Saturday, July 5, 2008

JENNA'S JOURNAL - WEEK 1

I have been here for just over a week. Most of these days have been filtered with exhaustion, heat, extreme fluid loss and a cacophony of new places, names and tastes. I have been teamed up with the family counsellor, Faria, with 2 objectives. Firstly, task is to assist in enhancing the communication channels between the counsellor and the other staff members. The information that Faria receives from the families is vital to understanding the pressures that impact on the individuals and community every day. It is essential that this information is relayed back to appropriate TDP sectors so that firstly, these issues are made aware of and secondly, so that change can be implicated where necessary. The second task is to write articles to the newspapers, from a micro-perspective, elucidating what these pressures (i.e. food and rent costs) are and how these pressure impact upon the family and the broader community. It is not enough to keep this information contained within The Dhaka Project community. Problems need to be quantified and greater awareness is necessary for change.

Bite the hand that feeds...

I have only been here a short while but I have seen so much positive and proactive work put in by the volunteers and staff here at TDP: teacher development programs, a new medical clinic (with an additional doctor!), micro-credit trials and although in it’s embryonic stages, the setting in motion of a TDP garment and/or craft factory and point-of-sale venture. However this was all (unfortunately) overshadowed by a community meeting that I attended a few days ago. Below is a copy of an email i sent to a friend:
“I have just return from a community meeting. All of it was in Bangla so I couldn't understand it obviously but it was the most interesting thing I have seen since being here. When I arrived there must have been about 100 local women (the mothers and grandmothers of students of TDP) all sitting on the floor on one side and the men sitting in another group. TDP staff were all standing up the front talking about the issues facing them and the community. Although it was all delivered in Bangla there did not appear to be organisation or structure to the meeting (or even within the staff themselves). Although it was evident that they were all ‘singing to the same tune’ it was not evident who was in charge. The tone of the meeting ranged from unanimous applause from the crowd to yelling and violent hand gestures from the staff. There was a sense of desperation. A reciprocated desperation. I was sitting up the back with another volunteer, Georgie, and the women were crowding around us with there babies and children asking us (in Bangla) to solve their problems (having absolutely no idea what was actually being said). I couldn’t figure out if I was the enemy or a miracle worker. Fragile relationships...

It was just so heated. The project is supposed to be about educating the poorest of the poor by providing them with both knowledge and nutrition, but it has become a community project where people just want hand outs. Given an inch they take a mile, but you can not blame them because in the beginning it was that way. No processes, no transparency but a quick fix. So now 38 families receive rent money and another 43 want rent money. If there has been no transparent criteria as to why the first 38 receive rent then why should these additional 43 not be entitled? That is the argument. There has been no transparency previously in this process, no justification for why some people have their rent paid for and why others not.... It is our duty to establish a transparent criteria or abolish rent assistance altogether.

It was intense, but the most honest I have seen since being here... tenuous paths to walk...”
There are so many issues here. TDP encourages the children to attend school on a daily basis however this seems to run anathema to the lifestyles of many people in the community. From my (limited) understanding, it appears that families move to Dhaka to make money and move back to their rural villages when the expense of Dhaka living exceeds their means of living. However, this nomadic lifestyle is challenged by the ethos of TDP whose emphasis is the continual education of the children. Using the children as leverage the parents are able to ‘bribe’ TDP for rent claiming that they will be unable to feed, cloth and continue the child’s education if the family is not supported through the means of rent assistance or employment assistance. It is understandable to acknowledge that if one family receives assistance (with the reasons not always clear or transferable) then other families will also want the same benefits. So how is it that TDP can put the education of children of the slums at the forefront of their initiative yet still support the families that support the children? Has the drive for education been lost amongst the demands of the community? Is it possible to remove this relationship altogether? The children need to be the priority and thankfully wonderful TDP staff, teachers, and enthusiastic volunteers are trying to make this, once again, the emphasis of the project.

Jenna Dennison

1 comment:

Amy said...

You are not dealing with the little issues, and I applaud your courage in wanting to tackle them. It is bewildering to me that in a world with so much wealth and opportunity, there can also be poverty and families fighting over such basic things, like education. I'm surrounded by harvard graduates and corporate wealth that is rather sickening in the context of your story - good for you trying to be the change you want to see in the world. Everyone could do a lot more than what they are doing (which is largely nothing).

Making the system more transparent is a great start. Good luck and keep us up to date with the developments.