Our goal was to bring back the transparency and accountability of government service providers. We arranged various meetings, a rally and public hearings to ensure that every stakeholder was aware of every service the local government was obligated to provide the citizens. As the final step, we installed a citizen’s charter at the union council office.
The story behind the establishment of Sammiloni Jubo Sangho is unique in the sense that even though the organization now works for the development of the locality of Gopalganj’s Karpara union, it began as a token of protest and resistance against politically backed quarters and their pressure.
In the late 80s, socially marginalized people were exploited by residents of the neighbouring villages. Current president Iqbal Mahmud’s father and 57 other youth then formed Sammiloni Jubo Sangho in 1989 to resist such injustice.
“Our traders could not sell anything. They would simply walk away with the goods at the market. And as unbelievable as it may sound, poor Muslims were made to work at a Hindu temple against their will,” says Iqbal.
“To put an end to such injustice, a group of 58 people started to station themselves at the market. It wasn’t easy but the members were determined. They would even go to the local MP with complaints sometimes. Eventually, the exploitation ended and Sammiloni Jubo Sangho could focus on development.”
In the beginning, the organisation only started with a Tk 2-membership fee. However, the members were motivated and inspired enough to start making a real difference with the small amount of money. Then in 1992, Iqbal’s father passed away. Iqbal quickly became a member himself and started contributing. Soon, the members were able to buy nine decimals of land and build a small room as an office.
“In 2008, we applied for registration with the social services department. Our approval came a year later. Even though we were already working with our own resources, the approval added momentum,” says Iqbal.
Iqbal Mahmud says that they have mainly helped the local poor community with education and weddings. “We provided financial assistance to students who couldn’t afford books and stationery. Besides, we have token recognition for the top three students of the local primary school. We started with the school closes to our organization. Last year, we were able to cover all 17 schools in our union.”
“We also contribute at weddings for those who cannot afford all the costs. Our volunteers help with manpower at almost every wedding. Currently, we have more than 200 members and the organization bears the cost of primary healthcare of all the members. We also help needy people get treatment. For the past five years, we have distributed winter clothes to poor families. We started with just 50 items of clothing. Last year, we gave away 200.”
As a continuation of such efforts, Sammiloni Jubo Sangho started to work with the British Council as a Civil Society Organization (CSO) of the Platforms for Dialogue (P4D) project, a European Union-funded project in partnership with the Cabinet Division which is working to improve good governance and engage civil society organisations and citizens in government accountability mechanisms.
Sammiloni Jubo Sangho implemented three social action projects (SAPs) on education, local government service and drug addiction.
Drug addiction has been a big problem in Karpara. SAP leader Sajib Molla says,
We worked really hard to stop drug abuse. We held meetings at schools and two clubs to raise awareness. We organized a rally and a public hearing. The public hearing was attended by 75 people including the UNO and other government officials.
Sajib says a relative, Iskandar Molla had become an addict out of frustration and depression after his father died. “Our awareness campaign was able to shake him up. Then we counselled him back to normal life. Now, the 22-year old plays football, volleyball and works at a poultry farm.”
Sojib Sheikh led the work on quality education. “We wanted to ensure quality education at the local schools. We sat with the guardians, the students, the teachers and also the school management committee. Now, the situation has improved and we are working to make the changes sustainable.”
SAP leader Chinmoy Biswas helped address inadequate local government service.
“Our goal was to bring back transparency and accountability of government service providers. We arranged various meetings, a rally and public hearings to ensure that every stakeholder was aware of every service the local government was obligated to provide the citizens. As the final step, we installed a citizen’s charter at the union council office.”
Sammiloni Jubo Sangho, which has been fighting to establish the rights of the people of Karpara since its inception looks set to continue the good work long after P4D phases out, says Iqbal.