Empowering Chittagong’s indigenous people

Sumaiya Nehla Saif, Chittagong Community Manager
Chittagong, 19 November 2015

The indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) have long struggled for their independence as a separate state and to be free from social, political, and economic marginalization. Consequently, this region of Bangladesh has developed significantly slower compared to the rest of the country and, especially, the cities. Increasingly, the people of CHT have had no choice but to move to the cities, mostly Chittagong city in search of a better life and empowerment through work and education. This migration not only makes Chittagong city densely populated, it also poses wastage of natural resources in the hill tracts, which the ethnic groups do not know how to utilize.

Caritas Bangladesh is a non-governmental organization that works on integrated development, disaster management and human resource development all over the country and has regional offices that undertake different projects pertaining to the respective regional issues. Caritas Bangladesh runs Integrated Community Development Projects in several areas, and CHT is one of them. This initiative not only helps to ensure proper rights to the indigenous people but also empowers them to utilize the abundant available resources and to develop their community. For example, it has helped to recover over 2,500 mortgaged lands and further help the people to utilize their lands for cultivation, as well as other sustainable activities, and even start their own small businesses.

Since a major issue was the lack of effective communication between the people and government and non-governmental organizations, this project also fosters communication with proper networking and linkages. Besides providing stipends to students for education and building village-based education centers, this project has also made efforts to engage the people in different skills training and vocational training among other income-generating activities, such as horticulture. One example is teaching mixed fruit cultivation through natural resources; the income allows people to earn locally without having to turn to the cities for a living.

This project is broad but branches out to some key initiatives, which are important to empowering such a community to socially and economically developing itself. Communication for development, training and capacity building, and education are just the right start-ups for a community such as that of the CHT. The Integrated Community Development Project deviates from mainstream urban city issues but focuses on a vital geographic section of Chittagong district. This program is particularly remarkable because it structures its work around ethnic minorities of this region who have been rather overlooked by development practitioners. This program enables the ethnic communities to combat some key social, economic, and health issues through development without migrating to cities.

Photo credit: Sumaiya Nehla Saif

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