USAID and MJF launch Ekota project to empower people with disabilities

The inception ceremony of the Ekota (Unity) Project, a joint initiative of USAID and Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), was held on 10 May 2023 at BRAC Center Inn in Mohakhali. The project aims to enhance the access and quality of basic services for people living with disabilities (PLWD) and promote their rights and justice.

The ceremony was attended by Mr. Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru (MP), State Minister of Social Welfare, as the chief guest. Ms. Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of MJF, welcomed the guests and highlighted the objectives and activities of the project. She said that the project would work with 8200 direct and 20000 indirect PLWD beneficiaries in 4 districts of Bangladesh.

The ceremony also featured a wheelchair cultural performance by Rubel Rana of CRP, a presentation by Mr. Sazzad Khan, Chief of Party of USAID’s Ekota Activity, and testimonies by two DPO members who shared their experiences and challenges. The partner NGO representatives also introduced themselves and expressed their commitment to the project.

Ms. Kathryn Davis Stevens, USAID Mission Director, congratulated the project team and partners and said that USAID was proud to support this initiative that would empower PLWD and help them realize their full potential. She also urged the government and other stakeholders to work together to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.

The State Minister of Social Welfare, Mr. Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru (MP), said that the government was working hard to make Bangladesh more accessible for people living with disabilities (PLWD). The minister said that the government was making its infrastructure more disability-friendly, such as the new roads and sidewalks and the metro rail project. He also said that the government was implementing various policies and programs to ensure the rights and welfare of PLWD.

He also urged the PLWD to be more confident and assertive about their rights and to participate actively in social and economic activities. He said that this would help them to overcome the barriers and challenges they face and to contribute to the development of the country.

He praised the Ekota Project for its efforts to enhance the access and quality of basic services for PLWD and to promote their rights and justice. He said that the project would complement the government’s initiatives and create a positive impact on the lives of PLWD.

The ceremony ended with a vote of thanks by Ms. Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of MJF.

In Bangladesh, as per WHO, about 20 million PLWD (People Living with Disability) are extremely vulnerable and discriminated against in terms of rights violations and access to all kinds of services. There is enough evidence that PLWD is marginalized socially, politically, culturally, and economically, which consequently puts them into severe privation and exclusion. They suffer multiple vulnerabilities in their everyday lives – disabled women and girls being the worst affected.

The barriers that PLWD face are manifold – societal, institutional, and infrastructural. Although there are multiple factors, it has appeared that the inability to access basic services and resources for disabled people at large is a great obstacle to their overall development. These barriers to accessibility entail education, health, safety nets, employment, development activities, and legal justice.

To address this issue, this USAID Ekota (Unity) Project has been designed by MJF with the objective of enhancing all basic quality services for PLWD, particularly for women and girls. The project will create a space for PLWD to claim their rights and justice and an accountability mechanism for relevant duty-bearing institutions to render better services to PLWD. After 5 years, the project will leave behind a score of self-managed DPOS* to continue claiming and realizing rights and legal justice in a sustainable and replicable manner.

The basic components of Ekota are:

  1. Enhanced ability of DPOS and PNGOS in claiming rights, entitlements, and justice for PLWD.
  2.  More sensitized government service providers are in place in public service delivery provisions.
  3. Enhanced opportunities for PLWD are created to engage them in self-employment or paid work.

The expected outcomes of Ekota are:

  1. Four District Disability Rights and Protection Committees and Legal Aid Committees will be activated and functional for PLWD.
  2. DPO members will be capable as entrepreneurs or job doers and engaged in income generation activities.
  3. Government and non-government stakeholders including DPOS will be more proactive in preparing district-level action plans to access basic services.
  4. Gender integration and Social Inclusion will be addressed in the project locations.
  5. A National Action Plan in light of the Disability Rights and Protection Act, 2013, and the Legal Aid Services Act will be implemented.

Mridha Shihab Mahmud is a writer, content editor and photojournalist. He works as a staff reporter at News Hour. He is also involved in humanitarian works through a trust called Safety Assistance For Emergencies (SAFE). Mridha also works as film director. His passion is photography. He is the chief respondent person in Mymensingh Film & Photography Society. Besides professional attachment, he loves graphics designing, painting, digital art and social networking.
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