Brent Morgan: NZ aid will help relieve Bangladesh poverty

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Suitable care is not available in the public or private health system in Chittagong. Photo / Thinkstock
Suitable care is not available in the public or private health system in Chittagong. Photo / Thinkstock

The Bangladesh city of Chittagong has been on the radar of Kiwi sports fans as the Black Caps play their T20 World Cup pool games there and strive to make the semis and final in the capital, Dhaka.

Little known to many New Zealanders, Chittagong is actually Bangladesh's second largest city, with 6.5 million residents, and its port is one of the busiest in the Indian Ocean basin.

Few Kiwis will be aware New Zealand taxpayer funds and donations from Leprosy Mission NZ (LMNZ) supporters over the next five years are set to boost the economic self-reliance, and physical and social wellbeing of almost 3500 of the city's most marginalised people.

This builds on 10 years of investment in Chittagong by LMNZ and the NZ Government Aid Programme - in addition to good work done by other Kiwi development charities over the years. And concurrently, in the coming weeks LMNZ supporters will be donating to another project that is providing cure, care and restoration for severely disadvantaged people in the remote Hill Tracks region to the east of the city.

So how will New Zealand money and expertise boost economic sustainability and restore lives in Chittagong?

More than 9500 people in the project areas of the city and immediate rural districts, although cured of leprosy, continue to be directly affected by it.

More than 2500 of these people are physically disabled and susceptible to a range of health problems that can lead to further disability if not well managed.

Suitable care is not available in the public or private health system. Others who are not disabled are still subject to significant social stigma and prejudice, meaning they and their families are often pushed to the fringes of society and are far less able to make their own way.

The Chittagong people-led development Project will work with 225 self-help groups that will give 3375 members improved physical, economic and social status. The project will provide training, technical advice and mentoring for members to identify and run small businesses or upskill to find better jobs.

Groups will begin as savings groups, and once their commitment and ability to make regular repayments is clear, the project will provide revolving loans to fund new or expanded businesses.

Over recent years, self-help groups have increasingly taken responsibility to direct their own development. They will all sit within one community-based organisation (CBO). Our New Zealand-funded project will enhance this autonomy and over the next five years, income from the group's activities will form the revenue base for a sustainably self-funded CBO.

Improvements in health and social inclusion will occur through initiatives such as disability management training, specialist physiotherapy and occupational therapy, mobility aids and rights advocacy to ensure group members pursue entitlements and services.

The project has a budget of just over $1.5 million, with two-thirds coming from the NZ Aid Programme and the balance from Leprosy Mission supporters.

Soon the glow of hosting the 2014 T20 championship will dim for cricket-mad Bangladeshis. But in years to come, thousands of Chittagong residents will be thankful for the part Kiwis played to support their efforts to be economically self-reliant, healthy and hit poverty for six.

Brent Morgan is executive director of the Leprosy Mission New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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