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Writing about saving Lives

Today, at exactly midnight, for the first time, the media in Bangladesh saw not one, not two, but five different editorial-style, opinon pieces on newborn and child surival.

In Bangladesh, almost 250,000 children die yearly, before reaching their 5th birthday, from preventable causes. The households that the majority of these children belong to, do not keep track of birthdays, or death dates. Their top priority is survival. But these are also the families who are able to do little to do little to improve their predicament.

But there are higher powers—the upper echelon of the Bangladeshi society who can do so much to help us save lives, if we can motivate them in the right manner, through the right channels that reach and in a language and through topics that they understand.

Though we haven’t yet launched EVERY ONE in Bangladesh, we made sure that our cause is talked about among those pages of the media and those circles of the chattering classes that split hair over politics and economics, and very rarely, environment.

Politics, economics, development and the environment are among those vague notions that everyone has an opinion about and loves to talk about, unlike the plight of children who die because we choose to focus our attention elsewhere.

In a country like Bangladesh, where much of socio-political clout is wielded by a small, elite group of people who reside in the plush suburbs of Dhaka, the fact that children die from causes we can easily prevent, had never been discussed.

When I first broached the idea to the Forum, the country’s premium think tank magazine, they were a little sceptical. They were not too sure about us ngo-type people writing in development jargon in a magazine that is read by other ngo-type people, the academia, the policymakers, researchers and even our donors. We had to convince them that the magazine would still retain its “bite”– there would still be scope for sdebates on socio-political issues because that is all we will talk about. That is exactly what we did, with a lot of help from our friends at The Forum.

The idea was to link  saving children to these “hot issues”.

Though we may not know of the exact stats, but Bangladeshis know what kill our children. What we, especially the ones who can afford to read and write, don’t know is how our collective action can contribute to saving their lives.

The people who work on correcting systemic corruption in governance don’t know how that corruption contributes to the deaths of children, people who work with the extreme poor or socially marginalised don’t know that their work helps save lives, the disaster risk reduction workers don’t know that they can actually help save newborn lives too and the man on the street (in the case of the Forum, perhaps the man/woman in a cushy corporate office or plush drawing room) doesn’t know that the political power he or she wields can actually help us save 175,000 lives yearly.

So we got our staff to write–not a report or proposal for the donor or our research, but their thoughts on why children are dying in Bangladesh and how we can save their lives. http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/archive.php?date=2009-10-04

Shumon Sengupta, the Country Director in Bangladesh wrote about the need for popular engagement. He appealed to the educated masses, who are perhaps not among our affected families, but have the power to change the fate of these families who are unable to save the lives of their children. He tells them to get involved in our quest to save newborn and children’s lives.

Nazme Sabina, our resident economist and livelihoods advisor, analyses that it isn’t just about policy debate or just about meeting MDG 4. It’s about overcoming greater barriers such as poverty and gender disparity.

Lydia Baker talks about how climate change affects the survival of children and what can be done to make our communities more climate resilient and in the process, save more lives.

My piece incorporates lessons from the last disaster that hit Bangladesh, Cyclone Aila, and how just attention to certain details by the policymakers and the government can prevent children from dying in large numbers during and after disasters.

Our friends in Drishtipat Writer’s Collective, a group of independent writers, contributed their two cents by doing a piece that links child survival and rights with poverty.

All these stories, in one day, in the country’s largest English daily has helped us lay the foundation for telling our stories of saving children and getting people to help us save more lives. A big thanks to the Daily Star and The Forum for making this happen.

However, as a communications professional, the biggest satisfaction did not come in the form of seeing them in print. On Tuesday last week, I  met the assistant editor of Forum at a posh Dhaka-soiree, where the government, the opposition, the media, the world and its wife were being debated and laughed about. In the middle of a heated debate about some other, seemingly hot, but trivial issue, the issue of “Child Survival” was raised and for the first time, I saw the creme de le creme of Dhaka turn their heads, collectively, at me, with an inquiring look and for the first time, I got to talk to the people who can help us change the world (excuse the drama, but it was one of those moments). This was the change in attitudes we are hoping for. This is how we want EVERY ONE to save EVERY child. Now if only EVERY ONE could read…..

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