© Franca Roiatti

The Tools to Live a More Independent Life

BY: Franca Roiatti - 18. August 2022
© Franca Roiatti

In Bangladesh’s Kurigram district, lack of access to proper care prevents many people with disabilities from improving their conditions and living a full, productive life. Helvetas and Humanity & Inclusion provide medical assistance, assistive devices and vocational training so that physically challenged people like Kolpona and Farid can be more independent.

Kolpona holds a bundle of grass with both hands and cuts it on a sickle fixed to a low bamboo stick. Once the basin on the ground is full, she lifts it, lays it on her lap, and rolls her wheelchair across the small courtyard, where goats are waiting to be fed. Tending goats and chickens is now a daily activity for Kolpona, who lives in Durgapur, Bangladesh. But it was not always the case.

“For one year I did not get out of bed. I could not move and I could barely speak,” recalls Kolpona. "I was afraid that would be my life forever.” Kolpona, age 35, is one of the persons with physical disabilities supported by Helvetas and Humanity & Inclusion (HI) through the Recover in Dignity project. The project provides medical assistance, assistive devices and vocational training in Kurigram district in the north of the country.

Kolpona was only 16 when she caught an infection that left her unable to walk. She got married at age 14. Her husband was too poor to take care of her, and after she became sick he divorced her and migrated. Kolpona went back home to her parents, who work as a day laborer and a housewife. They borrowed money from neighbors to bring Kolpona to a local doctor, but the treatment was not sufficient. She was suffering; she could not move and had to depend on others for everything.

Improving health conditions and learning new skills

Recover in Dignity helped Kolpona to regain physical strength through proper medical treatment, medications and physiotherapy. It provided her with a low wheelchair she could sit in for household chores and a regular one to use outside the house. Kolpona’s family house has also been adapted to her needs: a concrete pathway has been built to allow her to move more easily in the courtyard and the water pump has been lowered so that she can do laundry.  

“The aim of the project is to give people with disabilities an opportunity to live a more independent life and contribute to the development of their community,” explains Ataur Md. Rahman, project manager for Helvetas. “That’s why besides medical and psychosocial assistance, we also offer vocational and skills training with the support of local service providers.”

The local service providers are experts in animal rearing, dairy production, agriculture and small businesses. The providers received training from Helvetas, in collaboration with government extension departments and the private sector, on how to create and deliver courses and support farmers in getting access to credit, seeds, fertilizer and markets. The providers then organize trainings and provide support to hundreds of people in their villages.

Kolpona participated in trainings on animal rearing, and she now knows how to optimally care for her cow, goats and chickens. She also engages in other earning activities, such as cleaning and cutting betel nuts (the nuts are seeds of the areca catechu palm, which are widely consumed in the area) and coconut broom production. Nakshi kantha (traditional embroidered quilt) stitching is her favorite earning activity. “I like it because I can spend time with other women. We work together and gossip,” she says, giggling.

Today Kolpona feels more confident about her future. “I know that I am able to take care of myself, even when my parents are no longer here.”

© Franca Roiatti
The water pump at Kolpona's house has been lowered so that she can do laundry.   © Franca Roiatti
© Franca Roiatti
Kolpona and her family.  © Franca Roiatti

A tricycle and new dreams

About 20 kilometres north of Kolpona’s home, in Bhogdanga a local service provider is meeting with Char Boraibari Dairy Milk Producer Group, the local dairy cooperative that has many members with disabilities. The cooperative was formed with the support of Helvetas to foster local development and social inclusion.

Participants sit on tarpaulins on the ground while the cooperative secretary explains the business plan, neatly written on a large sheet of paper. Among the attendants is Farid, age 24, who is sitting on his custom-made tricycle. He rode confidently across the village dirt roads to attend the meeting.

Farid was just eight years old when he got hurt in a football accident. His family could not afford the necessary medical care, so Farid lost his mobility and had to drop out of school. For years, his parents and siblings had to help him with everything. He started running a small grocery shop just outside his house, but he was still unhappy. “I was forced to stay at home, and I could not go out and meet my friends,” says Farid.

With the support of the Recover in Dignity project, Farid got medical and psychosocial support – including a custom tricycle and a walker. He also learned how to tend to his family’s cows, goats, geese and pigeons. Farid can now go to the market on his tricycle to buy supplies for his shop, and he can ride to check on his family’s crops. He also hangs out with friends and makes plans for the future. “I would like to get married and have my own family one day,” says Farid.

Farid on his custom tricycle. 
© Franca Roiatti
Farid helps a customer at his shop. © Franca Roiatti
Farid at a Char Boraibari Dairy Milk Producer Group meeting.
© Franca Roiatti
Farid's family.  © Franca Roiatti

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