Amrao Manush

Amrao Manush – We are People Too

Over the last few decades, Bangladesh has experienced a very rapid growth in its urban population. The growth has not been matched by an expansion in employment opportunities, civic facilities, or housing options. These insufficiencies result in a significant homeless population. The urban homeless population in Bangladesh is comprised of denizens born on the streets, migrants from rural areas, as well as those that have lost their former possessions. Rural migrants stream in due to the loss of homes and livelihoods—a displacement caused by natural calamities, social and political disturbance in their villages, or high rates of unemployment. Some, however, do relocate in search of better opportunities. With little to no assets, they cannot even afford housing in city slums. The majority of these rural refugees are thus forced to sleep in public spaces such as pavements, ferry terminals, platforms, bus stops, marketplaces, construction sites, religious shrines, graveyards, parks, and other open spaces. These itinerant individuals are referred to as street or pavement-dwellers, and constitute a “floating” population.

Pavement dwellers live in destitution, with no respite from natural elements and with no access to basic facilities such as safe water, sanitation, and the conveniences needed for their physical wellbeing. They are subjected to the dangers and insecurities of police brutality, extortion, theft, and violence on a daily basis, and are doomed to a life of indignity. The majority of itinerants have no permanent sources of income; many tenuously survive as day laborers at construction sites or by carrying and loading goods. Others join the workforce as floating vendors, as rickshaw or van drivers, or as domestic help. Others take to begging for a living. Despite being citizens of the country, many have no birth certificates or form of identification and are unable to exercise voting rights.

The crisis posed by an escalating population of urban homeless residents still remains largely neglected. The needs of these vulnerable residents are not accounted for by the government in planning the budget or the census. Although some campaigns are devoted to alleviating the lives of slum dwellers in Dhaka, there are very few development initiatives for them. While a few organizations have designed projects for street children, drug abusers, and sex workers, none are working with homeless pavement dwellers. With funding from Concern Worldwide, SAJIDA Foundation launched the Amrao Manush (translatable as “We are People Too”) project in March 2008. This undertaking seeks to improve living conditions for the “floating people” and aids them in to realize sustainable advancements in living standards.

The project targets 10,000 homeless pavement dwellers in Metropolitan Dhaka and Chittagong at locations where significant numbers spend their nights. In Dhaka, these locations include: Kawran Bazaar, Komlapur Rail Station, Green Road, Sadarghat, and Mouchak. In Chittagong, the M. A. Aziz Stadium and the Chittagong Rail Station are areas of high urgency. Amrao Manush has set up seven Pavement Dweller Centers (PDC) at these locations to extend conveniences to “floating” citizens. Target participants are registered with the centers. Taking into account the basic daily needs of pavement dwellers, the PDCs offer bathing amenities, cooking facilities, day-time resting places, lockers, and a venue for social interactions. PDC functions include healthcare, day-care for working mothers, savings schemes, vocational training, and assistance with birth registration. Amrao Manush also organizes night-time shelters for women and children. Additionally, to empower disenfranchised individuals to become self-reliant in overcoming future hurdles, peer groups are formed and regular discussions are conducted in order to foster self-confidence and leadership skills. Furthermore, participants are encouraged and assisted in accessing utilities proffered by various government offices and other NGOs.

Health Care Services

Every PDC has a health corner, which is visited by SAJIDA Foundation paramedics to deliver healthcare. Beneficiaries receive basic treatments and referrals to health centers and hospitals in the area when more advanced procedures are necessary. Dhaka Medical College Hospital and SAJIDA Foundation hospitals subsidize free or low cost health care to PDC patrons. In addition, a mobile medical team conveys further support and treatment. Since pavement dwellers are at a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV, they are regularly coached on disease facts and precautionary measures.

Day Care Centers

SAJIDA Foundation operates a day-care center at each PDC. Each center can house up to 30 children and remains opens from mornings until late afternoons. The day-care arrangement permits working mothers to leave their children (aged two to six) in a safe environment while pursuing paid vocation. Each center is staffed by two pre-primary educational teachers, who instruct infants in hygiene, positive behaviors, and sports. Food is allocated to supplement the nutrition of children who are entrusted to the day nurseries. All food, clothing, books, bedding, toiletries, and medication needed by the children are gifted by the Foundation free of cost. Every year two field trips are organized for children to visit venues such as the zoo or an amusement park. Children over the age of six are either enrolled in local schools or provided education free of cost after “graduating” from the day center. Even so, day-care staffers continue to check in regularly on their fledgling graduates to ensure continuity and easy transitions in their educations.

Bathing, Lavatory, Cooking, Locker, Resting and Leisure Facilities

Pavement dwellers do not have access to hygienic toilets or bathing facilities. A lack of residence also equates to an absence of storage space for their belongings or a roof to rest under. In order to address this need, every PDC has bathing, toilet, and locker facilities. Enlistees at the centers are also able to cook and prepare meals in a hygienic setting. Lodgers are able to spend their leisure time watching television or taking a nap during the day. PDC premises are also available for various family gatherings.

Savings Transactions

PDC boarders are motivated to embrace wise saving practices through group discussions, at day-care center parents/guardians monthly meetings, in personal and group counseling sessions, and during PDC visits. Recruits are made aware of the security and importance of monetary “cushions”. To encourage and promote budgeting practices, SAJIDA Foundation’s savings scheme allows enrollees to deposit and withdraw, with interest, any amount they desire when needed. Such convenient policies have resulted in beneficiaries depositing their savings at the PDCs.

Livelihood Development

Recruits are granted vocational training through linkages with institutions such as Dhaka Ahsania Mission and Islamic Relief. To help engage them in sustainable employment, Amrao Manush has networked with ready-made garments factories and small enterprises that seek employees.

Emergency and Night-time Shelter

The most pressing need of pavement dwellers is shelter at night. The Dhaka City Corporation is currently working on converting unused spaces into night-time shelters for urban vagrants.

Emergency Support

“Floating” people, especially children and the elderly, face exceptional duress throughout the monsoons and in winters. To help reduce their suffering in these two seasons, the project distributes plastic sheets (in the monsoon seasons) and blankets (in winters) to families that lack shelter.

Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) Support

The Dhaka City Corporation has played an important role in ensuring the success of Amrao Manush. An Amrao Manush office has been established at DCC headquarters. All records and information related to Amrao Manush undertakings is accessible to the government. This facilitates the DCC in delivering much needed assistance—issuing birth certificates to itinerant adults and children is one example.

SAJIDA Foundation interventions, by way of Amrao Manush, have opened new doors of opportunity and hope for formerly disregarded vagrant communities. This commitment to institutionalizing minimum living standards for those who cannot afford an address has yielded positive results. Beneficiaries can now access a doctor during times of illness, and choose to turn away from drug usage, crime, and other vices rampant among those that live on urban streets. Those tended to by Amrao Manush, become more inclined to save their incomes and chart a better future. Some have created the opportunity to start small businesses and abandon pavements for real homes. Many have returned to their villages with refreshed hopes and means to realize sustainable livelihoods of their own.