"The project is my husband"
A rare female Union Development Officer, Ms. Sabina Jasmin
Around 20 village residents gathered in a classroom in Debidwar upazilla (sub-district), Comilla district. They are the members of Kalikapur gram (village) committee. Union staff of various government departments such as agriculture, livestock and rural infrastructured are sitting with them.
"I would like to report our vaccination service for livestock through this village committee," one officer reported. "What kinds of trees are good for planting now in the rainy season?" one participant asked and the official in charge answered. As such, active exchange of information continued.
The Link Model is a framework to incorporate the needs of rural population in the process of development by linking villages and local government institutions for rural development. JICA has been engaged in this model for more than 30 years in this country.
The Link Model has three components: Union Coordination Committee (UCC), Gram (Village) Committee (GC), and Union Development Officer (UDO). In 2011, UCC has been institutionalized in law under the new name of Union Development Coordination (UDCC) to implement in all 4,500 unions of Bangladesh, Not all the villages have the GCM and UDO, but now around 200 unions have the three components, UCC, GCM and UDO. There were only four unions with these there components when they first started this project.
Kalikapur village in Debidwar upazilla is one of the areas where the GC is very active. They had UCCM (Union Coordination Committee Meeting) more than 20 times already. In addition to this, a female UDO, Ms. Sabina Jasmin, 35 years old, makes this area special.
According to Ms. Mami Yamaoka, 30 years old JOCV for rural development, there are around fifteen female UDOs out of 100 UDOs in the nation. It is difficult for a female to be active in the relatively male-dominated society.
Ms. Sabina became UDO in Comilla district in 2011. Since she had been engaged in JICA project of Participatory Rural Development Project (PRDP) as Research Assistant, she knew the roles of UDO very well.
"When I went to an interview for PRDP project staff, I was wearing saree. The interviewer asked me if I would be able to put up with some sarcastic comments that others may make because I am a woman. I answered that I do not care."
Ms. Sabina had a reason for her determination. Her husband went to Saudi Arabia for working as a driver in 2001. But he had a traffic accident and could not continue working. It was only Ms. Sabina who worked and supported their two children for the time being. She cooks breakfast and lunch before going to work and cooks dinner and does the washing after work. There is no one to depend on, but that has made her stronger than before. "My experiences as a project staff for PRDP and as UDO have supported my family and myself. This project is just like my husband," she said.
Ms. Sabina said that there were no difference between men and women in terms of ability. In Bangladesh, men often gather around the tea vendors on the streets. They exchange information and opinions among them through this informal meeting with tea. Women cannot join this chatting. "But women also have their own views. I realized it as I walked around the villages to hear their voices. I want to convey their voice to the mainstream as UDO."
Ms. Sabina said that she wanted to have a motor bike now. It is quite rare to see a woman driving a motorbike. She doesn't care what other conservative people think and say about her. "I would like to be proud of myself and to be a model for the other women in the community through my job," she said.
Bengali style approach to the leader of the area
Mr. Kyohei Yamamoto, JOCV
Many small dots, red, yellow and green, are shown on the map. "This is the result of checking arsenic contamination in this area," Mr. Kyohei Yamamoto, 27, JOCV for village development in Jhikargachha upazilla (sub-district), Jessore district said. He has been working for PRDP, the Link Model program.
Jhikargachha is one of the areas that suffer from serious arsenic contamination. The people there are trying to solve the problem by creating a network among UDCCM, related governmental offices and NGO, such as Asia Arsenic Network. This is one of the good models for a successful cross-sectorial networking through the Link Model, Mr. Yamamoto said.
Mr. Yamamoto was studying development study at BRAC University in Dhaka. He now leaves for absence and works as JOCV. To him, villages are the places for applying what he studied at the university.
One of his tasks is to make all the eleven unions in Jhikargachha upazilla have UDCM regularly. UDCMs are supposed to be held every other month, but not all of the unions can hold the meeting regularly. Some held it only once and did not continue. Mr. Yamamoto thinks that it is important to have determined leaders, especially upazilla chiefs who are assigned by the central government, for the implementation of the Link Model project.
So, he has been visiting Jhikargachha upazilla leader (Union Nilbahi Officer), Mr. Asmul Hak, many times and explained to him the importance of having UDCMs regularly. With his fluent Bengali and warm smile, Mr. Yamamoto has good communication with Mr. Hak. Every time he goes to see Mr. Hak, they have tea and sweets together and talk about many issues including their private life events. "I want to make the distance between the people and the governmental institutions closer. Through discussion and communication with Mr. Yamamoto, I now deeply recognize the importance of UDCM and effectiveness of the Link Model," Mr. Hak said. "I trust Mr. Yamamoto because he speaks our language. He plays significant role in this project."
Union Development Committee Meeting in the school in Kalikapur village, Debidwar sub-district, Comilla district
The school yard was built after the decision by UDCM. Now children can play safely (Kalikapur village, Debidwar upazilla, Comilla district)
Ms. Jasmin (left) and Ms. Yamaoka, JOCV for village development (Kalikapur village, Debidwar upazilla, Comilla district)
Ms. Sabina Jasmin, one of the rare female UDOs
Deep communication with smile. Mr. Hak (left) and Mr. Yamamoto (Jhikargachha upazilla, Jossore district)
Mr. Yamamoto is explaining about the map of arsenic contamination in the area (Jhikargachha upazilla, Jossore district)