Written by Sarah Easter, Emergency Communication Officer
Unmi Roy is a 14-year-old schoolgirl in grade ten. She goes to a village school in the North of Bangladesh. Her school is one of 331 schools that are included in the JANO project, a CARE project financed through the European Union and the Austrian Development Agency. 40 million people in Bangladesh are food insecure, with 11 million suffering from acute hunger . Women and girls are especially affected. This is why the schools include several activities through a Nutrition Action Plan which help the students learn about healthy practices and nutrition. Sarah Easter, CARE Emergency Communication Officer meets Unmi at her school in the adolescent corner, sitting on the floor in her blue school uniform and playing Monopoly with some of her classmates.
Sarah: How does playing Monopoly help you lead a healthy life?
Unmi: Our game is a little bit different from Monopoly. Instead of streets, we collect important messages, for example how to wash vegetables correctly. It also has the prison field like the original game, but here we have other reasons to end up there. For example, when we draw a card that says we married too early, ate unhygienic food, or if we did not finish our education, then we must skip a round while sitting in prison. My classmates over there are playing a different game, which is similar to snakes and ladders. If you land on a good playing field such as continuing your education, then you can climb the ladder to a higher level because you will then have a good future. If you land on the field with early pregnancy, you will slide down the snake to a lower level again, because it is very dangerous to be pregnant so young. You could even die.
Sarah: Wow, you know a lot about this. What has helped you learn about these topics?
Unmi: In my school we have a lot of classes and activities where we learn about what a healthy life is and what type of nutrition, we need to be healthy, but also about gender equity. We have classes, we have games, we watch videos, and I learned how to calculate my classmates’ BMI and what a balanced diet is, for them to reach a healthy BMI. We have the school garden where we grow vegetables and learn how to wash, cut and cook them correctly. We also have a theater group where we teach the community about healthy lifestyles and misconceptions. And the karate classes teach us girls self-confidence. So, we learn a lot at school.
Sarah: What is your favorite activity and why?
Unmi: The school garden is my favorite. I learnt a lot about how to grow vegetables, different cultivation seasons, and nutritious food. I even have my own garden at home now and can grow vegetables for my family. Karate is my second favorite activity. We learn how to defend ourselves and I have become more self-confident. As a girl, I feel like I have more options now and can voice my dreams and hopes. We play games that normally are only for boys, and we ride our bicycles which only boys did. It is normal now to do what the boys do, and we girls are good at it.
After school at home, Unmi does her homework, helps her parents with the household chores, and works in the home garden. Sitting on the porch, Unmi is preparing dinner. Her father, Swapan Kumar Roy, 43, joins her.
Sarah: You said earlier that you feel like you can voice your dreams and hopes more now. What are those?
Unmi: I want to become a doctor. My favorite school subject is biology because I love learning about different bacteria and how the body works. My father is the village doctor and I want to do what he does and support my neighbors. He goes from house to house and treats them there. They trust him.
Sarah (to Unmi’s father): As a doctor have you noticed a change in the community since the JANO project started in your village?
Swapan (father): There has been a huge change. Before, most people used herbal solutions for their illnesses or tried to cure themselves with religion and misbeliefs. Now they come more and more to me or go to other health facilities. Also, during COVID-19 many came for vaccinations, which would not have happened before, because now there is an awareness of how important it is to go to a doctor. They have become more educated.
Sarah: Unmi, in your school and home garden you grow different vegetables. Do you cook and eat them once they are ripe?
Unmi: Yes, we use them for our own meals. It has helped us to have a more balanced diet than before. It is important to have different nutrients in every meal. My father is also a farmer, like all our neighbors. Our diet was not very balanced, as we only had what he can grow on his fields.
Swapan (father): Especially in the last years, I had a lot of lost crops. Natural disasters have increased over the last years due to climate change. When I grow my rice I need a lot of sun, but floods or too early and unpredictable rains have destroyed a lot of my rice fields. It has impacted my family a lot. I lost a lot of money, time, and food for my family. So, I am very happy, that Unmi helps us with her garden.
In the late afternoon, Unmi joins her classmates for a show of her theater group. A lot of people from her community and surrounding villages have come today. On the stage, four of her classmates are dressed as the “monsters” ignorance, unconsciousness, superstition, and bullying and try to scare the children in the front row. A fake saint gives fake medicine to a pregnant woman. Finishing the show, Unmi holds up a sign with some vegetables drawn on it and starts singing a song about good nutrition. After the show, the community members are invited to reflect on the show and on what they have learnt. Unmi is sharing her knowledge with her neighbors, already supporting them, like her father does.