Every Little Helps

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Please help Architect & Sister Jo Ashbridge reach her goal. Help her build a home for a family in Bangladesh.

http://www.gofundme.com/housing-in-bangladesh

To inspire you I have re-posted my favourite blog post on the process to date. I love a good bubble/cry (see last post) so I tend to read this over and over again just to get my eyes watering. Pitched as a real life “Spartacus” moment Sister Jo is making her mark halfway across the world and her humble family is bursting with pride (WOW I am feeling gushy today. Apologies all).

Community Engagement

To better understand household assets we are conducting a survey within the hamlet of Nobu para, based in part on the Bangladesh Population and Housing Census 2011 carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, with a increased focus on the housing conditions. There is one family in particular that is in desperate need of improved living space and they are interested in our new techniques, having previously attended a ‘Building For Safety’ workshop.

My project however requires the backing of the community, exactly 50 individuals across nine households. Equally, beneficiary identification must be a collaborative effort and the final decision approved by majority. This process will ensure both ownership on the part of the individual household and the entire hamlet, and reduce the likelihood of future conflict.

Today we held a community meeting in the local pre-school. It had been scheduled for 2pm following feedback of household availability so that everyone’s voice could be heard. At 2.10pm there is only myself, the SAFE team and two older men living in adjacent houses. Today is Shoroshoti Puja, a festival in worship of the Hindu Goddess of education. Perhaps they have all decided a little dancing is in order?

Then, one by one people start arriving, signing their attendance, until all households are represented. Where the male head of the household is unable to attend, their wives and elder children are present.

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We open the meeting with personal introductions, inviting all the villagers to speak. I present my project, the research undertaken to date and overall goals and SAFE talk of their motivations. I have secured funding to design and construct a new house with one family, the remainder of the funds targeted at further research into earthen plasters (following my initial findings last July), amenities and additional workshops to connect with the entire village. Even before we can present our analysis of the housing survey, the entire room are in agreement as to which family should be chosen.

Now the issue of household contribution, something which has been playing on my mind for some time now. Personally I do not believe in ‘basic aid’. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not against aid. I am not a staunch follower of Easterly. It might be easier if I saw the situation as black and white, if I could argue a position with uninterrupted conviction. The reality is my mind changes on a daily basis. It changes when I am welcomed into the home of a family who are clearly existing hand-to-mouth, when I am offered their last packet of biscuits and all they ask is that I come back to visit. It changes when I see children living under simple tarpaulin sheets on the streets of Dhaka, unable to escape the monsoon rains or indeed their situation. It changes when I see such entrepreneurial spirit that it takes my breath away. It changes.

But I do believe that if aid is the only reasonable option in a certain circumstance, it should not be simple. It should not be presented as aid, it cannot ignore the beneficiaries and what they are able to offer to the process. Perhaps the line between aid and development is not so defined. Perhaps aid could aspire to be appropriate development.

In this project we are asking for a contribution. This is where theory and reality collide. The chosen beneficiary household is very much at the bottom of the ecomomic ladder. The family own the land on which they reside but no additional agricultural land. Tarinduro (father) works as a day labourer earning between 100-200 BDT (£0.62-£1.63) per day, but this is seasonal work and even then not guaranteed. With the eldest son in high school, their daughter in primary and youngest son below school age there are no additional incomes. They can contribute earth, following the demolition of their existing house and they may be able to help with labour. Are these true contributions? If we ask for construction material or small financial assistance, they will undoubtedly be forced to take out a loan… potentially initiating a spiral of debt. Is the theory flawed?

We present this to the group and ask their advice. We argue that I am not a member of the community, and cannot be expected to take the entire financial burden. Can the community offer any assistance? We are inundated with questions… what type of house will we be constructing… how much will it cost? Many of which we are unable to answer in detail as we are at the very beginning of the design process. It’s a tense moment. We have identified the most vulnerable household within the community, but their neighbours are certainly not affluent. The majority also live in bamboo and earth dwellings, albeit better constructed. Their plots may be slightly larger, they may own three cows… but no one is connected to the grid, only one household has a latrine and it is currently out of use. Are we asking too much?

Then from the corner one man raises his voice… “I can offer a bag of cement”. Suddenly another voice… “we can offer a few pieces of bamboo”, a ripple effect… “we can give two bags of cement”… “we will help with the labour”… It’s a real life ‘Spartacus’ moment. I am overwhelmed and have to take a breath to hold down the tears.

OK, so here we go!”

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