A volunteer for Harborough’s Oxfam shop has returned from a trip to Bangladesh fired with enthusiasm for the charity.
Andy York, of Fleckney, was one of four people chosen to represent the organisation on a trip to see how the organisation spends its money.
“I always knew Oxfam did good things, but I didn’t know what. The work they do in Bangladesh is humbling and the people are very appreciative of it,” said Andy, who volunteers at Oxfam’s standard shop in High Street.
Most of the 10 day trip was centred on Oxfam-funded projects in the north-west including empowerment of women, climate adaptation, leadership and learning, water and sanitary hygiene.
“One of them was a women’s dairy project. Traditionally, women have not been respected by men and any money they made has been kept by their husbands. But thanks to Oxfam and agencies they work with, things are improving,” explained Andy.
Climate change is causing seasonal floods to worsen and what was once welcome irrigation is now causing devastation to traditional crops and villages.
“Oxfam and their partners are trying their best to introduce crops and houses that will cope with climate change. We saw massive areas that have just been washed away and Oxfam has been heavily involved in emergency relief,” said Andy.
The charity also supports young people training for a trade, such as motorcycle maintenance, and then helps them find employment.
Many of the small villages now have proper communal toilets, maintained by women and some are specifically for women’s use.
“Women are becoming so much more aware. They can get independent loans from banks now, rather than relying on their husbands to get them money. I have a feeling that the role women played in the war of independence in the 1970s has had a profound effect, rather like the Second World War had on women in this country,” said Andy.
Domestic standards are still basic in comparison to western countries.
“We stayed in guest houses and I was lucky enough to have a shower in mine, but the electric switch was only a few inches away from the shower itself which would never happen here.
nd the drainage was a hole in the wall. I was told to put a rock back over the hole when I’d finished so that nothing would come in!” he added.
Andy found the Bangladeshi food tasty – if a little monotonous.
“We had curry for every meal with rice and sometimes cold chips. We had fish one day which was full of bones and I got one stuck in my throat. I couldn’t shift it and was beginning to panic. Then the guide told me to take some rice, roll it into a ball and whop it down my throat. It went down like a dream and I was as right as rain in a few seconds!” he said.
The only down-side of the trip was a visit to an urban slum outside Dhaka.
“They hit us with it on the last day and I wouldn’t have wanted to have stayed there another minute.
I felt thoroughly depressed. They are displaced people. A lot of the men are on drugs and most of the women do domestic work for middle class families. But they are abused and Oxfam is trying to get them into an organised company to protect them,” he said.
“The highlight of the trip was the relief of poverty and the empowerment of women, which has to be seen to be believed. Oxfam is doing great work in ways I never imagined,” concluded Andy.
He plans to give talks to local groups about his trip. Anyone interested should contact the Harborough Oxfam shop manager Tracey Betts on 01858 433231 or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org