A Road to Education, Economic Prosperity

A Road to Education, Economic Prosperity

Unlike previous years, Rina Begum, 36, a mother of three, is not that much worried about sending her kids to schools during the coming rainy season. The housewife from North Karuna village of Hosnabad Union under Betagi Upazila of Barguna district recalls,

“Earlier, rainy season usually meant a great loss of school days. Rainfall during the four-month period made the roads connecting nearby villages to schools almost inaccessible. Children could hardly use these roads to get to school, leading to loss in school days.” Seasonal rain used to create deep potholes in the dirt road making it inaccessible to any vehicle. “When it rained, the potholes turned into lakes,” says Soma Akhter, daughter of Rina Begum and a third grader at 27 No. Madhya Karuna Government Primary School. “We, very often, avoided the road altogether and made our way through the paddy fields inundated with rainwater.” “It was better to avoid the hard-to-walk muddy road and take a boat to pass through the nearby small water-body to reach schools. It was really risky. Many schoolchildren slipped in the mud and got hurt while walking on those risky roads,” Rina said, adding, “We, the parents, were really scared about our kids.” “So, it was a regular annual phenomenon and unofficial vacation for most children, as well as a big disruption to education,” says Rina. A Road to Education Only recently, after completion of a new road with brick flat soling, Soma can now go to her school everyday easily no matter how bad the weather is. Her mother, Rina Begum, does not need to worry about her daughter. The Betagi Upazila Parishad, with the support from Upazila Governance Project (UZGP), constructed the road which has begun rendering results immediately. Like Soma, 10,500 other students studying at the four primary schools, two secondary schools and two colleges of two Union Parishads–Hosnabad and Mokamia—under the Betagi Upazila have begun to enjoy the benefits from the all-weather road that allows easy access to schools. “Students, particularly the girls, are now attending schools regularly and we believe that it will have a great impact on the overall situation of education, reducing the number of absentees and dropouts, in the UZP,” said Md. Zakir Hossain, Assistant Headmaster of Madya Karuna Government Primary School. “The rainy season was really a great blow to us. Parents were reluctant to send their children to schools through the flooded muddy road. But, within three months of constructing the road, we have started getting results. Attendance in the school has increased significantly and drop-out rate also reduced. It’s really a great help to us,” he added. Echoing the same sentiment, another school teacher, Sharmin Shila, said, “Now we don’t have any worry for the children. The road brings a ray of hope to the people of the communities. It brings rickshaw, van, tempo and other three-wheelers to take the students to schools, farmers to markets and sick people to hospitals.” Following the recommendation made by UZP (Standing) Committee on Physical Infrastructure and Communication, the Betagi Upazila Parishad, undertook the scheme, to construct the 1600 feet road aimed at providing the rural poor better economic opportunities and access to education and health services. The UZGP, under its fiscal facility grant, co-financed the Betagi Upazila Parishad’s initiative in constructing the road. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), European Union (EU) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) are providing the financial assistance to UZGP aims at strengthening institutional, managerial and technical capacities of the Upazila Parishads (UZPs) to ensure better public service delivery and thereby alleviate poverty with a focus on MDG achievements. The five-year project is being implemented by the Local Government Division (LGD), Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD& C). The UZGP, during its first year in 2013, provided a total of BDT 17 lakh to Betagi Upazila as Upazila Fiscal Facility (UFF) grants. With the grants, the Upazila Parishad took 13 schemes focusing on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and pro-poor issues including education, health, poverty alleviation and women empowerment. Reaping Economic Benefits While school-going children are the key beneficiaries, the road indeed benefits a wide range of users. The new road, made of bricks, connects a number of villages in the two Union Parishads (UPs) to markets, hospitals, administrative centres, enabling the rural poor to avail better economic opportunities and access to better health, education and business services. The smoother road has not only reduced travel time and cost for the villagers, it is helping the farmers to carry more goods/products to sell in the local markets. The villagers are also saying that the smoother road will save lives, particularly pregnant women and children. “Now we will be able to take the patients to Upazila Sadar Hospital and other clinics more quickly,” said, Runu Begum, one of the inhabitants of South Karuna village. Md. Sona Gazi, 25, a vegetable and dairy farmer of Madhya Karuna village of Hosnabad Union, appreciates the benefits the road brought when he says, “Now, I can cycle to the local markets to sell my vegetable and dairy products. It saves my money and time. It increased my income and now I can afford three meals a day for my children and send them to schools.” “A better transportation means a greater market access, an improved access to schools, hospitals and administrative centres. The new road brings development to the local communities and is playing a significant role in achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at local level,” says Mr. Monir Hossain Howlader, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Betagi UZP. Lauding the Upazila Governance Project (UZGP) for providing financial support to the scheme, A B M Golam Kabir, Chairman of Betagi Upazila Parishad, said, “The road is making a real difference in our everyday lives, Children are now can go to the school safely. Farmers can take their products to local markets to sell and now getting more money. People are getting the health services more quickly. “The road is a game-changer in reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the Upazila,” he added. “I am really happy now…I can go to the school and attend my classes everyday…I don’t bother about the weather now…and all this was possible for the new road,” says Soma, beaming broadly. Ataul Gani Osmani and Malick Shamim Akhter