“Rishilpi” a special Bangladeshi-Italian rural community advancement project in Satkhira
There are many humanitarian initiatives in Bangladesh for the assistance of vulnerable people and all have their own value in bringing hope and trying to leave no one behind.
Among them, there is a very special one, an Italian - Bangladeshi initiative, which since more than 40 years is supporting thousands of children and people with special needs, in its rehabilitation centres, empowering thousands of women by giving them job opportunities and involving in its workshop many people with different abilities, offering education to disadvantaged children and in particular to young girls, avoiding them the tough destiny of an early marriage, and implementing many other valuable activities to serve people in need independently of their belief, ethnicity or social condition.
It is “Progetto Uomo - Rishilpi International ONLUS - For Rural Community Advancement” based in the district of Satkhira. Rishilpi started its mission in Bangladesh in 1977 as Rishilpi Development Project and it was renamed as “Progetto Uomo Rishilpi International ONLUS” in 2013. The name Rishilpi is a combination of the words “Rishi” , outcaste and “Shilpi”, artist/craftsman. Everything has started upon the initiative of two Italian philanthropists who are in Bangladesh since early 70s soon after the Liberation War: Mr. Vicenzo Falcone, Enzo, and Mrs. Graziella Melano, Laura. Enzo and his wife Laura established this organization bearing the philosophy : “Feed the hungry , heal the sick, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless”.
They are the example of a perfect integration of Italian citizens in Bangladesh and after so many years of working here they have recently obtained the Bangladeshi citizenship for which they are particularly proud. The President of the Rishilpi , Mrs. Monica Tosi, with a previous long professional experience in business and administration, is managing and supervising the work of the organization, with same love and extreme dedication and professionalism of the founders of the project, raising funds and taking care of the relations with institutions and donor community, in Italy and both at local and international level. However the key actors and makers of the success of the whole project are the Bangladeshi staff members (271 people) of Rishilpi actually leading the organization, in addition to its founders and the President, with a responsible sense of ownership and with one objective : helping their own community and families.
Now Rishilpi Onlus mission is not simply guaranteeing a sustainable livelihood for the rural community in the area of Satkhira, becoming for that a role model of self-employment also for other organizations, but also building an educated community and equipping children, including those with different abilities, to be future leaders.
At present almost 20,000 people directly and indirectly get benefits through its different projects which include: Rishilpi International Handicrafts, Rishilpi Health and Rehabilitation, Rishilpi Education Program, Rishilpi Education Support Program, Water Treatment Plant and Rishilpi Bakery.
Rishilpi International Handicrafts has created job opportunities for 5000 producers, including many women and many people with different abilities, and 115 people working as office employees under Rishilpi Handicrafts. This project works for ensuring the sustainable income of the poor and disadvantaged communities bearing cultural heritage of Bangladesh in their different products exported in Europe, USA, Japan and Australia, and sold in Bangladesh as well. Each product is a unique piece reporting in the label the name and signature of the producer.
The Rishilpi Health and Rehabilitation Centre in Satkhira and in the other towns (Tala, Keshabpur, Khulna, Assasuni, Kalaroa) are worthy to be visited, to witness the valuable, precious everyday work made with passion, patience and resilience by motivated specialized staff of doctors, physiotherapists, volunteers. Heroes of our times, which prefer to work close to their communities instead of searching better life opportunities abroad or in the main cities of the Country.
They are serving the poor and most vulnerable people with disabilities since 1980. In last 7 years from 2014 till 2020 around 6000 children/people with disabilities have been integrated in the community . Thanks to the rehabilitation , children with disabilities have access to education, mothers receive training of basic physiotherapy and postural technique for their children, people know more on disabilities.
Moreover the workshop of Rishilpi centre builds assistive devices for children and people with disabilities. Maternal and child care in targeted areas are improved by providing care at home level to mothers and children. The specialization of the Rehabilitation centres includes orthopedic and neurology physiotherapy unit, pediatric physiotherapy in patient ward (IPW), occupational Therapy Unit with an Autism Corner , sensory room, appropriate paper based technology (produced in Rishilpi by recycling paper). In addition to that , there are other units : special education unit, social welfare unit, general health service, workshop unit and hostel unit.
Every year around 2000 students are enrolled in Rishilpi Education Program at the main centre in Satkhira (kindergarten, primary, secondary). The main objective of the education program is to create opportunities for the children of disadvantaged communities as education is an agent of transformation and development of their own communities.
The Rishilpi Community Education Program is working to improve the quality of education for children come from Rishi, Kaura, Munda, Jele and some poor Muslim families; to ensure that the children of the poorest villages are educated up to class five because in many cases they lag behind in health, education, nutrition etc.. and that is why they stop studying before passing class five; with Rishilpi special school, education from six classes to ten classes is ensured.
To help these children to study and to provide to their needs Rishilpi Education Support Program provides sponsors , mainly kind hearted people of Italy, who through a child sponsorship support Rishilpi to provide educational materials.
Water Treatment Plant is one of the most important component of Rishilpi program to ensure safe drinking water for the entire campus in Stakhira and subsequently to expand for the beneficiaries who are living in surrounding areas of Rishilpi. The plant has been donated by a group of Rishilpi’s Italian friends through Rishilpi Onlus-Italy in 2010. Water lab is being worked for testing the quality of water of the plant along with the tube wells and Arsenic Iron Removal Plant in the community for ensuring the purity of drinking water.
The Rishilpi Bakery produces delicious biscuits, bread and cakes not only for the people of the Centre in Satkhira but above all for the distribution in the local market , by giving jobs to many people.
The description of its interventions and achievements cannot really depict the sense of community , altruism and self-denial which ones can only understand by sharing some time with the staff of Rishilpi and visiting its activities on the field. It is in the smiles of the assisted children and their parents that one can really get the meaning of the job and the mission of all professional people working for Rishilpi. This makes Rishilpi a true flagship in the Italian-Bangladeshi long friendly relationships and that is due to the passion and abnegation of all Rishilpi Community.
Enrico Nunziata, a career diplomat and an awardee of tittle of knight of the Italian Republic is Ambassador of Italy in Dhaka.