RTI changing rural lives
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
THE Right to Information (RTI) Act, which completes nine months in the statute books in November, is reaching the rural areas too, where villagers have access to services provided by different government (GO) and non-government organisations (NGO).
The Uttar Shilmandi (Daripara) village in Narsingdi district is one such example. Most of the villagers are either marginal farmers or manual labourers. In view of a variety of structural disadvantages, i.e. illiteracy, malnutrition, and social complications, they fail to progress. After the enactment of the RTI Act, people are being provided with necessary information on rural development programs, agricultural extension and utilities as well as information on social development, such as health, education, finance, legal etc.
The Chanderhat Ganokendra, a community learning centre established by Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), a major NGO, has been addressing the information needs of the rural population and spreading awareness about the Act. As a result, villagers are gradually waking up to the power of RTI.
Chanderhat provides "one-stop" access to various information resources to benefit the disadvantaged community. "Villagers have started seeking information related to their problems," DAM Regional Coordinator Tapan Kumar Sarker said.
The centre provides linkage services of government and non-government organisations. It has become the heart of the poor community. From here, they get easy access to different services.
During a visit to the Ganokendra, this correspondent noticed that villagers, most of whom were ultra-poor, had lined up to receive services from various centres located at the Ganokendro. The centres included an immunisation centre run by the government's Health Directorate, a nutrition centre of Vard, a satellite clinic of the government's Family Planning Directorate and Surjomukhi Mohila Unnyan Dal, which is managed by Village Development Society.
People learn about their rights, such as their right to health, work, legal system, and various public services including VGF card, elderly allowance and widow allowance, said Hasina Begum and Masuda Akhter, two members of the Ganokendro.
Inspired residents of the village questioned the school administration about the studies of their children. The school administration immediately replied to their queries.
Chanderhat helps people get their children admitted to schools, discourages school dropouts, improves the standard of literacy, sets up sanitary latrines, prevents child marriage and dowry, provides health care service, helps in birth and marriage registration, and motivates people to improve the social atmosphere.
Its activities are being supervised by an executive committee elected from among its members, 60% of whom are women. People's drama, essay competition, poetry recital, debate, rally are also held at the centre, where people also bring out wall magazines.
The Papri Community Resource Centre (CRC), another resource centre at Moddhya Shilamandi, also renders similar services to the rural poor. This correspondent observed that a group of youth were undergoing an elementary computer training course for free to increase their capacity for employment.
This has been possible due to launching of ACCESS Project of DAM, which is funded by CORDAID of the Netherlands.
The project was launched in January, 2007, and will continue till December, 2009. The program is being implemented through 553 Ganokendros and 23 CRCs of 44 unions in eight upazilas of eight districts. A total of 55,300 people are being benefited under the project, resulting in improvement in their lifestyle.
Earlier, people had a tough time in getting VGD-VGF cards, elderly allowance, disabled allowance and other essential services in the project areas. But this year, 3,525 people got VGD cards, 34, 216 VGF cards, 7,048 elderly allowance, 859 disabled allowance while 12,673 got elementary education. Not only that, 671 school dropouts were readmitted to school and 25 child marriages were prevented.
Apart from this, 227 received computer training, 47 attained mobile servicing skills, 15 were imparted honey cultivation training, 6,311 others were provided with necessary information relating to health, agriculture and livelihood, 129 got government forms, 660 were connected to service-oriented organisations through cell phone and 240 others were provided with results of public examinations, job information and e-mailing through Internet services.
Moreover, special programs were implemented in six villages of six upazilas in nine different areas with a view to create illiteracy-free villages.
Computer training was imparted to villagers through 23 community resource centres of 23 unions in six districts.
The project has created a positive change in the backward areas.
According to ACCESS Project Coordinator Komol Kumar Joarder, this is a way to empower poor villagers. It is like a lifeline to rural Bangladesh. DAM has shown great potential to transform the life of rural society, he said.
Z.A.M.Khairuzzaman is a journalist.