Sima is a chairperson of Ghoryan Women Saffron Association. Her association was formed by the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) and received a small grant to help improve their post-harvest processing. The women purchased a saffron drier and learned post-harvest processing, including hygiene, grading, sorting, and packaging. They identified two women trainers to ensure quality control. In 2010, the association doubled saffron production, and the sales price increased by almost 110 percent. From the user fee, the women saved Af 108,700 (approximately US$ 2,100) and plan to buy another drier. “Men now make tea for their wives, when we are busy during the saffron season,” Sima says.
Did you know that the World Bank Group actually wants to listen to the men and women of Sri Lanka and their views on Sri Lanka’s development and ensure that their voices are taken into account whenever development activities are carried out? Most of you like me (some months ago), would probably answer in the negative. Having joined the World Bank this year and having being tasked with assisting with the preparation of Sri Lanka's next Country Partnership Strategy for Sri Lanka, I have come to realize that some of my own perceptions about public involvement in World Bank activities have not been entirely accurate.
My current role in the Bank has enabled me to understand firsthand the efforts undertaken by bank staff to ensure that development activities remain sustainable. One of the ways in which this is achieved is through active engagement with as wide a group of stakeholders as possible prior to the commencement of any new project. All of us who are a part of the Bank Group strongly believe that it’s only by invoking the ownership of development among citizens that long term sustainability is achieved.
It was a special day on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC) as Special Advisor to the State for Global Youth Issues, Mr. Ronan Farrow and Ms. Lauren Lovelace, Director of the American Center, visited the institute in Baridhara. Mr. Farrow gave a lecture and engaged in discussions on global youth leadership issues with a classroom packed with enthusiastic BYLC graduates. In his address to the graduates, he expressed his strong belief that they are to play a key role in confronting challenges of the world. He shared that one of the greatest lessons in life that he received is “the realization that how powerful youth can be when given voice and equipped with tools.”
It took almost two hours to drive the seven kilometers between the World Bank offices to reach Kabul University. The streets were clogged with frustrated drivers performing adroit maneuvers to steer through the stop-and-go traffic.
The tree-lined paths of the university are a still and silent oasis from the raucous, dusty streets of the city center just outside. Young people walk in pairs, stop to chat or read in the winter sunshine.
I am here to meet with a group of 18 students who use a dedicated corner of the student library funded by the World Bank. Here, students can use five computers and a printer for free. But demand is high so the wait for a computer can be two to three hours at a stretch.
The girls tell me there are few other options for them. They cannot go to an internet café on their own to do their research without a male relative accompanying them. When asked how many have computers almost all hands go up. But internet access is prohibitively expensive for them and the service very slow. The World Bank corner offers them a lifeline to do their research and access materials not available in the library.
I work with street and slum girls and their mothers in India. Each day, as I walk through those dark lanes embroidered with brick and mortar, dungeons languish in abject obscurity and poverty, I cross many a road on which stand half naked women who stare at me with sad eyes. Most of them are mothers of the children I teach. I ask myself, 'Without the holistic development of the entire community, will just educating these children ever be enough to bring sustainable change?'
The issue of more and better jobs will stand ill addressed if this illiterate, non skilled, yet potential workforce is not tapped. I call this group the 'potential workforce' because I have seen the resilience of even the mediocre ones among them come out victorious in their struggle for survival. It is this group that needs to be effectively trained. For two years at Protsahan, we have trained some of these women how to make candles, sanitary napkins and hand bags. Just one skill was enough to increase their personal incomes by more than 400%. Although still at a very nascent stage, the economics of the entire community have shifted favorably. Better incomes resulted in better healthcare for their children and, more importantly, it created a sense of dignity that was essential to complete their womanhood. This sense of dignity might be an immeasurable metric, but it sure could be a direct index of the economy's well being, although on a micro-level.
Recently, I read a blog post by a young Nepalese delegate that attended the World Bank’s Annual Meetings in Washington and thought (at the time) that he summarized an issue which was at the heart of a majority (if not all) youth in South Asia. In his own words, he says “Let’s be honest. As a youth growing up in Nepal, it is sometimes very hard to get people – and by people I mean seniors in decision-making positions - to take you seriously. It is even more difficult to get them to listen to your ideas or acknowledge you as an important demographic, capable of more than burning tires and picketing politicians”. It made me wonder if this was indeed the case with youth in Sri Lanka.
As far as I know, youth in this country are by no means a ‘push over’. For example, since the defeat of terrorism in May 2009, the youth of this country has stepped up in a noticeable way to try and make a ‘new beginning’. A ‘youth open house’ held at the World Bank premises on 01 September saw the dynamism of a handful of such youth groups engaged in activities that ranged from peace and reconciliation to the promotion of ICT development to urban planning. The fact remains that the youth of this nation are taking matters to their own hands and it’s high time that the Government as well as the development partners ‘STOP’ and ‘LISTEN’ to what the youth of Sri Lanka has to offer!!
My friends and I often have casual chats at the university café and cafeteria about random topics ranging from life, the future, jobs and wherever else the conversation leads us. Recently, I participated in a discussion conducted by a research company where they asked for insights from University seniors and recent graduates about our aspirations.
There were 7 of us in the group from the University of Colombo, Kelaniya, Jayewardenepaura and Moratuwa. The representative from the research company asked about our goals. Though I’ve known them for 3 years, this is the first time I heard them seriously talk about their ambitions and goals in life. Most of them have very lofty goals and objectives. We were asked to list important considerations for potential jobs. This is what we came up with.
According to the United Nations, this child will be born in India, and statistically should be a girl. But many of India’s girls are going missing at birth, because of parents’ desire to have boys. In 2008, the number of missing girls in India increased in 2008 to 275,000 as compared to 1,000 for the rest of South Asia.
If a girl child is lucky enough to be born, she faces high female mortality in infancy and early childhood in South Asia. What causes excess mortality among girls during infancy and early childhood? One possible explanation that has received a lot of attention is discrimination by parents against girls. Certainly, in parts of the world like Afghanistan, China, northern India, and Pakistan, such discrimination is a serious problem. Studies have shown delays in seeking medical care and lower expenditures for girls. In India, despite stellar economic growth in recent years, maternal mortality is almost six times what it is in Sri Lanka.
"Several mothers’ life is in danger due to placenta previa at child birth however either the village is too far flung to receive medical assistance or the family refuses to let the mother seek a specialist’s help,” the lady health worker said in response to my query regarding the past month’s performance in-field.
Maternal Health Care remains a low priority concern not only amongst the rural and urban poor households in Punjab, Pakistan, but amidst the policy circles as well. In Pakistan, for every 100,000 babies born, some 260 women die during childbirth. The country is one of 11 countries that comprised 65% of global maternal deaths in 2008. Yet most maternal deaths could be prevented if a skilled practitioner attended the birth.
The solution to this problem is multi-pronged. The issue must be tackled individually at the following thresholds:
a) Quality of the Maternal Health Care Program
b) Receptivity by the public
c) Data, Research and Execution
It is evident the solution requires institutional, cultural and political changes, however is it possible to evade the long term institutional changes and usher in economic and social independence, thereby pardtially addressing the solution in the short run?
Have you ever had the feeling of being overwhelmed because you got more, much, much more than what you were expecting? Well, I hadn’t, till I came for the World Bank and IMF Annual meetings.
Usually, any long, monotonous sessions would lull me to sleep, but somehow, I was wide awake in every session that I attended, despite being jet-lagged and sleep-deprived! Be it the youth capacity building session with the IMF officials, or getting a chance to mingle with the IMF sponsored youth leaders and CSOs, the learning only in the first 5 hours of the meetings was phenomenal. I must confess, my mind was boggled, and I felt a little dizzy, either due to sleep-deprivation or due to the information overload, I can’t truthfully say!
It wasn’t until the second day that things came back to normal. Maybe it was the jet lag wearing off; maybe it was the fact that all the other World Bank youth delegates had gelled in so well, as if we had known each other for ages, but there was something about the place that started feeling like home.