Projects - Katakhali

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Location of Katakhali village on Barabaishdia Island

Location of Katakhali village on Barabaishdia Island

Since 2000, Samhati has been working to empower women and families in the remote Katakhali community (a village on an island off the southern coast of Bangladesh, Patuakhali District). Our progress there has been hampered by a succession of cyclones, including cyclone SIDR in November 2007 and cyclone AILA in May 2009, which have been increasingly severe due to climate change.

Katakhali can be reached only by boat, and the journey from Dhaka takes approximately 30 hours. The nearest hospital or health clinic is about a journey of 10 hours away. There was no doctor, nurse, or medical care in the village until the Katakhali Project was commenced. Katakhali has no roads, no electricity, no running water or sewers, no cars or even rickshaws. In the last twenty years, the population of the area has greatly increased and the soil has become infertile from repeated cyclones and overuse. There are few opportunities for families to make a living, and as a consequence women and girls are the worst off. Their life expectancy and literacy rates are shockingly low, and they are subjected to domestic violence and have little power over their own lives.

CURRENT INVOLVEMENT IN KATAKHALI

To date, the Katakhali Project has had a tremendous positive impact on the Katakhali women, as well as on their children and the entire village. The women are learning to read and write and to better understand their problems and find solutions. They are now demanding greater rights and insisting on better services from the government. Women are also earning additional money for their families and have gained confidence and mobility. Women are gaining greater decision-making roles within the family and in village governance as well. The education on nutrition and sanitation has transformed the village. Every household in Katakhali now has a sanitary latrine. In 2005, Katakhali was named a “model village” by one of Bangladesh’s prominent newspapers.

TRAINING

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Samhati provides adult literacy classes and leadership and skills training to motivated villagers, mostly women. Due to the increasing severity of storms in the area, the villagers are particularly vulnerable and need retraining and adaptation assistance. New literacy classes, including a more advanced level class, have been started and a new library has been established. We recently provided training on sewing, fabric printing, candle-making, confection making, vegetable gardening, and fish and crab cultivation. Villagers are producing products and selling them for profit. Local people have been hired as staff and are running the programs themselves. Through this project, approximately 300 villagers have learned to read, obtained vocational skills, and been trained on health and hygiene.

HEALTH CENTER

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The provision of the medical care has been absolutely essential for improving the health and well-being and morale of this village. Without funding from Samhati, no paramedic or doctor was willing to endure the hard life in this remote community. In March 2007, the Health Center in Katakhali was inaugurated. The doctor and assistant provide health services from this center. Previously, the health clinic had been operating from a hut made of straw and tin with mud floors. The provision of this concrete and essential service (basic health care) has been one of the keys to the success of the Katakhali Project. The participants in the project have become motivated, involved partners in the transformation of their community.

Samhati’s Health Center (staffed by a doctor and assistant) provides medical services in Katakhali and nearby villages, serving approximately 500 families which would otherwise receive no medical care. The health clinic has a new doctor this year and continues to be a great boost to health and morale in the community. The Heath Center provides on a sliding scale fee basic. The clinic also provides prenatal and postnatal care and immunizations for pregnant women and children. The care includes infant care, sick visits for children and adults, as well as vaccinations for polio, whooping cough and German measles. The clinic also treats ailments such as diarrhea, hepatitis, respiratory infections, injuries, etc. The clinic is providing preventive health awareness to the community, including education on hygiene, low cost nutritional diet, food safety, and other communicable diseases.

There is also a special quarterly children’s initiative, providing children with free medicine for stomach worms and a talk and discussion on children’s nutrition and health. This program has been very popular. Training on nutrition has been a key strategy for improving health in the community. Many children suffer from malnutrition, some becoming disabled.
The clinic also works with the governmental health department to provide family planning counseling and contraceptives. Free contraceptives are provided by the government once a week at the family planning clinic. The birth rate in Katakhali village has gone down to approximately two (2) children per female.

The health clinic was instrumental in providing emergency shelter and medical care during and in the aftermath of cyclone SIDR in November 2007, cyclone AILA in May 2009, and cyclone Mahasen in 2013. The entire Katakhali village took shelter in the clinic because the cyclone shelter in the community is dilapidated and unsafe. The doctor and assistant treated hundreds of people from Katakhali and neighboring villages who had suffered broken limbs and other injuries as the result of the cyclones. Many children and elderly were treated for diarrhea and infectious diseases as well. Because of the existence of the health clinic, no one in Katakhali perished during the recent cyclones.

In Spring 2010, there were numerous cases of stomach ailments and influenza and the clinic was a great help to the community. The local coordinator of the Samhati program in Katakhali fell seriously ill with liver disease in May 2010 but was safely treated with antibiotics by the clinic doctor so that she could be transferred to Dhaka for surgery. Without the clinic, she would not have survived.

SCHOLARSHIPS

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Every year, Samhati provides $2,000 to fund scholarships of $70 each to 28 needy children so that they can attend middle and high school in Katakhali. So far, 177 children have received scholarships and 60 children have finished high school due to this program. About 30% of the graduates have enrolled in college and the rest are working.  This is a tremendous achievement for Katakhali village, which only has approximately 300 families. These children in turn will teach their parents, find jobs, and bring about a tangible change in the community.

Approximately $70 per student per year ensures that a child can go to school instead of working. Although the government schools do not require tuition, parents have to spend money on books and supplies, exam fees, clothes, and tutoring. Also, putting a child in school means loss of income from the child’s labor. With this small amount of money, the children are able to be fed and clothed and sent to school with the appropriate books and supplies.

A scholarship committee made up of teachers and other community members reviews the candidates and awards scholarships based on a combination of merit and financial need. The scholarship program has been very popular and greatly increased the morale and the chances of a better life for the local children and their families.

As a result of this program, the rate of attendance at school has increased and a positive educational environment has been created in the village. The children and their families are extremely pleased and have the possibility of a brighter future. Last year, all the seniors on the scholarship program again passed their high school final exams with good marks.

PAST PROJECTS IN KATAKHALI

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After SIDR and AILA, Samhati built 52 tin and wood houses and deeded them to the female heads of household.

FUNDING FOR KATAKHALI PROJECT

From 2006 to 2011 Samhati received annual grants from the International Monetary Fund’s Civic Program to partially fund the Katakhali Project.  In 2011, we reached our final year of eligibility for the IMF grant.  We now rely entirely on individual donations to fund our work.   Approximately $15,000 to $20,000 is needed to meet the annual budget for the Katakhali Project.

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