In 1974, a famine ravaged Bangladesh. In order to offer help to the affected children, a Terre des hommes team was sent and started collaborating with the local authorities and communities. A way of working that was innovative at the time and has become indispensable today.
On November 12, 1974, the New York Times headlined: "Bangladesh Fears Thousands May Be Dead as Famine Spreads" . A food crisis was ravaging the already economically fragile country three years after the end of the war of independence and the official creation of the state. When the founder of Tdh Edmond Kaiser arrived in Kurigram, a region in the north of Bangladesh, in March 1975, he witnessed the dramatic conditions in which underprivileged children lived.
A local collaboration
Terre des hommes then started to discuss with the local authorities to rehabilitate the Chinnamukul, reception centres for malnourished, sick and orphaned children in the cities Chilmari and Kurigram. In these centres, the Tdh teams offered the children follow-up, care, food and education. They worked with local communities to trace the children's families and improve conditions so that they can return to their homes. At the same time, a team traveled around the region to identify children in remote rural areas who needed help.
A medical programme was also created for children who could not be admitted to the centre. At the government hospital in Kurigram, Tdh’s local and expatriate medical staff worked together with doctors to set up a paediatric ward and a day centre to provide meals for children and mothers in street situations.
Focusing on the future of young people
In the Chinnamukul vocational training courses were set up for young people. They were trained in baking, sewing, sericulture (cultivation and weaving of silk), carpentry, mechanics, or in sales by managing the centre's shop. Developing their skills ensured their economic independence and facilitated their reintegration into the community.
Today, skills development remains central to our work with young people.
A lasting impact
Collaboration with local authorities, communities and families was an innovative approach at the time. It ensured a lasting positive impact on the lives of children and families. This way of working became an integral part of our interventions over time. Today, the teams of Terre des hommes are active in nearly 40 countries, working closely with policy makers, communities and the children and young people themselves to improve their living conditions in a sustainable way.
A look back: This is the fifth article in a series of 10, published on the occasion of our 60th anniversary.
Photo source: originals preserved in the Vaud Cantonal Archives, Fonds ACV PP 1053, Terre des hommes Foundation.