Story collected by Mukta Rani
Holdiapalong Community, Ukhia, Bangladesh
Ashrayan, a government-built project housing over 48 families, had no local water supply. Residents spent hours traversing a steep hill to collect unsafe water that made them sick. "Due to water problems, we could not bathe and wash clothes regularly," a parent explains. "We had to go to the bottom of the hill to fetch water again and again because there was no big container to keep or preserve the water [in the community]."
Ashrayan also had no preschools and only one primary school a kilometre away. “Being far away from the [primary] school, we were not very interested in education," one mother shares. "If we did have the interest to involve our children in school, it’s quite tough for them to go to school regularly because of walking that long distance from our house,” one mother shared.
Parents also couldn’t access skills training or viable work, nor could they grow their own food as they had no land. Fighting among neighbours was common due to the slum-like overcrowding they had to put up with—there was only one latrine for every 10 families!
Asma Akhter, a young 22-year-old mother with a growing family, lives in Ashrayan. She and her loved ones suffered from the lack of water and opportunities. She shares, “Children were in danger of falling from the top of the hill. They had to drink stale water. We could not even keep the children clean properly.”
These problems weighed heavily on Asma. “I cried many times because of the water problem and sometimes thought of leaving the area but there was nowhere to go. I used to save rainwater for a day or two days. I always prayed to God to provide me with good water,” she shares.
When FH offered to work with the people of Ashrayan, the families were excited. Asma was among the many women who attended FH trainings. One of the most transforming things FH did was to help the community members establish a local leadership structure in Ashrayan. With strong leadership, the people could start getting things done!
Over the past two years, so much has changed.
In addition to trainings, FH provided practical help like installing a submersible pump with an overhead water tank so families could pump their own clean water close to home. Asma has played an active role in transforming her community. Asma was also made secretary of the water committee that oversaw the pump installation and is responsible for ongoing maintenance.
Along with other new community leaders, Asma rallied residents to build a preschool house and FH worked with them to establish curriculum and teachers. Asma was elected to be a member of the school management committee. Her four-year-old daughter was sponsored by a FH supporter and began attending the school.
As a result of this activity, the families of the Ashrayan project have been freed from their water crisis and taken a new interest in their children’s education. Women like Asma are rising as community leaders and developing their hand-sewing and embroidery skills to generate alternative sources of income for their households.
Asma explains some of the changes resulting from a partnership with FH. “Now I and all my neighbours drink safe and pure water and keep ourselves and our children clean all the time. We all take care of the submersible [pump] and pay the electricity bill and meet once a month. We support each other in times of danger and peril. These changes are possible through FH because FH has taught us to stick together.”
Unity and trust between families is growing and hope has sprung forth. In addition to growing in her knowledge and skills regarding health and sanitation, Asma says, “I have also learned to cherish a dream about children and family.”
When FH staff asked Asma if she would share that dream, she said, “I want to change my family in such a way where there is no scarcity of resources so that my family won’t face any poverty. I am working to embroider clothes…and I want to have my own shop in the future where more women like me will work.”
Asma continued to share her vision for her community, “I want to see my Ashrayan project transformed into a model community where all families’ children are well educated, and men and women will work together for the development of the community… and establish a beautiful society which will be free from child marriage, child labour, and drug addiction.”
After everything that was accomplished in two short years, we have full confidence that Asma and her community will achieve her dream!
Journey with a Community like Ashrayan