain the development of poor in this country with high level of coordination with the Government which continues to closely monitor the activities of NGOs,” the septuagenarian Archbishop quipped. 

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