The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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April 2019

Practical Action

Anne Stevens

- one of the charities supported by the parish
- one of the charities supported by the parish

Our daughter Lucy has worked for Practical Action, a development charity supported by HPC, for many years. In February she went back to Bangladesh, with a group of colleagues from the countries where the organisation works, to strengthen co-ordination and cross-country learning in their work with urban slum communities.  Her story of her visit contains examples of Practical Action inspiring and supporting change at every level. What she told me is:

"One of the most exciting things for me was to go back to visit one of the slum communities we first started working with back in about 2006. It is located in the small town of Faridpur, a place of around 140,000 people just across the great Ganges (Padma) river from Dhaka, near where it joins the Brahmaputra. We arrived in the late afternoon and that evening met many key stakeholders from the town for dinner, hearing them talk about how developments have been going in their town.

The next day, I remembered where we were as we drew up in one of the busy town streets and headed down a small alley between tall concrete buildings, to the Basar Mia community. At first sight things didn't look in great shape as we spotted shacks alongside a drainage canal looking ramshackle and broken. But then we noticed the flurry of activity with construction workers busy in the canal. It was explained that the canal walls were being properly reinforced, after which the householders planned to rebuild with stronger materials on more solid ground.

But the best part of this whole story was that this development had been entirely negotiated by the community themselves through their committee that was formed in 2006 and has continued to meet and set annual objectives ever since. They secured the money for the works from the Municipal Council through the annual budgeting process. No aid or support from us involved.

In the town, we are currently working hard on the challenge of ensuring communities like this one can stay clean and healthy, making use of well-functioning rubbish collection and pit emptying services for their toilets. Central to our efforts is ensuring that all along the chain, from the collection of waste to its disposal, treatment and reuse, we are choosing and adapting technologies that fit best, are at a human scale and can be repaired to make them more sustainable. We have worked with local engineers and metal-workers to come up with new types of pump and small vehicles for emptying pit latrines. Our low-cost treatment plant safely treats the sludge and produces compost that can help rebuild the soil structure and fertility of surrounding land. This kind of end-to-end solution helps the whole system to be sustainable. This work has been built on a backbone of strong relationships between empowered communities and a local authority more prepared to listen to the voices and needs of their residents.

Not only that, but back in Dhaka we met Government officials helping to deliver large-scale government led urban programmes working in 35 or more municipalities across the country who have been equally inspired by our work and are drawing on our advice and examples in the latest phase of their work.

I came away from my visit feeling inspired and impressed by how well what we started over 10 years ago has been sustained and has grown over time, and encouraged that what we are working on now in Faridpur and in other towns across the country will make a significant difference to people's lives. It seems true to say that 'big change starts small'."

Lucy's recent experiences provide striking examples of how Practical Action has set about fulfilling its original vision of building resilience and sustainability to tackle extreme poverty. HPC's support is a much-valued contribution to that.

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