Saturday, October 1, 2011

Two Stories on The Importance of Edcuation

by: Sonu Rani Das

Young residents from poor communities of Narayanganj Municipality expressed their feelings, concerns and aspirations about their lives to me. The importance of education and emotional support from family members and friends in order to pursue their dreams has been highlighted in the following articles. As practitioner a practitioner I am working on youth empowerment in different slum communities in Bangladesh.

Sheila’s Story told by herself

I am Sheila Akther, a young woman from Rally Bagan. I am studying in the second year of Bangla honours (graduation). I was born in a poor family. We have five members in my family: my parents, my brother, my sister and me. My father is a watcher’s repairs in a shop in Dhaka and does not have a fix income. His average salary is 100 Taka (Bangladesh’s currency) per day but sometimes he only gets 50 Taka per day.

The lack of an adequate house is one of the issues faced by our family. Our house is very hot during the summer because of its building material: wood, tin and the walls are built half brick wall and half tin. During the raining season, the water comes inside our house which makes life very difficult to cope. Another problem faced by our family is the lack of health security to support the entire family when a family member is ill. If my father becomes sick, we don’t have any income. In 2008, my father became very ill and my older sister had to stop to attend school because we could not afford any payment for her education. When my father was sick, my mother had to start to work in the garment sector to provide us the necessary financial resources.

Picture: In the background is Sheila’s home. Because of lack of space in her community for a school, she is using her house as a classroom for her 30 students. Her NGO financially contributes to maintain the space.

In my family, we value the importance of education. For this reason, I am doing whatever is necessary to continue my studies. However, lack of financial resources affects our education. As an example, my older sister could not continue her studies once she finished her Secondary School Certificate.

I was lucky that my friend Sonu helped me to find work to enable me to continue my studies. Currently I am teaching 30 pupils in a multi-grade school at the NGO Surobi, I also provide extra-curriculum tutorial for students outside my community. I earn 1,500 Taka per month. This work is giving me the opportunity to continue my studies and financially support my family. I would like to complete my studies which will give me the opportunity to get a good job. Education is a way for me to progress.

Meena Rani Das

I live in Tanbazar Pouro Community. My community is a Dalit community ("Untouchables" community). My father is a government employee working at the hospital. Our family consists of seven members (three girls, two boys and my parents). And my father is the only member in the family with a fix income.

Dalits are discriminated outside our community. Within my community, I face discrimination for being a girl. As an example, I have the story of my older sister. She is an intelligent young women and she always liked to complete her full education cycle. When she finished her Primary School (Grade Five) my parents decided that she should stop her studies. They think that girl’s education is a waste of money. In addition to my parents, my grandmother and uncle think that if she goes outside our community she will be bad influenced. In order to prevent my sister’s freedom, my family arranged her wedding when she was only 17 years old.

My sister’s wedding was a great event. In our caste system, the family of the bride has to pay for all the arrangements of the party (e.g. dresses, jewellery, etc). The wedding was very nice but my parents spent lots of money with it. They had to take a loan because they did not have enough money.

Picture: Meena at home.

Today my sister is happy in her marriage. However, we are facing lots of problems since her wedding. Half of my father’s salary has to repay the loan he made for the wedding which has put us in a very bad financial situation.

Education is also very important to me. I received the support from the World Vision to finish my Secondary School Certificate. Currently, I am working as a teacher for the NGO Surovi where I teach 30 students from my community. One of the problems in my family is the lack of understanding about the value of education. My parents wanted to organize my wedding as well. Because they are in debt because of my sister’s wedding, that they can’t organize. For me to finish my Higher Secondary Certificate, I received some financial support from my uncle. After finishing it, I had to stop because my parents did not want to give permission for me to continue my studies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Letter from the editors

Dear readers and followers,

it has been now for almost three years that this weblog is informing you about the daily lifes, the struggles, dreams and desires of slum dwellers all over Bangladesh. With very personal stories the weblog aims to tell you "stories from within" and to lead to an understanding of urban poverty that goes beyond statistics.

During the last couple of months we took a break and re-organized the page, however we still registered more than 10.000 page visits of readers from every continent up to day.
We would like to thank you all for your unbroken interest and expect you will continue to visit us. Furthermore, we thank all the contributors who invested their time to share their stories.

We did some layout changes to the blog and will come up with fresh stories and images from urban poor communities in Bangladesh over the next weeks. Please spread the news and give other people the chance to read this blog - tell them!

As always: we would like to invite new authors interested in posting with us. We encourage all of you strongly to send us your stories, images or videos that cover aspects of urban poverty in Bangladesh.

Sincerely Yours,

The Editors

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who you know matters

by: Juan Carvajal

Walking through a slum community in Narayanganj, we end up at a dead end on a small pathway surrounded by small tin and bamboo sheds raised on stilts. These living quarters built on top of a ditch are some of the new extensions in the ever-growing slum called ‘New Jimkhana’.

Partial map extract of New Jimkhana, Narayanganj
Source: EMGPR GIS project poverty mapping exercise, GTZ Bangladesh

Shortly after being surrounded by people curious of our visit to their homes, we strike up a conversation with Shahida on the entrance to her house. In a room no bigger than 2 by 3 meters she has to make space for her husband, their six children and all of their belongings. Curious to the whereabouts of the children, she tells us that her two teenage daughters – age 14 and 15 – are at work right at a nearby garment factory.

(Left) a view of the houses from the opposite side of the ditch
(Right) the satellite photo of the area

Ever since they moved to New Jimkhana a little less than a month ago, only her daughters have been able to find work at the garment industries in Narayanganj, becoming the sole income earners for the family. In this area of Bangladesh many garment industries are located as they profit from the extreme amount of cheap labor available. The two of them together manage to bring in ±3000 taka (±35 Euro) per month. This barely covers the minimum costs for a family of this size, taking into account that the rent due is already 800 taka per month, after expenditures on food and other basic necessities, if they are lucky they will be able to spend on ‘extras’ such as medicine and education for some of the children.

Shahida, Hanan Rari and three of their children

As we step inside her small house, we find her husband resting on the floor. His name is Hanan Rari, and he tells us that he is 50 years old – but as is often the case – he explains that he does not know his real age. Meaning 50 is more indicative of the age that he feels. Not being fit to work, due to a partial body paralysis that he suffered some time ago - his wife tells us - that Hanan can only find occasional light work that pays very little and are of short duration. More details about the cause of his paralysis he cannot share with us, because he has probably never had a proper diagnosis and is lucky to be more or less healthy again.

(Left) Some of the few belongings that the family owns (Right) entrance of the house

For the family coming to Narayanganj wasn’t easy, nevertheless they have managed quite all right up to now. River erosion, a very common and typical problem of rural Bangladesh, washed away the little land that they owned forcing them to move and seek a livelihood elsewhere.
Despite their difficulties, the family was able to find a place to stay in New Jimkhana and obtain food from the store on credit upon arrival. As it turns out, their old neighbor from the village used to rent the same house that they are in right now, which has luckily allowed them to stay here and delay the outstanding rent. The food from the local store on credit was also possible due to their neighbors’ connections, which know and have credit with the shopkeeper. As harsh as these living quarters may be, they were able to settle here and look for new opportunities thanks to their connections. Unfortunately this is not the reality for many people. For Shahida and her family however, social networks have proven to be a key advantage in successfully migrating to the slums of Narayanganj.

Before leaving their house I ask Shahida what she will do if things don’t work out for her family in Narayanganj. She then tells me that they can always return to their house in their village as they left it empty and locked up. But with no arable land to go back to, it seems that they’ll have no other choice but to make it work somehow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let's save Puran Dhaka!

by: Taimur Islam

On June 3rd a fire at Nawab Katra, Nimtali in Old Dhaka (Puran Dhaka) claimed the life of at least 117 people, mostly women and children, injuring hundreds more. It seems that the fire was caused by the explosion of a chemical warehouse situated on the ground floor of a five-store residential building. As mentioned in the articles of the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, people were trapped inside the building as there was no emergency exit. Because of its location, the fire brigades were not able to get there fast enough. When they finally arrived, the building had already been so engulfed by flames that they were ordered to stay back. It would have been very dangerous for the rescue operation to simply enter the building.

It is estimated that 80% of residential houses in Old Dhaka have some kind of factory or warehouse on the ground floors and residential flats on other floors. Most of these warehouses or factories are either of chemicals or plastic materials. It is also reported that 50,000 houses of Old Dhaka are risky for living. Most of the houses in Old Dhaka grew in clusters. The roads are very narrow making access to the buildings very difficult. That is what happened in the Nimtali incident. It was very difficult to rescue the victims. (Author: Nadia Goodman)

Source: The Daily Star Newspaper - Bangladesh

The following letter is written by the architect Taimur Islam from the Urban Study Group in Dhaka. His letter is an appeal to the government and international agencies to preserve the very few historic buildings that remain in Dhaka city today.

Dear Friends,

In the wake of the Nimtali tragedy, which took away so many lives, Puran Dhaka now faces a new crisis. The old buildings of Puran Dhaka are about to become the scapegoat of this tragedy. Putting the blame squarely on the historic urban fabric of the old city the government, is planning to demolish most of the old buildings in Puran Dhaka.

Historic building on Lalmohan Shaha Street

Different department and agencies of the government, have declared their determination to demolish most of the old buildings in Puran Dhaka, in order to make the old town absolutely safe (sic). Surprisingly, citing the success of Singapore model, a section of the scholars and urban planners, as well as REHAB, the national association of the apartment developers have been pushing for a 60’s style urban renewal approach; they are proposing for a block by block redevelopment of the old city, barring the important monuments .The REHAB is expected to take the responsibility of the implementation.During the last seven years , while Urban Study Group has been running the campaign called Save Puran Dhaka for the preservation of the historic properties of Old Dhaka, we have never faced a crisis of greater magnitude.

Another historic building on Lalmohan Shaha Street

Whatever progress which has been made regarding protection of the old buildings of Puran Dhaka now runs the risk of being totally reversed and undone. In 2004, the government was planning to demolish 90 old buildings in Shakhari Bazaar only but now they are talking about all of Puran Dhaka, which means about 2000 buildings now face the threat of being demolished, completely wiped away from the surface of the earth.

A listed building on Hrishikesh Dasd Road

Making things worse, of late there has been a sharp increase in the construction activity in the old town. By offering very lucrative deals small developers many of whom are not even member sof REHAB, have managed to persuade individual owners to pull down the old buildings and replace them with new apartment blocks. In different lanes and by lanes of the old city construction work is going on in full swing, rapidly eroding its historic urban fabric.

Worse still, today the media is also somewhat divided on this issue; like others they also support preserving the monuments but they are a little wary about the urban areas.

Shankha Nidhi Lodge, one of the 9 buildings from the colonial period designated by the cultural ministry, is on the list of unsafe buildings recently published by DCC

But right now we have to stop the juggernaut of destruction before it can strip old Dhaka of its precious adornments. We‘d like to reiterate our position on the old buildings; i.e. given the architectural and historic significance of the old buildings and areas (streets) of Puran Dhaka, spanning 5/6 centuries, with a proper management regime in place we can try for the nomination of Puran Dhaka as a world heritage site. Which will not only improve/enhance the image of Dhaka city but also help to make it better place in terms of quality of environment, not to speak of the benefit it can bring for the economy through tourism.

Another historic building in Sutrapur

We urge you to raise the issue wherever possible; let’s try to persuade the government to revaluate their step and protect our beloved old city, Puran Dhaka.

Let’s Save Puran Dhaka.

Taimur Islam

Please contact the Urban Study Group at for further information or heritage walks in Old Dhaka

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Welcome to my community

by: Sonu Rani Das

Welcome to my community. I come from a community called Dalits (Untouchables). Dalits are not created by God, this idea is created by people and society and goes back to the creation of the caste system within Hindu religion.

My community people are all Hindu and we all follow the Hindu religion. My community people are very frank, sociable and hospitable people. My community is very poor and most of our community people live below the poverty line. Many of us work for the Pourashava (Municipality) as cleaners, where they earn very little money (2200 Taka (~28 US$) per month). This is why we can’t get the same opportunities like other people. Most of us are illiterate and don’t understand the importance of basic rights we have like education, health and sanitation, housing, good food, entertainment etc.

Illiteracy is one of the problems and another problem is discrimination. Some people understand that there are good and bad living conditions but they can’t escape their bad living conditions because they face too much discrimination. For example, if Dalit children go to school the teachers do not teach them properly and the classmates’ behavior towards them is horrible. My community children are very intelligent but sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to go to school. In the past, when they tried to go to school the school doors were closed to them. This is now better in urban areas but sometimes still the case in rural areas. Now some of them go to school, college, even university, but they don’t honestly say: "I am Dalit". They say:"We are Hindu".

Nobody in my community has their own land but we stay on somebody else’s land. As many of us work for the Pourashava the Pourashava selects one place and we stay there. If any one does not work for the Pourashava anymore they lose their house. That’s why at least one family leader or family member has to work for the Pourashava. Some people in my community are Government employees and their salary is quite good. But most of my community people work for the Pourashava and the salary is not enough. Very few people try to find more jobs so they can get additional money. But most of them earn money by selling rubbish like alcohol, ganja, heroine etc. So when it gets dark in my community a lot of unknown faces come and they buy this type of drugs. Now my community is full of noise and horrible. These people harass our girls and intimidate them. I have no words to explain how bad this situation is.

In my community all of us face problems but girls face more problems than boys. If girls are born, the family members are usually not happy. They think girls mean a burden for us. The parents give all opportunities to boys not to girls. Boys are allowed to go to school, girls not. They think a girl’s education means a waste of money. They always say you are suitable for the kitchen and household chores. Now quite a few boys are educated but only very few girls are. I think if young people get the opportunity to higher education it is possible to solve the problems of Dalits.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sonu's story

by: Juan Carvajal and Kirthi Ramesh

In the coming months we will have more contributions from communi­ty members themselves. Sonu Rani Das, a 19 year-old girl from the Sweeper Colony in Narayanganj, is the first to contri­bute to our blog. She will be sharing her stories with us from time to time, writing on pertinent issues facing her community on a daily basis. Here is her story…

Sonu (pronounced Shonu) is already awaiting us as we arrive at the Sweeper Colony, which is centrally located, surrounded by tall buildings on all sides. Without much formal introduction, the highly energetic young lady of 19 takes us by the hand and pulls us into her friend’s house where we sit down on the bed and listen to her story.

Sonu inside her house

Like most residents of the Sweeper Co­lony, Sonu’s parents are employed as cleaners by the Pourashava. Growing up she has had a hard time explaining to them that she did not want to get married early like her friends, but rat­her continue studying and eventually work with her community. This was not a simple endeavor in a society where “a girl’s education is still considered a waste of money”, she tells us. She does not blame them for thinking this, saying, “My parents are not educated”. But in the end her brother was able to go to school, so why shouldn’t she? Determined to get an education, Sonu explained that she was willing to get a job in order to finance her education.

In 2006, Sonu successfully completed 10th grade and went to college whe­re she specialized in commerce. After graduating in 2008 she was chosen to participate in a 6-month global ex­change in Caithness, Scotland. This opportunity came after she was disco­vered in her community by the chief executive of a citizen’s initiative, who sent her to an assessment for the ex­change where she was selected as one of nine Bangladeshi participants from a total of 9000 applicants worldwide. In Scotland she worked in a primary school with children and was involved in volunteer work such as tree planting and explaining her culture. As a result, she was able to improve her English. Her final project was a theater piece with the school children on the Hindu Diwali festival. From the group of Ban­gladeshi exchange volunteers, Sonu was elected by her peers to speak at the Scottish Parliament.

Sonu’s next plan is to go to university either in Dhaka or Narayanganj. She has already applied and is current­ly awaiting her results. Her greatest wish is to study sociology and acquire knowledge to understand her commu­nity better. Otherwise, she would like to build on her college background and continue studying commerce and ma­nagement.

In her free time Sonu volunteers for an NGO. She likes it because it helps her to better understand how such orga­nizations work and come to grips with community work. Apart from that she also provides after-school tutoring in English, Bangla and Math to children in her community.

Sonu tells us that today the community’s initial skepticism has given way to prai­se from many neighbours and friends. This has also led to her parent’s gro­wing recognition of her achievements.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Creating space vertically

by: Juan Carvajal and Kirthi Ramesh

As we squeeze through the alleys of the Sweeper Colony, Sonu, a girl from the community, shows us some tiny rooms where often 2 or 3 generations crowd together every night to sleep. Walking further through the tight pathways, we suddenly notice a narrow two-storey building towering above the one storied houses. Curious about its function, we de­cide to take a closer look. Arriving there we meet Ajab Lal and his son, Rajak Lal, who are the tenants of the house. They make a gesture inviting us to climb up all the way up to the rooftop. After tackling the grips of iron jutting out from the wall in irregular intervals, an excellent view of the community awaits us.

The rooftops of the Sweeper Colony in Narayanganj

Twelve years ago, Ajab Lal built a small room above the narrow passage adjacent to the neighbor’s house, just big enough for two people to sleep in. By that time his daughters had already been married and moved in with their in-laws, but his sons were yet to be married. While girls traditionally move to their in-laws house after marriage, boys stay with their pa­rents. Sensing that the 7m² room on the ground floor would not be enough to ac­commodate him, his wife, his two grown-up sons and their families, Ajab decided to enlarge their living space. With no space around the house the only possibility was to build upwards, on top of the hallway as their own roof is slanted and shared with the neighboring house.

Ajab Lal

This was not an easy undertaking. Ajab first had to get permission from the Pou­rashava who owns the land and builts the houses. He approached the chair person of the community to discuss the matter and then went to the Pourashava who ap­proved his request. His next challenge was actually building the new upstairs room. With little outside help it took him about 20 days to carry out this project. Today his newly married younger son sleeps in the small room on the upper floor while he and his wife live on the ground floor. His older son, who lived in that room before, moved to another house nearby with his wife and their three children.

The vertical extension of the house

For many community members, however, the reality is still a crowded one. This is not unusual in Bangladesh where the over­all population density is one of the highest in the world with 1075 persons per km². In fact, in slums the population density is about 200 times higher, despite the fact that most slum dwellings are only single storey, as in the case of the Sweeper Colo­ny. Population density in the Sweeper Co­lony is 150 times higher than the national average, with as many as 168 172 people per km². This can lead to situations whe­re 15 people live within 8m2. In return for their work as cleaners for the Pourashava no rent is charged, which is the major re­ason why most families stay despite conti­nuing population growth.

Some community members tell us that they are all very proud of Ajab’s intelli­gence but, for various reasons such as financial constraints, lack of knowledge on construction work etc., so far no one else in the Sweeper Colony has taken up this idea to vertically extend their houses.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The threat of flames

by: Lenka Vojtova

Slums in Bangladesh could be defined by constant and diverse insecurities. In many other countries, the term ‘slum’ is very often used for informal settlements simply because of the lack of construction permits, high density or shelters situated on land not declared as a building site. Most of the slums I have visited in Bangladesh, however, suffer from every indecent living condition one can imagine.

I perceive two different natures of challenges to be faced. Inconveniences falling into the first category are the visible environmental conditions - insufficient or missing sanitation, non-existent drainage system, overwhelmingly high density both of shelters as well as their dwellers, high levels of pollution, and the enumeration could continue even further. The challenges of the second category levitate under the surface, though indiscernible by observing eyes, omnipresent in the mind of the slum dwellers and the most complex to overcome. It is the insecurity of tenure, the fear of eviction and the threat of fire.

As a blaze gutted 47 houses in Rally Bagan, a slum of Narayanganj Municipality, the calendar dated December 24, 2009, and it was two o’clock in the morning. Three people fell victim to the fire; others woke up just in time to save themselves by fleeing their houses. There was neither the time to rescue any belongings nor to think about taking the savings underneath the mattresses or out of the safes as the fire engulfed quickly. The morning saw over 200 flat broke survivors, possessing not more than a single saree or lungi.

Most of the belongings have been burned to ashes.

After 173 years of existence, Rally Bagan is said to be the oldest settlement in Narayanganj and thus, compared to the majority of Bangladesh’s slums, its appearance differs slightly. Already in 1907, a British Jute company had raised brick-made houses for their workers of Bihari and Bengali origin. The houses in each block are of the same age and have a common roof of corrugated iron. Usually, it is light building materials that allow flames to spread quickly through dense slums. Although not obvious at first sight, this was also the cause of the large scale of Rally Bagan’s dreadful incident: the ceiling under the A-shaped tin roof is made of bamboo, which enabled the damaging flames to spread quickly over the adjacent shanties. It was in this fashion that one complete block of houses burned down.

A map of Rally Bagan - the block affected by the fire is highlighted in orange

It took two hours for the fire fighting units to put out the flames whose cause was yet to be investigated. Immediately after the incident, the assumption was that the fire might have originated from a mosquito coil. One month on, none of the neighbours see either the coil, or the electric short circuit or the stove that remained inside the house of the fire-origin as a feasible causation. Few indications suggest a deliberately harmful act, but nobody dares to speak openly about such suspicions. The only words spoken are “Only the victims could tell us the answer...”.

The mystery of sudden combustion is an issue threatening slum dwellers worldwide. It is not only the flammability of the shelters, the narrow slum lanes often not more than two thirds of a meter, the dependence on open fires and the extraordinary density enhancing the fire outbreaks. Slum fires are often anything but accidents. Intended arson can accelerate the eviction process, bypassing the necessity of an official demolition order and reducing the expense of clearing the area as well as providing reimbursements.

Regardless of the cause, however, it is always the poor urban dwellers that are left behind most often without any means of support – neither material nor psychological. During the past six weeks, I have visited the affected Rally Bagan plot three times and each visit has been more disillusioning than the previous one – simply because nothing has changed, nothing moved towards any improvement.

A widow of ten years, Banu Hussain, has lived in Rally Bagan since the very first moment she saw the light of this world. She works in the garments industry earning 2000-2500Tk a month. Her 17-year old son, Sadaim, suffers panic attacks since the fire outbreak. He was working in a factory, earning 1600Tk a month, but his trauma has made it difficult to continue his occupation. Like many of those affected by the fire, both of them are confused by the disorder their daily life turned into.

A puzzled look into the interior of a burned down house.

Pori, her husband and their four children were lucky to find shelter at their relatives’ place. For an outsider, the solidarity among slum dwellers might seem very weak, but after a few questions and a deeper insight it became obvious that neighbours help each other out as much as they are able to. Immediately after the incident, they shared food, helped with basic cleaning and those who could spare some space offered shelter for the time being. Pori explained to me the community’s awareness about its man-power potential to contribute to rebuilding. As most of them have a paid job, they are also ready to take loans. Family representatives meet every week to reach common decisions on steps to be taken next. But even though the longing for a re-established day to day life is strong, the dwellers are understandably debilitated by the disaster and can’t bundle their strength and potential only by themselves. What is missing at the moment is someone to shoulder the responsibility and take over the overall coordination.

It is a puzzle to the academic world, how people can live with hardly any money or any self-produced goods. But they do manage, and the stories of our blog illustrate some impressive ways. However, there are situations requiring a strengthened external intervention. And the consequences of damaging fire outbreaks are one of them...

Link to newspaper article in the Daily Star (25/12/2009):

Monday, January 25, 2010

Migrants’ tales – Mixed fortunes in the city: Part III

Diverging levels of poverty in the Slum
Like Monin and Ahsan, Dulal also left his village called Chadpur some time ago in the search for better income opportunities. His wife and their 5 and 9 year old sons joined him after some years in order to have access to better health facilities and to offer them the chance to go to school. In their small hut, they have a broad bed which is used by the whole family for sleeping, eating and living on. Dim light floods the room from a single bulb in their room. Besides the bed, there is a commode with dishes inside and an old TV on top. Having these facilities, Dulal's family is better off than many other people in the area who do not have the means to maintain such a lifestyle. Right beside their house I leave the slum and enter directly into a lively street. Not far from here is a school, where many of the children in the slum go. On each side of the street, I see hawkers working, tailors with their sewing machines and road side vendors selling cloth or vegetables from the fields outside of Narayanganj. A large variety of options offer work places compared to the original villages of the people.
Dulal has developed his business as a tea-vendor working at the bazaar, after starting first as a blue-collar worker in local factories and the construction business. Compared to life in his village, he and his family now have a far better standard of living. Thus, living in the slum does not always go hand in hand with deprivation and marginalization. For a significant number it really does offer a way out of poverty through access to the labor market. It is not surprising therefore that so many people risk poor living conditions and sanitation facilities to gamble for a better life.

(A tailor at the side of a street: Many slum inhabitants locate their businesses closely to the slum areas)

Migration to the capital of Bangladesh
Unlike in many other parts of Bangladesh, the people living in the Slum are not very likely to migrate further than to Narayanganj. Even though Dhaka is the fastest growing city in Asia with 600,000 people every year, joining the 14 Mio inhabitants of the capital and it appears lucrative to many who are willing to give up their homes, most do not consider it as a feasible option as the living conditions are too expensive to afford.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Migrants' tales - Mixed fortunes in the city: Part II

Family separation as a consequence of migration
With this distressing story in mind, I met another family who gave up their original livelihoods on their quest to find a better life in the slum. Ahsan Habib has lived in the slum for one year now. His wife and son have recently joined him after enduring ten months of long distance travel from Patuakhali to Narayanganj, which can often take more than ten hours by bus. Initially, he had problems in making enough money to feed his wife and one year old son. He therefore made the decision to leave his parents' house and come to the bigger city of Narayanganj, - following the example of his elder cousins and other friends - he quickly found a job as a construction worker. He often works more than 12 hours a day. Notwithstanding the physical burden Ahsan faces every day, he is content with his present situation. He says that his rent is low and his living relatively secure. He seems to be grateful to be with his wife and his son around him. While talking to us, he played with his little child on his legs. His eyes suggested ambivalent feelings; pride for his son on the one side but concern for the future of his family on the other. Still there are many unexpressed problems. Money is not a stable factor in the monthly income. His family often has to shorten the amount of meals they eat a day. Children in the area are often in poor health and face numerous health risks such as respiratory deceases from indoor cooking fires. The limited number of toilets in the slum (approx. 50 people for 1 toilet) is probably the most significant issue in explaining the very poor hygienic conditions, which are especially severe for women who cannot use facilities elsewhere during the work day. However, despite all this, going back to his village is not an option for his family as Narayanganj provides him at least with the opportunity of earning some money.

Structural changes contribute to the process of migration
In a similar position to Ahsan is Monin, who also left his family in Patuakhali to work in Narayanganj. For the last six years he has frequently made the journey to his home to see his family while investing lots of money and time. Monin is not only faced with the burden of living without his family and his three children, but also with the two lives he has to permanently lead in order to feed his family. In some periods of the year, he is still able to get a job in agriculture around his village but for the rest of the time he opts for life in Narayanganj with its comparatively better opportunities for work. Thus agriculture with its fluctuating seasons and incomes as well as the small share of land per household has apparently lost its ability to provide support to his family throughout the year and migration is the best remaining livelihood option.
Author: Carolin Braun