A Little Act of Kindness Can Go a Long Way

A Little Act of Kindness Can Go a Long Way

Publication info

Richard Sloman, CARE Bangladesh

Small acts of kindness can make a big difference in someone's life - Ranjit Talukder's story is a great example of this.

Ranjit Talukder grew up in a remote village in northeast Bangladesh, where his younger years were not easy. He explained, “I was very poor and fought a lot to survive." Being poor meant Ranjit’s parents could not afford to send him to school, but fortunately his grandmother was not willing to let her grandson miss out on an education so she began selling goods to pay for Ranjit’s education. This sacrifice, Ranjit explains, stayed with him throughout his life until he became a school teacher. Two years ago, with the help of CARE Bangladesh, Ranjit carried out his own act of kindness donating land to landless families in his village.

CARE arrived in Keshobpur in 2009 to begin implementing the Food Security for the Ultra-Poor Project (FSUP), which aims to bring long-term food security to 55,000 impoverished women and their families in northeast Bangladesh. A key part of CARE’s approach is to build community solidarity around the poorest families. In engaging with all members of the community and highlighting the problems faced by the poorest households, CARE hopes communities will act collectively to improve the lives of their extremely poor neighbors.

Ranjit noted how he was impressed by CARE’s ability to bring the people of his village together. He explained how in the past, charitable organizations went straight to the rich and other elites of the village. CARE took a different approach by gathering the whole community, rich and poor together for a meeting. During the meeting, the community discussed the problems of the village and identified those neighbors who were most marginalized. The community recognized that a significant number of families in Keshobpur were homeless and this was a major issue contributing to their poverty. After this meeting, Ranjit was inspired to help these families.  He approached CARE staff to declare his intention to donate land to 23 of the poorest homeless families in the village.

Ranjit signed over the full legal entitlements of his land to these ultra-poor families, giving them the chance to live and work on their own property. This has been a major turning point in the lives of these families.

To protect the land from the yearly floods that dominate in this region of Bangladesh, CARE helped villagers raise the land by up to nine feet. CARE provided cash for work to 63 poor women, including the new land recipients in the village, to help dig soil, move dirt and raise the earth above the flood level.

Two years has now passed since Ranjit donated the land and the proud new land owners are well established in their new homes. When visiting the donated land, the gratitude the land recipients have for their benefactor is clear to see. Referring to Ranjit respectfully using the term ‘Sir,’ Kanaklata – one of the new homeowners – explained, “He (Ranjit) has made our lives easier; we didn’t have a place to take shelter and build a house. But Sir gave the land to us.”

The changes in these extremely poor families are remarkable. The land recipients now for the first time can say they have their own home.

CARE has also assisted the women of the families in growing vegetables and creating homestead gardens that provide both a valuable source of nutrition as well as additional income from selling fresh produce. There is now space for the children of the families to play and even space to keep animals. In their own act of generosity, the land owners now allow rich farmers from the village to dry their rice after harvest on their land.

Perhaps the most intriguing result of Ranjit’s decision to donate land to the poorest people in his village is that his act of kindness has sparked further acts of kindness across his village and even into neighboring villages in the area. After Ranjit agreed to hand over land, a wealthy member of the village agreed to give the soil needed to raise the need. Then a local government official offered to pay to install a well on the land providing the people with a source of safe drinking water. In addition, another local elite paid to install latrines on the land. The community then came together to establish a school in Keshobpur and additional community members paid secondary school fees for children from struggling families.

Ranjit’s good deed has created an empowered community with the capacity to take care of their own. The story of the generous Ranjit Talukder has also helped to ignite an environment of community solidarity in a neighboring village called Chouhatta. There, 62 community members came together to buy land for 18 landless families. When we visited that community, the villagers explained the support of CARE’s FSUP staff and told us the story of Ranjit Talukder had inspired them to become united.

Since 2009, the community-led development approach implemented by the Food Security for the Ultra-Poor Project has been inspiring communities across northeast Bangladesh to act in support of the poorest members of their community. There have now been 15 separate examples of private land donations taking place as a direct result of CARE’s facilitation, with 281 extremely poor families receiving land to build a house they can call their own.