German First Lady Eva Luise Koehler visits UNICEF-supported projects in Bangladesh
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 24 October 2008 – “I have to choose between being hungry or going to school.” These sentiments, as expressed by a 12-year old girl who works in a rice husking mill in Bangladesh will never be forgotten by Germany's First Lady, Eva Luise Koehler.
“I have met many people living in rural communities and in urban slums,” said Ms. Koehler. “I was struck by the hardship people face in their daily life and, at the same time, their energy and capacity to get organized and improve their living conditions.
Ms. Koehler visited Bangladesh last week in her capacity as the patroness of the German National Committee for UNICEF. She was accompanied by Chairman of UNICEF German National Committee Juergen Hereaus.
No child left behind
At the end of her four-day visit, Ms. Koehler called for all children to have access to education, without exception, so that no child will be left behind.
In Dhaka, the capital city, Ms. Koehler visited a UNICEF-supported education project that has been adapted to children working in urban areas. The children here are provided with basic education during a 40-month course, which helps them gain the skills and knowledge they need to get better employment opportunities.
Global Handwashing Day
The visit also coincided with Global Handwashing Day and the First Lady took the opportunity to interact with children and participate in a handwashing exercise with them.
Ms. Koehler was particularly interested in how UNICEF’s water and sanitation programme is being implemented, as Bangladesh is home to one of the largest UNICEF-supported water, hygiene and sanitation programmes in the world, targeting approximately 30 million people.
In Lakkhipur, a rural community situated about a two-hour drive from Dhaka, Ms. Koehler met with a Community Hygiene Promoter named Shahin, who organized a meeting with community members and accompanied them through their village to take note of the various problems.
Access to safe water a problem
On the tour of Lakkhipur, Shahin noted that 13 households did not have any latrines and even though 18 did have latrines, they were unhygienic. Access to safe water was also a problem. One water point was contaminated with arsenic and others were far away.
Together, the villagers designed an action plan and agreed on the location for the new water point. They also made plans to convert all latrines into hygienic latrines and build new ones for these who did not have any.
‘One can see the difference’
After six months, Shahin is proud to show that the situation has clearly improved in the village. A new water point has been built, while the arsenic-contaminated well has been properly marked with red paint to alert people to the risk. New latrines were also built with the community contribution.
“People have become much more aware of the importance of hygiene and of everyday behaviors, such as washing hands,” explained Shahin. “One can see the difference. Now, latrines are regularly cleaned; no garbage lies around.”
Helping girls speak freely
In a nearby village, Ms. Koehler attended a group discussion with adolescent girls during which they were able to speak freely about hygiene issues. The girls said they often feel too shy to talk about such things and as a result, they do not know what is safe or clean.
“Before we joined, we were not well informed,” said 14-year-old Poli. “Now we are trying to practice what we have learned here.”
The group discusses many topics, such as early marriage and HIV/AIDS. They say being in the group gives them to courage to speak up.
“I think UNICEF is playing a crucial role in empowering people so they can themselves find solutions to their problems,” said Ms. Koehler.