Microcredit is booming in Myanmar. After the first regulations for the sector appeared in 2012, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have mushroomed in the country. Providing small loans before was limited to a couple of NGOs and the Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank, leaving a large part of the demand unmet. Out of Myanmar’s ca. 50 million population, 2.5 million working-age adults still cannot access formal financial services such as loans or saving facilities, according to the United Nations’ capital investment agency UNCDF.
A reality that stands in stark contrast with the skyscrapers and shopping centres of uptown Yangon, as lustrous as they come in Western Europe. After decades of military protectionist government, the country has gradually liberalised since 2010, when releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and partially handing over power to a civilian government. Major infrastructure works and foreign investments have started. Now the IMF puts the country among the fastest growing economies in the world.
Hans Eskes, the managing director of BRAC International Holding BV, visited BRAC‘s operations in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi from 18 to 24 September 2017.
Eskes discussed BRAC’s structure and the role of Stichting BRAC International and BRAC International Holding BV in its operations with the country management team. He was briefed about BRAC’s operations in the different provinces.
Eskes went on field visits where he interacted with BRAC’s clients from the microfinance programme in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. BRAC in Pakistan has served 247,000 borrowers with USD 14 million since inception.
He also met with BRAC’s partner organisations in Pakistan and the chairman of the country advisory board. The regional teams briefed him about their programmes, achievements so far and growth plans.
BRAC in Pakistan is currently operating 4,843 community-based village organisations.
They have also established ten Market Exchange Centres, each consisting of five shops to assist clients in developing market linkage, branding and promotional activities.
Eskes suggested leveraging and mobilising international Pakistanis living in the UK and the USA for donating funds to BRAC for development projects in Pakistan. He expressed a keen interest about the use of digital media like smartphones by field staff and clients of microfinance programme.
BRAC installed 392 tube-wells up to yesterday Tuesday (26 September) in 10 shelters in Ukhia and Teknaf upazilas of Cox’s Bazar for the distressed people arriving from the Rakhaine state of Myanmar. Besides these, 765 latrines have also been built for the use of 30,600 people.
A total of 1 lakh and 352 (100,352) people will be able to access safe drinking water from these tube-wells.
BRAC targets to install 15 thousand latrines and 1120 tube-wells by 15 October.
Mobilised from the branch offices across the country, more than 400 BRAC staff are running its emergency humanitarian aid programme in Cox’s Bazar.
BRAC’s programme in this regard is covering three areas, namely emergency healthcare focusing on women and children, ensuring potable water and sanitation through installing tube-wells and latrines and supplying hygienic materials, and ensuring protection of children through creating safe spaces.
These activities are going on in coordination with and with assistance from International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Unicef, World Food Programme (WFP), AusAid, DFID and Global Action.
BRAC has also opened 56 mobile health centres and provided immediate healthcare to 25,703 patients till Tuesday (26.09.2017). A total of 23,992 patients have received treatment for diarrhoea, fever and other complaints. Tuberculosis diagnostic tests were carried out for 260 patients of whom 17 have diagnosed with the infection. Malaria has not been diagnosed in any of the 1451 patients for whom malaria diagnostic tests were carried out. A total 954 packs of sanitary napkins were distributed. By next week 10 maternity centres will be operational for pregnant mothers.
Over half of the arriving Myanmar nationals are children. BRAC has so far opened 24 child-friendly spaces for these children where they can engage in recreational activities. Children are receiving nutritious biscuits also at these centres.
BRAC’s senior management officials are making regular inspection visits in Ukhia and Teknaf.
A pervasive culture of impunity is mostly responsible for the recent increase in sexual violence and other forms of crimes perpetrated against women. Exposure to online content provoking sexual abuse of women and children, strong social and religious values against gender equality and a lack of strong voice among males against such incidents are also responsible for the rapid increase in incidents of violence against women.
Speakers came up with these observations at a sharing session titled 'Redefining masculinity' organised today on Saturday (9 September 2017) at the BRAC Centre in the capital. The event had among its speakers Syed Ishtiaque Reza, director of news, Ekattor Television, Jafar Sobhan, editor, Dhaka Tribune, Nabonita Chowdhury, editor, DBC TV, Supriti Dhar, editor, online portal Women Chapter, and Towhida Shiropa, staff reporter, Prothom Alo. Asif Saleh, senior director, strategy, communications and empowerment, BRAC, moderated the discussion.
Actors Rafiath Rashid Mithila and Iresh Zaker, blogger-activist Arif Zebtik, BRAC Gender Justice and Development programme's director Anna Minj also spoke at the event. Online news portal bdnews24.com was media partner of the roundtable.
Asif Saleh said that the brutal rape and murder of Jakia Sultana Rupa by a gang of males has shocked the nation. We are once again awakened to the reality of increasing acts of sexual violence against women. The perpetrators are males or mostly males. In this context we are intently thinking how a strong social movement can be forged in which men will be at the forefront and raise their loudest voice against all forms of violence against women.
Syed Ishtiaque Reza said, 'Many mass media reports present the analysis of these most horrible crimes focusing on the dress or demeanour of the woman who are the victim of violence in such a way as if these reports defend the acts of the perpetrators. We must get rid of such terrible journalism.'
Nabonita Chowdhury observed that backward social values are at the root of all issues. While a massive campaign aimed at changing the male psyche is urgent, more investments should be made to promote women empowerment. Iresh Zaker said that to change the situation we need to start work at the ground level. Rise of women causes fear in men. To solve that situation we need to move through forming working groups.
Arif Zebtik pointed out lack of or delay in justice as the root cause of increase in violence against women. 'Lack of justice has led many perpetrators to take gang rape as a fashion and an act of heroism. They simply must stop such thinking.'
BRAC director Anna Minj while analysing data of violence against women in different years, said in 2016 BRAC received on average 10-12 complaints per district per month but in 2017 the number has risen to 16-17.
The US-based Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) has nominated BRAC vice chairperson Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury for its 2017 “Medical Award of Excellence”.
The award will be given at a gala to be organised in Chicago, USA on 11 November.
The organisation informed Dr Mushtaque of his selection on Wednesday (6 November). The award is given for outstanding contribution to improve the health and wellbeing of children. To honour the awardee, RMHC will present a grant of US$ 100,000 to a non-profit organisation selected by the awardee.
The BRAC vice-chair is also a professor of Columbia University and a board member of South Asia Centre of London School of Economics. He is also the president of Asian Action Alliance for Human Resources in Health (AAAH) and lead group member of UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement.
Among the previous winners of the Medical Award of Excellence are former US president Jimmy Carter, former US first ladies Barbara Bush and Betty Ford, health minister of Rwanda Dr Agnes Binagwaho and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Currently, the charity is working in more than 64 countries and regions in the world to ensure children’s healthcare and wellbeing.
BRAC in Liberia and the Dutch organisation, Mineke Foundation, joined forces to bring vocational training to girls’ club members. The programme trains them on income generating activities. Young women aged 15-25 participated in a 3-month training in soap making, baking and catering management.
14 out of the 50 first batch of graduates started their own business during their training. Previously, these women had no source of income. They are now earning between $2.50 to $50 a week.
The Mineke Foundation works in Dabwe Town and its surrounding communities, which are all situated near the capital Monrovia. Their goal is to scale up the fieldwork throughout Liberia. Mineke Foundation provides the trainers and BRAC facilitates the vocational training. The trainees are all graduates of the programme itself; they are able to generate additional income.
Training of business leaders
Mineke Foundation and BRAC started two new vocational training groups at the end of July 2017, with one in Gbarnga (Bong County) and one in Sinjeh (Grand Cape Mount Country). An estimated 25 leaders from the local girls’ clubs in each province will receive vocational training so that they can train students in their respective clubs.
The Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), a trustee organisation of the water resources ministry, has identified 29 high risk spots for riverbank erosion in 2017 through a detailed study of satellite data.
Development organisation BRAC is running an alert campaign in six upazilas of four districts, which are among the high-risk spots identified by CEGIS. The areas are Roumari upazila of Kurigram, Sariakandi upazila of Bogra, Pangsha and Kalukhali upazilas of Rajbari and Jajira and Noria upazilas of Shariatpur. The BRAC campaign is disseminating information to the local people about the intensity of bank erosion in these areas and consequent risk of loss.
Speakers revealed this information at an event titled ‘Consultative meeting on early warning for riverbank erosion’ today on Monday (21 August 2017). The government Department of Disaster Management, CEGIS and BRAC organised the event.
Experts at the meeting ascribed the current rise in the intensity of bank erosion to three main factors, which are, climate change impact, water level rise in river systems during monsoon and recent change in the course of some major rivers. Every year numerous people are becoming destitute overnight, losing all their farmland and homesteads into the rivers. This situation calls for urgent action for making bank erosion forecasts available to the vulnerable communities living on or near the riverbanks at risk.
Speakers at the meeting also called on the government to take immediate measures for riverbank protection, building of new embankments and urgent repair work for damaged embankments.
Sudipta Kumar Hore, junior specialist, River, Delta and Coastal Morphology Division, CEGIS, presented keynote paper titled ‘Early warning of riverbank erosion for 2017’. Md Jafar Iqbal, senior sector specialist, Disaster Management and Climate Change (DMCC) programme of BRAC, also presented another keynote paper titled ‘Riverbank erosion prediction and dissemination: Cases from past years’.
Gawher Nayeem Wahra, director, DMCC, BRAC, and Dr Maminul Haque Sarker, deputy executive director (development), CEGIS, moderated the meeting. KAM Morshed, director, Advocacy for Social Change, BRAC, Syeda Meherunnesa, deputy director, Department of Disaster Management, officials from Bangladesh Water Development Board, university teachers and representatives from non-governmental organisations also spoke at the event.
Gawher Nayeem Wahra said, ‘The technological skills we have mastered so far on riverbank erosion forecasts will be truly rewarding when we will be able to effectively disseminate the information to the common people and utilise this information in strengthening our river system management.’
Dr Maminul Haque Sarker said, ‘Natural calamities like floods and cyclones bring loss to people but they do not lose their land. But riverbank erosion takes away people’s land, both farmland and homesteads. Effective river management therefore remains a high priority issue for us.’
BRAC’s DMCC programme has been implementing a project on the risk of riverbank erosion, forecast and advice in different districts with the technical support from CEGIS. The objective of this consultative meeting was to discuss ways and methods for effective dissemination of forecasts and alert messages on bank erosion in 13 vulnerable spots of 16 upazilas in eight districts.
Deputy Head of the Department for International Development (DFID) Pakistan, Ms.Ruth Lawson meeting with Country Management Team in country office BRAC Pakistan
The newly appointed deputy head of DFID Pakistan, Ruth Lawson, visited BRAC in Pakistan head office in Islamabad.
Lawson met with BRAC in Pakistan’s higher management and the head of education programme where she learned about BRAC’s education programme in Pakistan, its achievements and the challenges on the ground. She appreciated BRAC's community based education model and assured DFID’s continuity to collaborate with BRAC in improving the efficiency of the programme to fight illiteracy and low enrolment in the country.
Lawson commended the close collaborations between BRAC’s education programme and the Government of Pakistan and termed it as a positive and effective strategy to increase enrolment of out-of-school children in the country. The chief executive officer of BRAC in Pakistan, Sher Zaman expressed his pledge to ensure quality delivery of education programme and thanked Lawson for her visit and DFID’s continuous support.
BRAC in Pakistan has established 1,500 community-based schools in Karachi, Khairpur, Kambar Shadadkot, Jacoababad districts of Sindh province with funding received from DFID and the Government of Pakistan. In April 2017, 5,500 students have successfully been mainstreamed to government primary schools after completing primary education from 200 BRAC community-based schools.
Development organisation BRAC is taking initiatives to help the flood affected communities across the country. Tk 50 thousand has been for each upazila to provide emergency assistance to flood victims. Dry food has been distributed to 22,500 flood victims in Thakurgaon upazila and food has been distributed to 3500 people of Debiganj upazila of Panchagarh.
BRAC is taking its initiatives in coordination with the government departments concerned. The assistance will be continued by BRAC’s Disaster Management and Climate Change (DMCC) programme until the situation adequately improves. The DMCC has already instructed its staff to make necessary expenses to provide assistance to the flood affected people from its relief budget.
BRAC has already undertaken an emergency awareness campaign in the flood affected localities about shifting the women and children to safe shelters from road, railway land and riverbank area where they have taken emergency refuge, safe food supply, use of sanitary latrine and other important public health and safety issues.
According to the flood forecast and warning messages, in the next 10 days districts where flood situation may worsen include Kurigram, Gaibandha, Bogra, Jamalpur, Sirajganj, Tangail, Manikganj, Faridpur, Shariatpur, Chandpur, Rajbari, Chapai Nawabganj and Rajshahi.
BRAC staff has been instructed to provide assistance to the affected people in these districts.
The Jibika project is a collaborative initiative by BRAC and Chevron to improve sustainable livelihoods and social development of vibrant communities around gas fields operated by Chevron Bangladesh in the greater Sylhet region.
A session on 'Dissemination and inception' of Jibika project was organised at BRAC's conference room yesterday. It was chaired by Anna Minj, Director of Community Empowerment, Gender Justice and Diversity, and Integrated Development Prgramme of BRAC. Shyam Sundar Saha, Programme Head of IDP presented the glimpse of Jibika pilot phase and also shared the key areas for further development. Naser Ahmed, Director, External Affairs, Chevron Bangladesh, appreciated both BRAC and IDEA’s efforts for implementing such a challenging project successfully.
As special guest, Asif Saleh, Senior Director, Strategy, Communication and Empowerment of BRAC explained the reason why BRAC engaged itself with corporate agencies. He said, 'development is not a T20 game; it's all about long-term game which requires time to make behavioral changes. The development agencies like BRAC is expecting more corporate engagement with those who are getting involved in development initiatives with their CSR funds.'
Nazmul Haque, Executive Director of IDEA (Implementing partner of Jibika) delivered the concluding remarks with vote of thanks.