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Rishilpi is Looking for Partners to Expand Efforts in Bangladesh

By Monica Tosi Giorcelli

Challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many NGOs have had to cease their projects and handle new realities. In Bangladesh, where our Italy-based NGO Rishilpi International Onlus operates, the pandemic has led to an increase in early school drop-out, an increase in poverty and, consequently, an increase in early marriages. To meet this new challenges, we have had to ask ourselves: What strategy should we follow?

Bangladesh and its southwest region

Bangladesh is a developing country of around 165 million people in South Asia bordered by India and Myanmar. It has nearly 600 km (373 miles) of coastline and is low-lying with many rivers, which form a fertile delta, making it prone to frequent and severe flooding. It is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. With its road network underdeveloped, travelling around can be complex and expensive.

Rishipli works in Satkhira, a district comprised of around 300 villages, each inhabited by about 200 families, in the southwest, the most underdeveloped region in Bangladesh with 60% of the population, half of them women, living below the poverty line. The literacy rate is around 45% for men and 39% for women. The people of the so-called untouchable and outcaste communities (the Rishi, Munda, Kaura and Chowdaly) are exploited due to their traditional occupations such as shoe polishing, hair cutting, pig rearing and leather collecting. Children of these communities do not have access to education and are put to work to provide support to their family. To complete this problematic picture, 52% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 35% before the age of 15. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world.

Most adolescents are not adequately educated about reproductive health and half suffer from anemia and malnutrition. Furthermore, mothers and children face the risk of serious disability due to early pregnancies. Early marriages, which is especially widespread in rural areas, have serious physical and psychological consequences on young women.

In the dowry system, a husband or his family receives cash and kind from his future wife's family for the marriage. This can translate into the husband and his family feeling authorized to exploit his wife, who goes from serving her family to serving her husband without ever having the freedom to decide and think for herself. There are obviously many causes behind this phenomenon, including poverty and lack of education. Families prefer to marry their daughters at a young age to relieve themselves of the economic weight the daughter's represent. At the time, women often pass from experiencing restrictions in their family to experiencing them in their husband's family. Overall, there is a deeper cultural problem, which on the one hand concerns the communities and the inability to recognize girls on a par with boys, while on the other, the girls themselves unaccustomed to cultivating their self-esteem.

Rishilpi's educational and health services

For more than 45 years, Rishipli has provided educational and health services, including the prevention of child marriage and water purification, in Satkhira thanks to our sponsorship program. Financed by family and individual donors, the program enables children to attend kindergarten to high school in the headquarters in Satkhira and one of 35 different community schools in the surrounding remote areas. Healthcare is guaranteed through a center in the headquarters and five community rehabilitation centers in the remote areas.

In addition, Rishilpi carries out public awareness and advocacy campaigns on hygiene and maternal and child health. We have extended our work to all disadvantaged people in Satkhira. Currently, nearly 20,000 people benefit directly and 60,000 people benefit indirectly from our programs, with the support of a 288-person staff.

Expanding our efforts to meet new challenges

While some NGOs did not experience a decrease in donations during the pandemic, many did. Most Italian NGOs have changed the way they carry out their activities, and in many cases, the types of their activities and/or by offering new services. The digitization of activities has led to a global rethinking of working and volunteering methods, as well. Furthermore, new fundraising practices have emerged. Finally, over a third of NGOs have stepped up developing new partnerships at the national and international levels.

Rishilpi is taking a similar direction. We are now looking to partner with international foundations, international NGOs, and other international organizations to increase our impact in Bangladesh. Addressing the new challenges in the country requires expanded and joint efforts. We have become a member of Girls Not Brides, a global network of over 1,300 civil society organizations in more than 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to reach their potential, and WANGO, toward that end. We would be happy to share ideas and strategies with you. Please contact us at


Monica Tosi Giorcelli has been the president of Rishipli International since 2013.

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