MCC's work in Bangladesh began in the midst of turmoil. After a devastating cyclone in 1970, MCC started relief work in what was then East Pakistan, providing assistance through the upheavals that led to Bangladesh's independence in December 1971. During the peak of the civil war in 1971, MCC left East Pakistan but continued to assist refugees who, like these in this 1971 photo, fled from East Pakistan to India.
In 1972, refugees returning to their homes near Birisiri, Bangladesh, received the gift of MCC blankets and canned chicken, thanks to a distribution by the Bangladesh Council of Churches. The supplies - a few bales and cartons at a time - were sent from Mymensingh over an extremely rough road, on two ferries and over broken bridges to the Garo Baptist Center. Pictured are recipients and Hiten Areng (far right), general secretary of the Garo Baptist Union.
In 1972 in Champaknagar, Bangladesh, MCC built wood-framed houses with bamboo siding and corrugated sheet-metal roofs, measuring 17 by 10 feet. This was a typical dwelling style for Bengali villagers, but sturdy materials and extra reinforcement helped to make it secure in all but the most violent storms. Since the beginning of MCC's time in Bangladesh, annual storm damage has been a major factor keeping families in poverty.
When MCC began working in Bangladesh in 1972, families relied on rice and could afford to eat little else. Nutritional surveys found that 90 percent of households were deficient in Vitamin C, 80 percent lacked protein and 70 percent lacked Vitamin A, remembers Derek D’Silva, who joined MCC in 1974. MCC worked to introduce new, nutritious, sustainable crops, especially crops that could be grown in the dry winter. The summer of 1973, MCC shipped 32 tons of seeds from Canada and the U.S. to Bangladesh. MCC workers in Bangladesh divided the shipment into 5,000 small bags of seed, with planting instructions in the Bengali language. MCC distributed 1,500, and other agencies purchased and distributed the remaining 3,500. The goal was that villagers would be able to buy the seeds at a low cost, plant gardens and improve their diets.
To encourage families already experiencing hunger to experiment with foods completely new to them, MCC set up dozens of demonstration gardens in villages, at schools and in MCC offices. Workers organized trainings for farmers and held meetings such as this one in 1973 to help women understand the importance of a balanced diet and winter gardens. In this photo, MCC worker Ramona Moore of Prudenville, Mich., gives her first lecture to about 70 Bangladeshi women. Duane Moore of Muncie, Ind., helps hold the poster while Mark Blosser of Bristol, Ind., part of the Pax program, assists with translation.
Potatoes were another food that MCC encouraged farmers to plant. This 1973 photo shows harvesters in the Noakhali district of Bangladesh examining the quality of the crop. In cooperation with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, MCC imported seed potatoes and helped Bangladeshi farmers learn how to grow them.
Opportunity for families in Bangladesh includes more than what farmers can grow on their small plots. MCC's job creation program found success in supporting initiatives to create and sell handicrafts made from inexpensive, natural materials. In this 1974 photo, women are developing products from jute fiber, which can be twisted into a tough coarse yarn and woven into doilies, coasters, place mats, purses, belts, hats, and floor coverings. Today MCC continues to support job creation activities in Bangladesh. In addition, many enterprises started through MCC's job creation program are now financially independent and sell to international fair trade organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages.
By 1975, vegetables that MCC introduced, including cabbage, were becoming more common in Bangladesh's Noakhali district. Sirajuddowla, a longtime MCC worker who uses one name only, displays cabbage grown during the dry season. MCC encouraged farmers to grow vegetables, wheat and sorghum in the dry season when farmers can't grow rice.
MCC also worked to develop solar dryers to help farmers preserve their harvest. MCC worker Stuart Clark of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, painted the mud-wall dryer shown in this 1979 photo with a mixture of flour, powdered charcoal and water. It sits on and is covered with plastic. A bamboo tray holds the food. Holes in the mud base allow cold drier air to enter; a hole at the plastic's top allows warm air to escape. Pointed toward the south, the dryer operates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A major focus was appropriate technology, and MCC workers strove together to experiment in designing or adapting simple, inexpensive technologies that farmers could easily afford and use. In this 1979 photo in Feni, Bangladesh, MCC workers Ali Mia (left) of Feni, Bangladesh, and George Klassen of Carman, Man., experiment with a mechanical suction chamber attached to a cast-iron pump, one of many experiments that eventually led to the creation of the rower pump.
The rower pump designed by MCC worker George Klassen of Carman, Man., brought new opportunity to thousands of families in Bangladesh, and the design also was used by MCC in other locations, including West Africa. Rower pumps gave farmers a way to irrigate half an acre of rice or as much as two to three acres of vegetables, often more land than a typical farmer would have. The rowing action was easier to operate than other hand pumps, and the cost was low enough that farmers could afford it with earnings from one growing season. Rower pumps also are used to draw water from ponds and filter the water through a sand layer to purify it. After a May 1985 cyclone filled ponds with salt water, MCC installed a number of these pumps such as this one.
Soybeans, another crop that MCC introduced, are now commonly sown throughout coastal areas – a visible reminder of MCC's legacy in Bangladesh. Today, as in this 1982 photo, MCC workers from the U.S. and Canada partner with Bangladeshi MCC workers to offer new opportunities, improve lives and bring hope. Read more about the legacy of MCC's agricultural work, including soybeans, in the spring issue of A Common Place magazine. This photo taken in a soybean field in western Bangladesh shows MCC workers (from left) Russ Toevs of Whitewater, Kan.; Derek D'Silva of Sonapur, Bangladesh; Abdul Mannan and Khabirul Islam Khokon of Noakhali district, Bangladesh; Paul Shires of Arroyo Grande, Calif.; and Lee Brockmueller of Freeman, S.D.