About the area
Jharkhali lies on an island in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. This area is known as the Sunderbans, a vast river delta straddling India and Bangladesh. There is a network of rivers, channels and creeks which shift with the tides and the seasons. These are lined with mangrove swamps.
Human settlement here is precarious. Villages lie just a few metres above sea level and both homes and land are vulnerable to storms and flooding.
Livelihoods tend to depend on fishing in the river and cultivating the land. Women are often engaged in catching prawns from the river but this is risky as crocodiles patrol the muddy banks. Farmers face poor soil quality, which is saline and often waterlogged. They tend to mono-crop but yields are generally low.
The villages in this area are remote and poverty is widespread. The nearest government school is at Basanti, about 15 miles from Jharkhali, thus many generations have lacked access to education. Illiteracy is high, particularly among women. The area is also distant from health facilities.
About the local organisation and history of CRS involvement
Since 1990, a community based organisation called Arpan Mahila Samity, based in the village of Basanti at the northern end of the island, has been engaged in efforts to promote sustainable rural development. CRS began supporting them in 2005 with a women’s empowerment programme in Basanti but this has now stopped in order to focus on three remote villages at the southern end of the island: Pronab Babur Bazar, Balikhal and Tridibnagar. There are about 8,000 people (about 1,300 families) across the three villages, of which about 2,000 are children. Most of the families are Hindu. CRS has supported the construction of a concrete school building to serve these communities.
Current CRS programmes
CRS runs an education programme comprising both formal and non-formal education for children between the ages of 3 and 13. Non-formal education is based on ‘joyful learning’ methods which place an emphasis on dance, music and drawing. There is also a formal primary school with about 125 students.
The health programme is delivered via several clinics across the area which provide primary health care including check-ups and the distribution of medicines. In addition there is a health clinic held once a month at the school. CRS supports awareness-raising programmes to improve knowledge of health and hygiene in the community, as well as other occasional health programmes in collaboration with other organisations. A particular focus is on tackling iron deficiency anaemia among women and children.
“I was married off when I was only 14 years. My husband was much older than me and soon he was unable to work due to his age and poor health. It came upon me to support my family. I joined the SHG programme at Arpan Mahila Samiti and started to save small amounts from my wages as an agricultural hand. I was able to take out a loan and started my goat-rearing business with just four goats. The business is doing well, I have been able to repay the loan and I hope to expand the business further.”
– Rita Mondol, Tridibnagar village
Support is needed to continue helping this remote and vulnerable community, particularly general medicines and equipment for the clinics, and specific medicines and materials for the iron deficiency anaemia campaign. The school also requires some renovation. Funds are also needed to provide honorariums for doctors, health workers and teachers.