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British Royal Prince Visits Habitat’s Projects In Bangladesh And Sri Lanka

Patron of HFH Great Britain Sees Cyclone-Response Project And Tearfund Project For Tsunami-Hit Families

MIRZAGANJ/SAVAR, 15th May 2008: Nearly 20 years after a first trip to Bangladesh, a member of the British royal family and patron of HFH Great Britain returned to visit Habitat for Humanity’s housing and cyclone-response projects in the South Asian country.

 

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Let’s see: Standing on the threshold, the Duke of Gloucester examines a Habitat house in Savar. Photo: Pierre Johannessen

 

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Help at hand: Local volunteers building a house under a regular Habitat program in Bangladesh. Photo: Pierre Johannessen

 

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Special occasion: H.W.D. Ananda Abeywickrema and his family at their new Habitat house in Kalutara, Sri Lanka.

Prince Richard, Britain’s Duke of Gloucester, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, spent four days in Bangladesh following a short visit to see a Habitat project in Sri Lanka.

In Bangladesh, the duke visited Habitat’s cyclone-response project in the south where 280 core houses are being built by Habitat and its partner Christian Aid Ministries. The project was started to help families who lost their homes during Cyclone Sidr that devastated southern Bangladesh in November 2007.

The duke was accompanied by Anwar Choudhury, the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Chris Austin, country director for Bangladesh, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Tim Khan, head of British Business Group, among others. They met with selected beneficiary families, visited a completed core house in Mirzaganj where 60 houses have been built.

The Daily Star, a local newspaper, reported the British High Commissioner as saying: “The UK has already provided US$22 million to Bangladesh for rehabilitating the victims of Sidr-hit areas and the trend of providing such assistance will continue in the future.” Choudhury made the comment in cyclone-hit Majher Char island in Mothbaria subdistrict, Pirojpur district, where the duke was visiting a model village project by the British Business Group.

Later, the group travelled north to Savar subdistrict, about 24 km. northwest of the capital Dhaka. There, the prince was shown a house being built by local volunteers under Habitat’s Save & Build housing microfinance program.

Under Habitat’s Save & Build program, nine to 12 families form a savings group and save toward the cost of a house. When the savings group has saved one-third of a house’s cost, Habitat contributes one-third while Habitat’s partner or donor will come up with the remaining one-third. The savings group continues saving until all its members have received their houses. All the members of the group typically receive a house within 18 to 24 months.

He spoke with HFH Bangladesh’s staff on Habitat’s success in attracting local and international volunteers. The duke was no stranger to volunteering, having taking part in a Habitat build in the Tanzania village of Kitope, Zanzibar, in January 2008.

Before leaving Savar, HFH Bangladesh’s CEO, Roger Bodary, thanked the guests for their visit and said: “When we help a community, a family build, we’re not just building a house, we’re building a home, we’re building up dignity”, said Bodary. “We have a saying at Habitat Bangladesh, when you give the gift of a home, you’re giving a gift for life.”

The duke also lauded HFH Bangladesh’s dedicated staff in recognition of Habitat’s increasing capacity in the country. Among those who left with a deep impression was the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Anwar Choudhury. He said: “To be able to provide a home at no interest, that is a marvellous thing, more people should know about it, and I will do what I can to tell them about it.”

The trip to Bangladesh included a courtesy call on the country’s President Iajuddin Ahmed.

Prior to Bangladesh, the prince had visited a 35-house project in tsunami-hit Kalutara, about 40 km. south of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Funded by the UK-based Christian relief and development agency, Tearfund, the US$240,000 project helps fishing families to rebuild their homes in Minnerithanne village.

While he was there, the duke officially handed over Habitat houses to four families. H.W.D. Ananda Abeywickrema and his family were among those who met the duke. The Habitat home partner said: “We were living in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps for three long years; the new house comes as a blessing, for my young daughter and son to live in dignity; it provides a conducive environment for them to further their education.”

Before leaving Minnerithanne, the duke planted a sapling of the local tree calledjak in the village. Not only can the fruit of the jak tree be consumed in different ways, its trunk yields solid wood that can be used for windows and doors and furniture - a ftting symbol of abundance for the tsunami-affected families rebuilding their lives.