SOS Children's Villages has been present in Bangladesh since 1973 and started supporting families and children in the north-western city of Rajshahi in 1979. Poverty is widespread in this densely-populated southern Asian country, and political instability and environmental factors cause further misery.
A region with one of the highest rates of poverty in Bangladesh
A smiling SOS family (photo: SOS archives)
Rajshahi is located about 200 km from the capital city of Dhaka, and very close to the border with India. The region has important historical and cultural sites, which attract many tourists. The local population lives mainly off agriculture - the climate is particularly good for growing mangoes and lychees.
Rajshahi is sometimes called the "Silk City", due to the fact that it is an important producer of silk in Bangladesh. Rajshahi silk is famous for its excellent quality and is mostly used to make saris.
The Rajshahi region has one of the highest rates of poverty in Bangladesh: an estimated 35.7 per cent of the population are poor. Children are the first victims of this harsh reality. As their parents struggle to meet their basic needs, many do not get enough food and they are often forced to work in high-risk jobs. Another great danger is that they will fall into the hands of the local organised crime gangs involved in smuggling firearms and drugs. Many children have already lost parental care due to these complex social and economic circumstances. Countless more are at risk unless they are provided with appropriate support.
Children in need of a loving home and families in need of support
When the War of Liberation ended in 1971 many children were left without parental care. SOS Children's Villages approached the responsible ministry, who welcomed the proposal to support families in need and to provide loving homes to children who had lost parental care. Rajshahi was the second Bangladeshi location where we became active. Our main aim is to support families so that they can stay together: we provide material assistance, training and support until they are able to provide for themselves. The education of children is a top priority for us. Given the high illiteracy rate in the city - over fifty per cent according to some estimates – it is vital that families are given all the assistance they need so that they can send their children to school.
What we do in Rajshahi
A girl from a local family is able to attend school thanks to a scholarship from SOS Children's Villages (photo: SOS archives)
SOS Children's Villages works closely with the local population. In order to support vulnerable families in the neighbourhood, we offer family strengthening programmes which, in collaboration with local agencies, aim to ensure that children have access to essential educational, health and nutritional services. We also run a day-care centre for children of working mothers, or those who are receiving training. For example they can attend our sewing and embroidery classes, allowing them to acquire useful skills in an area famous for its silk. Our health clinic is open to the local community: we run regular vaccination programmes, treat families and children and provide them with advice on family planning and preventing illnesses. These services are vital in a region with low life expectancy and immunisation rates.
When children can no longer stay with their families they can find a loving home with one of the 15 SOS families, who can care for up to 150 children. SOS mothers have received training to provide a stable and loving environment for the children in their care. The children attend the local school which means they become friends with children from the neighbourhood.
As children grow older they move to the SOS Youth Programme while they attend further education or training. With the help of qualified staff, the young adults learn to shoulder responsibilities and make their own decisions.