Rokeya, Rehena, Jorina, and many other poor women at Char Paikhand village of Haturia-Nakalia union in Bera upazilla rush to the farmlands for work while their husbands go to the capital. There are differences in their lives but poverty binds them together in the same platform. They are deprived of fundamental rights such as food, access to health services and their agricultural needs. The case is the same for 35 thousand people in 15 other char villages of six unions at Bera upazilla. This kind of deprivation has been an integral part of their life. The struggle behind their survival circles around inaccessible communication system, infrastructural inadequacy, lack of employment opportunity and natural disaster. Of the visiting areas, Char Paikhand is one of the leading island char of the upazila having health and education problems.
There is not a single hospital, community clinic or health center in char-Paikhand village within 25 km from the upazila headquarters. Community health service providers hardly ever visit the char village, leaving the people without any access to necessary health services. There are four community clinics in total in 15 island char villages but they all remain closed due to the lack of doctors and nursing staff.
Abdul Mannan, a farmer of Paikhand village, said, “If we suffer from diseases, we simply wait and see what happens. We cannot find physicians. During emergencies, we need to go to the upazila headquarters, which is difficult to reach due to the lack of easy transport. Sometimes we do not get any treatment at all due to the unavailability of health service providers.”
Many children of the village are not covered under vaccination programs in these areas. “I could not give my child vaccine at the early ages. My daughter grew without vaccination and she is now vulnerable to various diseases”, Fulbala, a housewife, mentioned. Again, child death and the death of new born babies is a common phenomenon in Char Paikhand village. A large number of new born babies and young children die due to the lack of required health services. Villagers justify the deaths of their babies as a matter of fate. “It's my bad luck that my child died”, said Monjuara Begum, wife of Shahed Ali of Paikhand village. Like Monjuara, most of the women of the village lost one or two children due to diseases but they simply had nothing to do in order to prevent the death of their children.
Md. Monzed Ali, Executive Director of 'Jamuna Somaj Kollan Shangshtha', a local NGO working in the chars, said at least 40 to 50 children used to die in 15 island chars of Bera upazila every year. When a women conceives, she does not receive any services from obstetricians or midwives.
“Children are God's gifts. I am not interested in resisting God's gift,” says Rokeya Khatun, middle-aged woman of the village, who carried nine children in the last 20 years. These people do not have access to family planning services either. Rokeya said she has no concept about planning families as there is no awareness program. Monjuara, Shaheda, like Rokeya, are common faces of women at the village, each of whom have 5 to 10 children to look after.
In Char Paikhand village a primary school exists. There are four teachers but they are not available regularly so the students suffer. There are 16 primary schools in 15 char villages. Most of the schools often do not perform properly due to lack of teachers. There is also very little support from the agriculture office. They do not get agricultural loan for cultivating their lands. Char people are deprived of government facility for seedlings, fertilizers and other agriculture facilities. Borrowing money from 'Mohajons', they cultivate their crops - but often end up not earning enough to turn a profit.
With the upazila headquaters 25 km away, the lack of easy trasnport and communication facilities makes life very difficult. People of the village go to union or upazila headquarter on boats. Farmers cannot easily transport their goods to plain lands.
“We do not get proper price of our product as we do not carry our goods to upazila headquarters. How can we? Its too difficult and costly to do so,” Md. Janey Alam, a farmer of the village said. About 15 other villages of nearby chars in Bera upazila are affected in the same way due to poor transport facilities.
The poor people of the chars, specially women, are working as the farmers in the fields. Male members of their families travel to urban centres in search of work. "There is no work facility in the chars for six months a year. This is purely seasonal and we cannot do anything about it. So we rush rush to urban areas for earning money for our families,” said Shaheb Ali, another farmer of the village.
People of the char areas live in hardship due to the lack of government support. A few NGOs exist in the area who work to improve the lifestyle of the char people, but the impact it quite insignificant in comparison to the development needs of the people who live in the chars of the Jamuna. If one visits 15 char areas of the Bera upazila they will found the similar problems exist everywhere.
"NGO support is not enough for the vast tract of the char people here. Proper government support is needed," opined Zahid Rahman, Coordinator of Unnayan Shomonnoy. "I think that the government should dedicate funds in the budget for the char people" he added.