'Fistful of rice' helps women keep Bangladesh's Indigenous community afloat – Arab News

DHAKA: When Doli Barman founded the first food bank in Kawapara village in northern Bangladesh two years ago, she wanted to make sure her community would be safe from hunger in times of crisis.
The impoverished region in Niamotpur, Naogaon district, an area inhabited by some 6,000 members of landless Indigenous groups, has often suffered food emergencies. 
The simple food bank idea, called Musti Chal (“a fistful of rice”), has already helped it stay afloat during one of the biggest crises in recent years — the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — and is now allowing local women to make small investments and become self-sufficient.
“One of the main objectives of this food bank was to extend support to group members during periods of crisis,” Barman told Arab News.
Musti Chal was established just months before Bangladesh went into its first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. In communities like Barman’s, which are dependent on daily wage labor, pandemic-imposed closures deprived many of their livelihoods, increasing the country’s poverty rate to over 40 percent from 20 percent before the outbreak. 
“Our people were saved from starvation,” Barman said. “From the food bank, we lent rice to community members, which they repaid later.”
In her village, the food bank is now run by 30 women. They set aside a fistful of rice from their cooking every day. After a week, they collect all the spare rice and sell some of it. They save the money they have earned and after some time invest it together into small projects like fish farming and domestic animals, which generate further income.
They also lend money to community members with little or no interest, preventing them from falling into debt by borrowing from loan sharks.
“This is how the food bank is serving the community. We want to grow together,” Barman said. “Now that I have the food bank, I am much more confident than before. I used to feel quite helpless whenever I fell into any crisis.”
With other members of Musti Chal, she has now managed to save around $250, which the women want to allocate for investment. This week, she said, they are going to buy livestock to rear.
In managing the food bank, Barman’s group received training from the Borendro Development Organization, a local nongovernmental organization funded by the Manusher Jonno Foundation, which helps uplift Indigenous communities in the region and has helped with the establishment of similar food banks in other villages. 
“Initially, we provided some training and logistics to participants for the management of the food bank,” project coordinator Mohammed Anwar Hossain told Arab News. “Each group meets once a week to review their achievements and discuss future plans. We have a plan to extend further assistance to groups to increase the fund, which will help Indigenous people achieve financial independence.”  
In Chargasa Vutkuri, a village next to Barman’s, women are already planning expansion. 
“Now we are planning to take a pond on lease for fish farming in the locality. There is also a plan to buy cattle,” she said. “All our 25 members are now growing together as a big family. We understand that the strength of togetherness will offer us a huge potential to grow.”
Udupi: Schools reopened in southern India under tight security on Wednesday with public gatherings banned following protests over Muslim girls wearing the hijab in classrooms.
Tensions have been high in Karnataka state since late last year when at least four schoolgirls were prevented from wearing the Muslim headscarf, sparking protests that have since spread across India.
In an attempt to calm tensions, Karnataka’s state government temporarily closed schools last week.
This came as the Karnataka High Court imposed a temporary ban on the wearing of all religious symbols in schools while it considers the headscarf ban.
As classrooms reopened in the state on Tuesday and Wednesday, police with batons were deployed outside several schools.
Authorities also imposed Section 144 — a law that prohibits gatherings of more than four people — in several districts.
There were no reports of disturbances but local media on Monday said several Muslim girls chose not to attend classes or sit exams when asked to remove their headscarves.
“We have grown up wearing the hijab since our childhood and we cannot give it up. I will not write the exam, I will go home,” the News Minute media outlet quoted a young girl as saying.
“Hindu students wear vermilion… Christian students wear a rosary, what is wrong if our children wear the hijab?” a parent told broadcaster NDTV.
Nasir Sharif, 43, said his 15-year-old daughter was told to take off her hijab at the school gates on Wednesday in Chikmagalur district. He persuaded school authorities to allow her to remove it only in class.
“My daughter has been wearing the hijab since she was five years old. It is to protect her dignity. What they are asking us to do is humiliating,” Sharif told AFP.
A video on social media that could not be independently verified showed around a dozen girls in burqas shouting, “We want justice! Allahu Akbar (God is most great),” after being prevented from entering class.
The row has heightened fears among Muslims in India, with many saying they feel under attack by the government of Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rashad Hussain, US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, tweeted last week that hijab bans in schools “violate religious freedom and stigmatize and marginalize women and girls.”
The Indian government said in a statement that people “who know India well would have a proper appreciation of these realities.”
“Motivated comments on our internal issues are not welcome,” it added.
LONDON: A group of 3,000 volunteers in the UK will be among the first in the world to receive a new COVID-19 vaccine that targets the omicron variant, Sky News reported.
Almost 30 hospitals across the UK are expected to take part in the tests, which begin later this week.
As part of the tests, overseen by a London hospital team, the 3,000-person cohort will be split into two, with the first half receiving a standard Moderna booster and the other half a new jab by the company designed to neutralize the highly infectious variant.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told Sky News that a booster set for public release this autumn would protect against both the delta and omicron variants.
The new clinical trial will evaluate immune responses among volunteers and the jab’s safety. “The UK is a world leader when it comes to the research and development of vaccines and medicines, bolstered by our renowned life-sciences industry,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

“I want this country to be the best place in the world to launch clinical trials. I urge anyone eligible to take part in this vital research and play their part in protecting the country for years to come as we learn to live with COVID-19.”

Moderna’s cooperation with the UK’s National Institute for Health Research, a government-funded research arm, comes as the pharmaceutical giant looks to boost its market presence in the country.

Javid met with Bancel in the US last week amid rumors that the company is preparing to launch a research hub in Britain.

Bancel said: “The UK and NIHR have been pioneering in their work to study vaccines and therapeutics throughout the global pandemic and have built up world-class clinical research capabilities.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the NIHR and engaging further with the life sciences community in the UK.”
LONDON: Australia’s immigration detention policy has been slammed by Human Rights Watch, which has used the Novak Djokovic saga to point out that the country holds asylum seekers for an average of 689 days.
The expose comes one month after the Serbian tennis player was held in a detention hotel ahead of the Australian Open championships. 
He was detained for five days in a state-run facility in Melbourne after his visa to challenge for the Australian Open title was retracted because he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. 
But unlike Djokovic’s brief stay, some detainees are kept in the facility for hundreds of days. 
One Iranian refugee, 24-year-old Mehdi Ali, said: “The residents of this building are desperately in need of freedom.”
Ali belongs to the persecuted Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, and has been held in the same building for two years with no release date.
Arriving in Australia when he was 15, he has been held by immigration authorities for nine years. 
He said his experience in the hotel was a “real-life nightmare,” and several detainees had suicidal tendencies after years of being held. 
HRW found the average detention duration from a government report in September. It is believed to be the longest average detention rate for a Western nation. 
Australia has a mandatory detention system for those who arrive by boat, with 1,459 people currently detained in the system. There are no limits on how long a person can be held. 
HRW found records of 117 people who had been held for at least five years. Eight people had been kept in detention for over a decade. 
“These statistics shows how completely alone Australia is among like-minded countries, in terms of the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees for years on end,” researcher Sophie McNeill told the BBC.
“Under international law, immigration detention should not be used as punishment, but rather should be an exceptional measure of last resort to carry out a legitimate aim.”
Australia’s rejection of people fleeing persecution violates the rules of the international refugee treaties that it has signed up to.
TOKYO: Japan and the UAE have agreed on the need to work closely together to strengthen their cooperation in new areas, such as promoting advanced technologies and innovation, according to a statement from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
The agreement was reached during a recent video conference between METI Minister Hagiuda Koichi and Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology in the UAE.
Hagiuda expressed his gratitude for the stable supply of crude oil to Japan and urged cooperation toward stabilizing the international crude oil market in light of soaring prices.
The two leaders affirmed their countries’ bilateral energy relations are not limited only to the conventional oil and gas fields, but simultaneously there has also been significant progress in cooperation in the decarbonization field, including on hydrogen and ammonia. 
Hagiuda welcomed the UAE’s pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050 and the acceptance of its bid to host COP28 in 2023.
The two leaders agreed that their countries should work closely together and with all nations as the energy market changes.
They also confirmed the importance of deepening bilateral cooperation in new areas besides the energy field, such as promoting advanced technologies and innovation.
This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


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