Antidote to the pandemic crisis: food banks

Create something out of almost nothing. This is what the alchemists of Borangile set out to do in 2018.

Borangile is located on a charred, or river island, in Bangladesh, where climate change has devastated the lives of farmers. In the throes of untimely floods and powerful cyclones, and fed up with broken promises of government assistance, a group of women here hatched a plan: set aside a handful of rice from every meal and save it for a day’s worth. rain. In a month, each woman could only collect one kilogram, or about two pounds. But ten women could accumulate twenty pounds, and forty could accumulate eighty. Over the months, math would be on their side, and soon they would have enough to avoid hunger in an emergency.

So, from a little rice and a lot of solidarity, the women built a food bank.

Physically, it consists of a hangar, a storage bin, a ledger and a scale. The women deposit the rice when they have the flush, and when it is necessary, they remove it. Borrowing food or money in desperate times is nothing new for these families; what is new is that now they pay no interest on loans. This bank is for the benefit of no one but theirs.

We know the people

Oxfam and our partners have lent a hand and helped spread the word to other communities. In the neighboring district of Gaibandha, for example, the SKS Foundation has helped launch 12 food banks. “We helped the women buy materials and open a bank account,” says coordinator Baharam Khan, “and we trained them in keeping accurate records. SKS is a development organization based in northern Bangladesh, with a focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Oxfam has helped the group develop their skills and leadership as a humanitarian responder, so that communities facing an emergency like the pandemic can benefit from a local response.

Most SKS employees live near tank settlements, Khan said. When it comes to commitment, relationships, trust and local knowledge, it can make all the difference. As he says, “We know people and people also know SKS.” SKS and 12 other organizations, all part of a climate adaptation initiative known as REECALL, have helped communities develop 275 banks in areas where Oxfam works, with 30,000 people benefiting from the projects. The money we have earmarked for storage bins, scales, sheds and basic furniture doesn’t amount to much – 20,000 Bangladeshi taka (less than $ 250) for each community – but the return on this investment has been incalculable.

The biggest initiative

“Every family in this village is poor,” says Mosammat Rabeya Begum, president of the Gaibandha village food bank in Katlamari. “Every year we work for six months, and the rest of the year we can’t get any work because of the floods and other disasters. At this time, we are facing acute food and nutrition crises. But now, she said, “With the rice saved, we don’t need to ask other people for help. “

“The food bank has helped us a lot,” says Layli Begum, who lives in the same village. “It’s better to borrow from the food bank than to borrow from other people because the food bank does not charge interest.

And, the women say, having their own food source alleviates poverty in other ways. “We used to take loans from our neighbors,” says Shapna Begum, who also lives in Gaibandha. “They teased us about our poverty. But thanks to the food bank, we no longer need to borrow. (Begum is an honorary name, not a surname, so does not indicate that these women are related.)

At the start of 2020, the food banks were operational, and not too soon: when the coronavirus pandemic struck, with Cyclone Amphan on its heels, day laborers lost their jobs due to the closures and the floods destroyed the crops on which the workers depended. people. to survive.

“We all depend on agriculture, but this untimely rain is destroying our crops,” says Mosammat Rupali Begum, a member of the food bank. “Our men are working outside the village and making money, but due to the pandemic they cannot go out now. This is why we cannot have good meals every day. But, she says, “whenever we run out of rice in the house, we borrow from the food bank.”

Sri Moti Kajoli Rani is a mother of four and a member of her village food bank. “When the floods come, life is difficult. There is no money, and no place to sleep or cook. Now we have a new danger: the corona. I am worried about how we are going to handle this difficult time. But deep inside I’m like, “I have some savings in the food bank. If there is nothing else I can do, at least I can get help from the food bank. We will never close the food bank.

“The food bank is the biggest initiative ever in this area,” says Rabeya. “I can’t wait to see him grow up. Even when we are no longer alive, I hope our children will receive help from the food bank. She adds: “We have dreams.

Across Bangladesh, Oxfam helped strengthen local partner organizations to help build a sustainable, locally-led humanitarian response system tailored to the needs and aspirations of the community. The SKS Foundation was one of 56 Bangladeshi organizations that participated in a three-year program known as ELNHA ( Strengthening of the local and national humanitarian project) focused on building skills and leadership. Today, many participating organizations are able to raise funds and design and launch effective responses to emergencies. The coronavirus pandemic, which is hampering the flow of international aid, has helped to draw attention to the importance of local humanitarian leadership.

About Jerry Richter

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