Projects in progress: a UK Aid Match team visit to Bangladesh

10 May 2023

In January, UK Aid Match Fund Director Sarah Donachie, accompanied by Fiduciary Risk Officer Bridget Hall, and FCDO colleagues Bruce Reilly and Nicola Currie for the Open Societies team, visited Bangladesh to see how three fund projects were getting on.

They enjoyed warm welcomes from the RNLI/CIPRB, World Child Cancer/ASHIC and British Red Cross/Bangladesh Red Crescent programme teams, and from the communities they are supporting.

Here is a short write-up of what we saw from these visits.

Preventing childhood drowning RNLI

The RNLI has been working with the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) in Kalapara sub-district over the last 3.5 years to keep children safe from drowning through their UK Aid Match project.

In Bangladesh, drowning is the leading killer of children, with vulnerability at its peak between 9am and 1pm when parents must work to feed their families and are unable to provide close supervision.

Many are are faced with an impossible situation, and paid-for childcare is out of reach especially in rural communities, even for those that could afford it.

Through this UK Aid Match programme, 300 Anchals – community-based creche facilities – have been established, offering a safe environment for over 5,000 children aged between one and four years.

They are run by local women, or ‘anchal-maas’, to provide a secure place away from open water for children to play and learn important early childhood development skills.

Access to a free anchal place has reduced a child’s risk of drowning and provided essential early childhood development support. The programme has also empowered women in the community by providing them with opportunities to work.

This project has now come to an end, however the RNLI and CIPRB have secured additional funding from the Government of Bangladesh to continue their work in drowning prevention. The team will be launching a significant new programme (called the Integrated Community-Based Centre for Child Care, Protection and Swim-safe Facilities Project) in the coming period for young children across Bangladesh to survive and thrive to their full potential, with comprehensive attention to physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth and development. Watch this space for a podcast exploring this further in the near future.

Large group of people sit on red rugs around a square in conversation
The UK Aid Match team from MannionDaniels and FCDO, meet with parents of children who attend the Anchals to understand their perspectives on how the RNLI and CIPRB project has impacted them.

Improving paediatric oncology outcomes World Child Cancer

With only a quarter of children who develop cancer in Bangladesh each year ever receiving a diagnosis and as few as 45% of those surviving, World Child Cancer’s three-year UK Aid Match project has been working across the country to improve access (to treatment), care and quality of life.

In Bangladesh, the long-term treatment required when a child has a cancer diagnosis often pushes an entire family further into poverty. This project’s focus has been on strengthening the health system and working across the seven leading government paediatric cancer units to ensure long term change is affected so those that benefit from it will not just be the thousands of children, their families and health workers, but also children who are diagnosed with cancer in future years and their families.

It was evident from the visit that the project is operating within a resource-constraint environment, and the COVID-19 pandemic significantly worsened the situation for children with cancer in Bangladesh given the additional pressures on the health care system and limited mobility (as the majority of available care is in Dhaka city). The project team have adapted well as a result but the challenges associated with health care service delivery following the pandemic appeared to continue. Despite these challenges, the project has been able to introduce psychosocial support, which was not previously an element of the care offering and has evidently provided much needed support to children and families in their cancer journey.

Women, men and children smile to camera in a hospital setting
The UK Aid Match team from MannionDaniels and FCDO, with World Child Cancer and ASHIC at their Shelter providing accommodation for families undergoing care in Dhaka city.

Protecting and securing women’s livelihoods – British Red Cross with Bangladesh Red Crescent

With this UK Aid Match project, the British Red Cross have been working with the Bangladesh Red Crescent in the slums of Barishal in Bangladesh, where monsoons and flooding are inescapable and life for women is hard.

Back in November, we shared an overview of the project on the UK Aid Match website explaining how it has been supporting the women living here. They often miss out on an education, struggle to make a living, and are frequently raising families alone and suffering violence just because of their gender.

This project has supported women’s small businesses to thrive through vocational training, apprenticeships and small cash grants (to help set up microbusinesses).

The outcome? They are earning an income, building savings and helping their communities to flourish.

Groups called Women’s Squads are also raising awareness of issues like menstrual health and gender-based violence, and within these Squads, women have a platform to stand together and have their opinions heard, amplifying their role and voice in society and reduce their isolation.

The visit highlighted that despite the delays experienced as a result of COVID-19 the project team have made significant progress: there were several areas that had created clear benefits for project participants, specifically the opening of bank accounts and linkages to other service providers such as government welfare schemes. A large number of project participants had set up a bank account for the first time as a result of the project support and this formal financial inclusion had clear benefits such as reported increases in savings and access to wider and more diverse supply chains and markets. Alongside this, many members of the Women’s Squad shared that, through the project, they have been able to create more linkages to local government who have been more responsive to their requests for support.

Related, the meetings with the Women’s Squad highlighted the significant progress that the project has supported in terms of women’s empowerment. The women we met shared positive stories of how joining and being part of the Squads had supported them to have greater influence within their communities and households, and they shared that they were better able to address issues such as child marriage, domestic violence and child labour.

A thank you

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the organisations and individuals involved with these visits. We really appreciated all your time and continued hard work.