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DVD

Life | Reaching Out to the Grass Roots

In this programme Life looks at two very different approaches to improving the lives of poor people – one through education in Bangladesh, the other through what’s known as ‘community-driven development’ in Indonesia – and asks whether they can be replicated in other countries trying to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

Shilmundi is a village in the vast Delta in the south of Bangladesh. The children here attend a local school, and come together to study out of hours – a sign perhaps of their enthusiasm for learning. But the real question is how long they’ll be able to continue. The enthusiasm for learning is there all right – and parents want education for their children, like Nargis:

‘I studied very little up to year 5 and my husband didn’t study at all. Now he wishes he had. If we’d studied then we would have been in a better situation, and had good jobs.’

grassroots1And Minara puts her illiteracy graphically: ‘I have a mouth but I am mute, I have eyes but I cannot see. If someone writes to me then I have to take it to somebody else to read it to me. If I had some education I wouldn’t be sitting like this, I could have got a job.’

In Bangladesh, primary schools are free. But even where children do attend, primary school education stops at the age of 12. After that, 98 per cent of secondary schools are private, and their fees vary school by school. This cost is compounded by the loss of income children could be earning. To persuade more parents to let their daughters attend secondary school, the government set up a scheme with the World Bank which covers the costs of secondary school education for all girls who apply – and qualify. Minister of Education Osman Farruk explains:

‘In order to get the stipend and the benefit you have to obtain at least 45 per cent marks in a regime where 33 per cent is the passing mark and you have to attend 75 per cent of the classes.’

grassroots2In 1980, 600,000 girls enrolled in secondary school. Twenty years later in 2000 the figure had risen to 4 million. This brings huge benefits in terms of improved family health and smaller family size, as well as higher family income. But in 1999, just over half the year’s girls dropped out because of the cost of taking their final exam – like Dulalli will have to:

“I can’t take the exam because we don’t have enough money and somebody is ill in my family. It’s mostly because of money – that’s why I can’t take the exam.” The government promises to look into it.

Indonesia is another mainly Muslim country whose population of 280 million lives on more than 6,000 islands. Since 1998 the country has been through economic and political turmoil and now one in three people are estimated to be living on less than one US dollar a day. The Kecamatan Development Project – or KDP as it’s known – was set up in 1999 to address the need for infrastructure development. Scott Guggenheim of the World Bank designed it:

‘The core idea behind KDP is that villagers can make smart decisions. Everything else you see about it is to facilitate that process. So the whole development infrastructure on verifications, on fiscal transfer, was too clumsy for this kind of work. So everything you see in KDP was to simplify this planning process.’

KDP hinges on groups of villages holding meetings where the villagers themselves decide what needs to be done in their district. All decisions on how much money to spend, what to spend it on and the best way to manage projects are made at inter-village meetings.

grassroots3In Sukoanyar in Eastern Java, they decided to pump water direct to people’s houses. One of the villagers, Painah, says: ‘Of course I am very happy. Because before I had to carry the water a long way but now not anymore. This water is very good.’

Rahayu’s a student. Her family comes from Sukoanyar and like many people here, she’s employed part time on the scheme. She wants the road to the village improved: ‘For now the problem that the community is facing is the road’¦ there are still lots of roads in Mendalawangi which are still in a bad condition.’

The community is responsible for financial reporting on all work and the accounts are publicly displayed. In addition, project funds are paid direct to the villages, bypassing government departments. The aim is to avoid any possibility of funds going missing – the kind of practices that have undermined development in Indonesia in the past. The project also funded and organised a new roof for the market. Since then, business has improved for both traders and their customers. Rahayu’s grandmother, Satuni, has been trading there for 50 years.

‘1954. Things were very bad and not too busy. There were not many people like now’¦ very few people. Now there are more people here and more stalls and shops. Before they were not as crowded as now. Now it’s busy.’

The KDP community-driven development approach seems to work in these Indonesian villages, but can it be copied elsewhere successfully? Jonathan Pincus, author of ‘Reinventing the World Bank’:

‘It’s a very big, complex project and it’s spread over a very wide geographical area and as you would expect there’re some places where it works better and some places where it works less well. What we really need in order to answer the question of whether this is a model for Indonesia in the future or for other places is very rigorous evaluation of exactly what’s been achieved and where. And that evaluation should be independent of the people obviously who are implementing the project and it should be independent of the people who are financing the project.’

RELATED LINKS:

There are several good websites in English with news and information on Bangladesh, including the colourful Virtual Bangladesh and News from Bangladesh.

An earlier Life programme, Credit Where Credit’s Due, also made in Shilmundi, described how microcredit loans were transforming the lives of the village women.

The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) has been providing micro-credit loans for poor villagers under their Rural Development Programme for over 20 years. BRAC also supports girls’ education there.

The World Bank study, Empowering the Poor with Microcredit: The Bangladesh Poverty Alleviation Project, assesses the cost-effectiveness of micro-credit programmes as instruments for poverty reduction.

Gonoshasthaya Kendra is an organization bringing health care to the poor of Bangladesh. Its founder, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, appeared in an earlier Life programme about health, Bangladesh – From Docklands to Dhaka.

See the World Bank’s pages on educating girls in Bangladesh, and watch a short video on the subject.

Unicef explains the barriers to educating girls in Bangladesh.

Read about East Java, the location for the Indonesian villages filmed in this episode.

See the World Bank in Indonesia pages, including Indonesia at a Glance facts and figures. Read Scott Guggenheim’s report on the origins of the KPD project, Crises and Contradictions, and the World Bank’s evaluation of the KDP project and brief summary of the project. The KPD has its own website, but access to it may be slow. For an account of Jonathan Pincus’ book ‘Reinventing the World Bank’, go here

A useful source of links on poverty issues is the World Bank’s PovertyNet Web Guide.

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