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Bangladesh is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. The country is also affected by repeated natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Due to political unrest, the people of Bangladesh suffer further. Over 30 per cent of the population lives in poverty and the number of vulnerable children is high.

The city struggling to cope with the increase in population

Children from the SOS Children's Village are busy painting (photo: SOS archives)

Khulna is located in the south-east of the country, in the Ganges Delta. It is the third largest city of Bangladesh, and home to over 1.4 million people.

The city is an important industrial and commercial centre, especially due to its location and its harbour. Agriculture and fishing of shrimp for export are important sources of income and employment.

While other areas of Bangladesh have seen a reduction in poverty, this has not been the case for Khulna. The city is struggling to supply basic infrastructure, employment, education and health services to an ever-increasing population. In addition, many in the area are vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. For example, in 2009, Cylcone Aila caused devastation in the rural areas around Khulna - thousands of people moved to the city of Khulna, in search of shelter and a new livelihood.

The majority of people who migrated ended up living in slums on the fringes of the city. They have no access to electricity, safe drinking water and sewage systems, let alone access to health care or education for their children. Most live precariously off the informal economy; they drive rickshaws, sort rubbish, and beg or sell goods on the streets.

Due to the economic and social pressures that families are under, many children are forced to go out to work and contribute to the household income. Education becomes a luxury, and many can simply not afford to go to school. Many children have already lost parental care due to these complex social and economic circumstances, and many more are at risk.

Families in need of support and children in need of a loving home

When the War of Liberation ended in 1971 many children were left without parental care. SOS Children's Villages approached the responsible ministry, who welcomed the proposal to support families in need and to provide loving homes to children who had lost parental care. Khulna was the third Bangladeshi location where we became active. Given the high illiteracy rate in the city - over 41 per cent according to some estimates - the education of children in the area is one of our top priorities.

What we do in Khulna

A young man continuing his education with support from our young person's programme (photo: SOS archives)

SOS Children's Village Khulna is situated two kilometres from the city centre, in the Gollamari area, on the main road to the harbour. We work closely with the local population, adapting our activities to their needs. In order to support vulnerable families in the neighbourhood, we offer family strengthening programmes which, in collaboration with local agencies, aim to ensure that children have access to essential educational, health and nutritional services. We also run a day-care centre for children of working mothers and a training centre. Courses are run on childcare, hygiene, nutrition, and domestic skills such as sewing, knitting and other crafts. The medical centre treats families and children from the local community and provides them with advice on preventing illnesses. We also run immunization campaigns and family planning services.

Children who have lost parental care can find a loving home with one of the 16 SOS families, who can care for up to 160 children. The SOS Hermann Gmeiner School provides pre-school, primary and secondary education for up to 495 pupils from the SOS Children's Village and the surrounding area. There was a great need for this school, since educational facilities are very limited in Bangladesh. Likewise, the kindergarten is appreciated by mothers who can go to work and contribute to the family’s income, knowing their children are well-cared for.

As children grow older they can move to the SOS Youth Programme while they attend further education or training. With the help of qualified staff, the young adults learn to shoulder responsibilities and make their own decisions. In Bagerhat, some 30 km from Khulna there is an SOS Vocational Training Centre where young men are trained in agricultural production and processing.