We have spent the last few weeks learning about the needs of Afjalpur dairy co-operative members and getting to grips with their livelihoods situation. Amongst many other things, the outcomes of our baseline survey showed how essential it is for all members to receive training.
It is very encouraging to see how such a simple thing for us to arrange can greatly improve the condition of members' livestock and consequently increase the milk production of the co-operative. Yet there is also a lot more that the members are in need of.
Alongside Dhaka University and Afjalpur Youth Club volunteers, we visited a nearby successful dairy co-operative to learn about their progress and good practice. This visit showed how the enthusiasm and commitment of members has really paid off - they are now benefitting from an increased price for their milk, improved health support for their cattle and access to savings and loan schemes. It also highlighted how a dedicated co-operative that works together towards their vision can improve their economic and social situation, and reaffirmed that this can certainly be achieved in our village.
On returning to Afjalpur we arranged a meeting with the 26 dairy co-operative members so that we could discuss what being part of a co-operative means and what they each expect of their fellow members. Trust amongst the co-operative was decided to be a key component to their success, so with this in mind, members elected the 'leader' roles, such as chairperson, secretary and treasurer. It was also a good opportunity to speak of any anxieties they may have and talk about the way forward. Meetings will now be held every week, with elected members fulfilling their duties immediately until the co-operative becomes officially registered, when all members will elect the roles again.
We have also held a Community Action Day since my last blog entry. Having spent time learning about the needs of the village, our aims for the day were to spread messages about the importance of hand-washing and good cow fodder, as well as furthering our relationship with the community. Working with Afjalpur Youth Club volunteers and Dhaka University students, we began advertising the event to ensure that we had enough publicity and would mobilise as many people from the community to join with us as possible. We then spent several hours making posters, t-shirts and decorations for the day. Everyone was keen to join in, particularly the children, and the next day our preparations paid off as we had an excellent turnout.
The day's activities included a drawing competition, ball games and a biscuit race, intermitted by a talk from our international VSO volunteer, a hand-washing demonstration and a special guest singer.
Already we are approaching the mid-point of our time in Bangladesh and, though we have made excellent progress in our work with the dairy co-operative, we have plenty more planned for the next six weeks. In a few days we will travel south to Dhaka to reunite with the rest of the UK and national volunteers. We will be reporting back on our activities so far and evaluating the outcomes so that we are able to learn from each other's hard work. Then we will return to our communities for the second half of our stay and implement our plans. One of the first things on our agenda in the North-West is a second Community Action Day in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8th March. This is a particularly important day in Afjalpur as raising awareness of issues such as girls' education and early marriage is vital in attaining equality and developing a model village.