Welcome to Ukhia, Bangladesh

Written by
Sarah Harrington
Published on
August 17, 2023 at 2:47:00 PM PDT August 17, 2023 at 2:47:00 PM PDTth, August 17, 2023 at 2:47:00 PM PDT

Every great journey begins with a single step

Have you ever heard of Ukhia, Bangladesh? Chances are you have, you just might not have realized it at the time. Ukhia is home to Cox's Bazar, where you'll find the world's largest refugee camp. In 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya refugees poured into the region, triggering a humanitarian crisis that continues today. Ukhia is one of the poorest sub-districts in Bangladesh and the sudden influx of refugees placed stress on already strained resources. FH Bangladesh has a medical program in the Rohingya camps, but after seeing the need in the host community, felt called to respond with an additional program. And so, Food for the Hungry's partnership with four communities in Ukhia was born in late 2021!

Fast Facts about Ukhia:

• 4 Partnered Communities: Haldia Palong, Ratna Palong, Khunia Palong, Rajarkul

• Population: 85,123

• Households: 15,470

Despite hardships, the people of Ukhia remain hopeful for the future as they embark on a journey with FH toward sustainability. What does this journey look like? We're glad you asked!

Women's groups are providing a safe space for women to learn and grow as leaders in their families and communities.

Healthy Habits

In such an overpopulated region, it's no surprise that diseases, waterborne illnesses, and malnutrition play a heavy role in Ukhia. When local systems can't keep up with the demand, sanitation and hygiene are quick to fall by the wayside.

13% families have piped tap water at home

41% children are severely underweight

But community leaders are hard at work to find solutions to build a healthier Ukhia. We're going to support them as they build new water, and eating delicious and nutritious meals—and establish Cascade Health Groups to empower mothers to pass these life-saving messages along to their neighbours!

Leaning into Learning

When it's a struggle to put food on the table, it's understandable that parents in Ukhia might not see the value of their kids learning fractions when they could be helping around the house or in the fields. Currently, Uhkia's literacy rate sits at a low 39 per cent. Without education, the cycle of poverty spins on.

FH will walk with families to help them discover the joy and opportunities of education. Preschools will help shape the minds and motor skills of young children with fun activities that build confidence and encourage learning. Children's clubs will help older kids discover new passions, focus on their academics, and gain a deeper understanding of their rights. Canadians will also come alongside families to ease the burden of education through child sponsorship support.

"Now I realize it is the responsibility of every guardian to educate their children properly. There is no alternative without education for community and personal development." — Miyasha 

59 per cent of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday.

Girl Power

After spending a morning in Ukhia, seeing men at work while boys head off to secondary school, you might ask, "Where are all the women?" If you look a little closer, you'll find women in fields, doing chores, or collecting water, but a not-so-hidden truth lies behind their place in society.

In Ukhia, cultural barriers and traditions prevent girls and women from thriving. Men are seen as the sole decision makers of the household, and many women have to ask for permission to go out. The influx of Rohingya refugees put economic pressure on the community, triggering a rise in child marriage rates as families marry off their young daughters because they can't afford to keep feeding everyone.

While this may paint a bleak picture, this story is anything but hopeless. FH's first year of listening and learning has shown that women in Ukhia are keen to earn an income and better the lives of their families and communities. We'll take learnings form other FH programs in bangladesh (which have seen success in this area!) and apply those to fit Ukhia. We'll work with community leaders to establish a framework that lifts up women, educates men in the community, and raises awareness about the harmful nature of child marriage so that girls and women can become the changemakers they were born to be!

Making a Living

With men often acting as the sole breadwinners and job opportunities in short supply, it's no surprise that many families are struggling to get by. The labour market in Ukhia hasn't been able to cope with the strain put on it by the influx of Rohingya refugees, making unemployment one of the biggest stressors for families. With your partnership, we're going to come alongside families to help diversify their income, offering skills-based training like tailoring and animal rearing. These new skills will go along perfectly with small business workshops that equip them to become budding entrepreneurs. All this will lead to increased and reliable income, which will help families reduce stress in their daily lives and feed their children.

"I benefited from the opportunity of tailoring training from FH. Now I can work and support my daughter's education and I can help my husband to support my family." - Rukshana

Nearly half—44 per cent—of households can only afford to eat 1-2 meals per day. That's soon going to change!

Looking to the Future

Cyclones, landslides, drought—being a coastal region, these are all disasters that the people of Ukhia deal with on a distressingly regular basis.

Strong leadership is not only one of the best methods for disaster prevention, but it's also crucial for the sustainability of long-term development. Local leaders know their people and their communities far better than anyone else. So, we're excited to come alongside these established leaders to create new Community Development Committees that will empower leaders, including women!

Community assessment help key actors in the community—think farmers, parents, teachers, political leaders, and everyone in between—to identify their unique strengths while also determining areas for growth. This type of activity fosters trust and helps everyone take ownership of building a brighter future, together.

Ukhia, Bangladesh is on the path toward sustainability! Excited to see where this journey goes?

Journey With Ukhia