Processes and ways forward….ACHR in Dhaka

Location: A small community near St Xaviers College, Old Dhaka.

Just some gut reactions from a day spent observing the ACHR community mapping exercise for piloting the ACHR process. For those unaware, ACHR have been instrumental in developing a people led slum upgrading process in Asia (www.achr.net) and they are leading the way forward for integrative upgrading which focuses on equipping and facilitating communities with tools that will help transform their lives for the better.

I had the chance to visit a community mapping workshop being carried out by some architects, as part of the pilot for City-wide upgrading in Bangladesh.  I was also able to see and hear Somsook Boonyabancha talk about the process, and the need to focus on city-scale rather than project and community scale.

I guess this is right at the beginning of the process, so it will be interesting to see how it develops in Bangladesh, and whether it will have the same impact it has had in other countries.  The method is pretty simple, developed extensively through The Ban Mankong Collective Housing programme of Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) in Thailand.  CODI has been instrumental, along with other institutions in South Asia (such as the Orangi Pilot Project in Pakistan, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) Mahila Milan in India and also now, the Community Architects Network (CAN) in developing progressive models of participatory and people oriented urban development projects.  Coupling this with Bangladesh’s robust NGO infrastructure, and the potential for city-wide upgrading seems to be a no-brainer…The concept of a ‘people-driven housing development process, in which poor people themselves are the main actors, the main solution-finders and the main delivery mechanism’ should appeal to all the large organisations interested in social and physical development of Bangladesh.

The question arises at the financial aspects of these projects – with loans and subsidies being the core focus for the mentioned organisations along with savings groups – with Bangladesh’s leading role in MFI (Micro-Finance Institutions such as BRAC and Grameen) it still seems quite a disconnect as to why there has not been a quicker uptake in tenure security and housing projects – An argument being that their urban poverty strategy doesnt focus on the housing issue, but rather the socio-economic issues.

There is of course plenty of time to provide more insight into the process of housing and land rights for the urban poor in Dhaka – one of many problems besieging the city – others being the transport, waste, environmental and density.  Alongside the fact the country is heavily centralised with everything happening in Dhaka.

The workshop today gave me some thoughts on: facilitation, the right tools and communication methods.

So firstly: facilitating a community mapping exercise is a big ask, it takes a lot of energy, both from the community and the practitioners.  So being fully prepared, with a schedule of activities, over a period of time – so that everybody is clear on roles, responsibilities and particular actions is needed always.  Our workshop, although the first one with this community, was not the first to be conducted by the facilitators, so it makes me think about the whole role of the facilitator.

Secondly: the right tools: for mapping especially, to make the process easy and smooth as possible, you need to have the right tools available. So it was great to see the tape measures, pens, papers, markers and other things ready to conduct the workshop, It would have been useful to get the correct paper, but a minor detail that was quickly resolved on the ground.

Finally: Communication methods. I was hugely impressed by the group, and even more so with the three young students who had come from another community to explain the process.  It helped a lot, and also ensured that they both began the process of exchanging knowledge, from the ground up.  At one point, however, there was one community member being guided by 6 facilitators on how to map, quite a scene! But otherwise, once the community got the gist of mapping, young children were eager to get on with it.

To conclude this short post, it is clear that the messy-ness and the mistakes need to be made at this junction so that everybody can learn at the same time.  What would be useful to know is how much of the expertise has been given to the community, the facilitators and the organisations responsible for conducting and carrying out the mapping.

Some images from the workshop below:

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