Korean Students Experience Life in Slums
by AM Sakil Faizullah
Dhaka, 23 August 2011: For Dolly Ahkter, the makeshift stalls and houses of the Rupnagar slum are home but for the eager group of Korean students following her through the narrow laneways, they’re a new and eye-opening experience.
Dolly is one of 15 young hygiene monitors who live in the Rupnagar slum in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. The 22-year-old is part of a UNICEF-supported programme, which raises awareness about proper hygiene practices and as she shows the group of six students around, she explains part of her role.
“We teach residents to take on safe hygiene practices like cutting their nails, safely disposing of garbage, boiling water and cleaning their homes and surrounding areas,” she says.
The students are part of the '2011 Global Youth Leadership Training Program,'which aims to inform young people on global issues and foster better relations between countries. It is supported by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and the Seoul Youth Center for Cultural Exchange.
After a short briefing session about UNICEF’s work in Bangladesh, the teamvisited the Rupnagar slum to see how the UNICEF-supported Mirpur-Rupnagar Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Upgrading project was helping improve lives.
Doly and her fellow hygiene monitors are just one part of the project. Other aspects include the supply of clean and legal water, the building and renovation of new latrines and a development of a hygiene shop that caters to the community.
The students were shown community water points, legally connected by the government-run Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA). One water point serves 25 households, at 60-80 taka (1 USD) per household each month. Prior to UNICEF’s intervention many families were sourcing their water from illegal connections or contaminated makeshift wells.
“Before UNICEF interventioneach household used to pay 150 to 200 taka each month to for an illegal connection,” says Monirul Alam, from UNICEF Bangladesh’s Water, Environment and Sanitation section. “We struggled to get the legal connection. We had to advocate very hard and negotiate with WASA to cut through the middle men.”
After the water points, the students were shown the community latrinesand bathing facilities as well as the low-cost hand washing device adjacent to the latrines. ICDDRB introduced low cost liquid hand washing agent, which was found effective for the promotion of hand washing practices.
They also visited the slum’s hygiene shop: a small store set up to sell cleaning products and sanitary napkins to hundreds of slum residents. The napkins are manufactured by young girls from the slum and since starting out the girls have successfully marketed their product to near-by schools and garment factories and now field orders for thousands of napkins at a time. What small profit the store makes is then put into a community bank account.
“This is an exceptional learning experience for us. Despite huge challenges in the slums, with the support of UNICEF, adolescents are working together to ensure basic services in the community” says Lee Kyung Yeop, one of the coordinators of the student group.
At the very end of the visit, the students were taken to the neighbouring‘Jhilpar Slum,’ which barely receives any support from any organisation. Whilst there, the students were able to see just great the need was. The 10 to 15 acre Jhilpar slum accommodates around 100,000 people who live in bamboo along a body of dirty water. The slum lacks legal water supply and inadequate sanitation facilities.
Recent data collected by UNICEF showed those living in urban slums have very limited access to water supply, sanitation and waste management. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2009 showed only 8.5 per cent of households in slum areas were using improved sanitation facilities that met UNICEF monitoring standards.