A letter to UKRI from Bangladesh
We heard with dismay that the UKRI research budget is facing massive cuts. Our team in Bangladesh wanted to demonstrate some of the ways that UKRI financing has made a difference and what will be lost should it be taken away.
By colleagues at JPG School of Public Health at BRAC University
In Bangladesh working together with communities has given us a better understanding of the ground realities of people in informal urban settlements. We understand their problems better and we have been able to build a good working relationship and trust with the community. ARISE is a research program that touches many lives. We’ve highlighted a few areas of work that have really made us proud.
Urban slums in Dhaka are made up of many different sections. These sections are not unified and some are better served than others. Some of these sections are safe while others are not. Having a map allows the community to take initiatives and understand their slum and its entirety. We have supported the community to conduct GIS mapping.
These maps will be placed in the community clubs, where many residents can access them and they will be shared via mobile phone. They can use the maps to identify areas where services are not available, so when a new NGO comes in with an intervention such as building a school or health camp, they can look at these maps to identify these areas and thus reduce service duplication.
One of our co-researchers said that the map will help the firemen navigate through the community in the event of a fire incident helping other NGOs and community people find the exact location of different services.
“Fire incidents are common in our area. When a fire breaks out in our community, different people give different directions to the firemen because of which they often cannot reach the affected area in time. Now, with this map, we can easily direct the firemen to the exact location of fire and hope they are able to reach there sooner.”
Capacity development of co-researchers for better livelihood opportunities
ARISE approaches – such as co-producing GIS maps of our study sites – have been carried out with co-researchers from the community. We had thought that this process would help build the capacity of youths and prepare them for better opportunities for their future. Our co-researchers consider being part of the team as a learning and capacity-building opportunity and that the knowledge and skills they gain through their involvement in this research will equip them to obtain better employment.
Within a month of working with ARISE, one of our co-researchers, Nishika Samaddar Tumpa was offered a job at BRAC Urban Development Program as a community organizer for Shyampur. She is grateful to ARISE Bangladesh and said:
“Working in ARISE made me have more empathy and find ways to have more solidarity with marginalised groups. In addition, the training and reflexivity sessions made me more confident and all these ultimately helped me during the job interview process. It is because of the opportunity given to me as a co-researcher, I have this job today. My work is also being strengthened as I can now visit the marginalized households, feed in their needs and priorities to BRAC Urban Development Program and other NGOs in our area.”
Violence and facilitating referrals
We co-organize dialogues and meetings with community members and governance actors where community members are able to share their experiences and raise issues which need to be addressed. For example, in one of our community inception meetings, a mother helplessly wept for her child who was raped in their own community, and asked for help. The ARISE Bangladesh team linked the woman with BLAST (Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust) and she is now getting legal support free of charge. Moreover, we have also linked her up with a psychosocial support institute named Moner Bondhu who provide telephone counselling free of charge.
Community engagement to inform policy-makers
We link up the community with policy-makers such as chief health officers, councillors, slum development officers and ward members. These meetings serve as a platform for informal settlement residents to have their voices heard, it helps them realize their rights to their own health and wellbeing, and thus enable and encourage them to take action in their own interest.
In one of the meetings a community member said:
“Through your research, if we are able to present our needs and talk about our rights to the government, then the residents of our community would be benefited.”
Due to ARISE, we have begun working and building relationships with policy-makers who have emphasized that they are open to learning and are trying to address some of the community’s needs and priorities on the ground. Given the COVID-19 situation, it is important to continue this engagement because the government is willing to improve interventions and responsiveness in the informal settlements. We will continue to work with them to bring out community voices.
Uptake of COVID-19 vaccination in informal settlements
The evidence being generated by ARISE is key in informing policy decisions. For example, our observations, findings, reflections and feedback from data collection and community meetings are shared with the BRAC Urban Development Program. This helps them improve and modify their activities to better suit the needs of the community. Our findings also feed into the strategic planning and decision making of other organizations. We are currently undertaking qualitative research in different sites to understand the low uptake of vaccination in the country. The research is already gathering data on community’s understandings (including gender, stigma and other factors) as well as any misinformation that exists around the national COVID-19 vaccination roll-out program. These data will be shared with key stakeholders to help them design responsive communication on COVID-19 vaccination in urban informal settlements.
Urban digital platform: Inter-slum cross learning
An innovative strategy has been planned as a result of the ARISE Responsive Fund to provide an online learning platform provided for Community Development Organizations. As part of this project BRAC Urban Development Program will pilot a virtual cross-learning exchange where communities from three selected slums in three cities will meet and exchange learning and experiences. In meetings, community organizers of one slum will virtually connect with community organizers in the other two slums through tablet computers. This peer learning and sharing system will provide a sustainable system longer term to keep each other informed of innovative community-led initiatives and apply or adapt relevant initiatives in their own slum. This will lead to solidarity and unity across these slums when voicing their priorities and needs as a unified group when required to the councillors, ward members and NGOs.