Moving forward during the COVID crisis – the story of Chandra Tripura
by Marte Hellema, Youth Co:Lab
‘In beginning, indigenous communities [were] more worried about food crisis rather than spread of virus, but now situation is getting worse day by day,’ shares Chandra Tripura, a professional dancer and social entrepreneur from the Tripura Indigenous group in Bangladesh. As an indigenous woman, Chandra has seen firsthand how COVID-19 has impacted indigenous communities in her country.
Hill Resource Centre, which she founded, is a social enterprise located in the Rangamati Hill District of Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. It is a multi-purpose initiative that contributes towards culture and development. They are part of the Asia Indigenous Youth Platform (AIYP), a collaboration initiative of the Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). They are also involved in Youth Co:Lab, a project co-led by the UNDP and Citi Foundation.
Chandra is one of many young indigenous social entrepreneurs who have not let the pandemic stop them. She is mobilizing her community to come together and overcome the serious challenges head-on.
The impact of the pandemic has been significant on indigenous people in Bangladesh. Healthcare workers cannot reach the remote areas many of them live in. This has not only ensured that many indigenous communities are more at risk, but also that they do not know what to do or how to protect themselves. Misinformation and an absence of reliable information in indigenous languages has played a significant role in further complicating the situation.
Internet and electricity connectivity are lacking in many remote areas, further aggravating the information gap, and causing young indigenous people to fall behind in their education as classes are moved online. They have also been facing human rights violations, including instances of land grabbing and harassment.
But all these challenges have motivated Chandra.
‘For the first two weeks, I was kind of frustrated because I realized this will be tragic for us. (..) but now I am doing great. Because things should not stop for any reason.’
She started consulting her colleagues and other young social entrepreneurs, reaching out to people and sharing information with them. Sharing experiences about how they are trying to turn around their businesses to adjust to the new reality. Many, like herself, are struggling to keep their businesses afloat, and pay rent. She paid particular attention to the views and needs of women, as they are often further marginalized in crisis situations. Being a dancer, she also included artists in her conversations.
‘(..) from very beginning, we started collecting funds for indigenous peoples who are living in remote areas,’ Chandra tells, ‘Those who are suffering from food crisis due to lockdown situation.’
They started to collect funds through collaboration with university students across the country. Providing live entertainment on Facebook, weekly, with the support of indigenous artists, mostly singers.
She also got involved in raising awareness through videos and printed documents on COVID-19 and how to protect yourself. Volunteers in remote areas initiated community-based awareness raising efforts. Traditional leaders were consulted to ensure efforts were aligned with traditions and indigenous knowledge.
In January 2020, her organization Hill Resource Centre launched an evening school and handicrafts weaving project for women in Penai Para, a remote village of Bandarban Hill District to support women weavers who make traditional clothes and beads ornaments. These initiatives continue to support the women, and she is looking to expand on them.
Due to COVID-19, Bangladesh enforced a state of lockdown as of 25 March 2020. Followed by the lockdown, the government deployed military troops and civil administration officers to enforce it. The sudden restrictions on movements have had a devastating impact on villagers in remote areas, especially in terms of access to groceries, food, and other household items.
To ease the sudden inconvenience, and to prevent virus infections in the villages, the Social Innovation Team of Hill Resource Centre established Valedi, a superstore, in Hazachara village in Rangamati District. The initiative has helped about 700 villagers of Hazachara and surrounding villages to shop their daily necessities without having to go to another township.
Moreover, since the pandemic broke out in Bangladesh, Hill Resource Centre has been providing tuition to disadvantaged children in remote villages. Most children in remote tracts do not have access to the internet and are therefore deprived of online classes. To fill the gap, Hill Resource Centre has formed ‘Pahr Sidok’ (Let the light shine), a platform of young university and college going students from Hazachara. They teach academic lessons to the children from grade-1 to grade-10 five days a week.
Hill Resource Centre also is planning to support and create income generating activities for those who have lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19.
‘I think we have to rely on our own solutions. We have to stick with our roots more and create more jobs and entrepreneurship and other resources, whatever we have, with our traditional knowledge. We have to create jobs in our own places, rather than us going to cities.’
Chandra and her colleagues are thinking long-term, as the COVID pandemic and more importantly its consequences are not going to solve themselves. While they hope the government, non-governmental organizations and others will support them, they are not waiting for help to come. As indigenous young people and as social entrepreneurs they are committed to help their communities themselves.
‘If there is a problem, there is a solution. We have to move on with that.’
Co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab establishes a common agenda for countries in Asia-Pacific to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.