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Development from below – self-defined development

The heart of the MATI programmes is awareness raising and livelihood security in the Mati women’s groups. The women’s groups act as interest groups that meet weekly. Within the groups, the women discuss their living conditions and develop ideas on how they could improve their situation. During these meetings, suggestions are discussed and exchanged which later serve as a basis for MATI´s project proposals to potential donors or help us to continuously improve existing programmes and better adapt them to changing circumstances.

thumb_projekte4We train young native women and men as “field motivators”. They pass on their knowledge in areas such as health and prevention, family planning, hygiene, nutrition, and child care to the women in the MATI women’s groups. Apart from showing how and how often you wash your hands, prepare food in a hygienic environment, boil water, fight diarrhoea etc., we have also supplied several hundred households with simple latrines and water pumps.

Mati Women with a Field Motivator

Mati Women with a Field Motivator

A Field Motivator shows basic hygiene

A Field Motivator shows basic hygiene

The women’s groups also function as a savings group. Through joint savings, group members have access to loans for income-generating activities such as farm animals, a rickshaw, a small shop, or the urgently needed hut repair, a pending operation, or a training loan for their children.

In the groups, women are informed about all Mati projects, but also about relevant offers of other NGOs, local government offices, health centres, or training opportunities.

To date there are more than 180 women’s groups with 15-25 members each. Together there are about 4,500 women working actively with MATI. In a family context, this means that approximately 25,000 people benefit from our work.

In addition to the basic, direct work with women, MATI launched various projects that have the whole family in mind:
Agriculture and food security

Agriculture and food security

The aim of the “Vegetable Garden Project”, co-financed by Misereor since 2004, is to enrich the standard dish of the poor “Rice with salt and chili” with appropriate vitamins by growing various local vegetables. Small vegetable beds are planted on otherwise unused land around the family home. Efficient women succeed in generating surpluses for sales and thus massively increase the family income in some cases.

For this project Mati received the German Unifem Prize in 2004, ” for being an ideal “good practice” example for empowerment, capacity-building and leading the way to self-help and self-determination”.

Mati Seed Bank: Preserving food sovereignty and biodiversity

An integral part of the vegetable garden project is a seed bank, which was built on the Mati site in Huzurikanda. Women’s traditional knowledge of seed production has been reactivated and women can exchange seeds through the seed bank. Apart from effectively saving women money by no longer having to buy seeds, this technology is an active contribution to the protection of local varieties, which are increasingly threatened by the seed business of large international corporations.

From year to year an increased use of the seed bank has been observed: In the first year 30% of women used the seed bank to store and exchange their own seeds, in the second year it was already 50% and in the third year over 80%. The number of local varieties available in the seed bank increased from 3 varieties of rice and 4 varieties of vegetables, to 11 indigenous varieties of rice and 11 native varieties of vegetables each.

Trees such as Neem, Orjun and Beel, which have almost disappeared from the project region and can be used to treat common diseases and as ecological pesticides, have been replanted in large quantities and are enjoying great popularity.

General agricultural support for smallholder farmers

In its agricultural programme Mati supports smallholder and tenant families in the sense of sustainable, ecological agriculture. In addition to advice, the farmers can get small loans of up to 50€ to cover the cultivation costs. Normally, farmers have to borrow a plough from the large landowners to plough the fields – for a fee. Almost nobody takes his cows for this work, because the animals are too valuable for the owners, and they fear that the weight loss of the animals is too high due to the hard work or the already sparse milk is running out. Thanks to the Brücke e.V. foundation, Mati was now able to purchase a small mechanical plough that farmers can borrow free of charge. All you have to do is pay for the gas. Even better-off farmers from the surrounding area borrow the machine, but pay the usual regional price for it. With this money Mati can finance possible repairs of the plough. In the time of sowing the plough is much in use in the fields around the Mati office.

IDAEP – tailor-made development concepts for the extreme poor

In 2006, we launched a pilot project for 100 extremely poor families (Idaep) in cooperation with Brot für die Welt. As part of the project, we are providing families with €100 in interest-free loans to get small private businesses off the ground. In addition, access to health care, emergency medical care and food in times of hunger is guaranteed – until they stand on their own two feet.

Since the problems facing the poorest of the poor every day – hunger, disease, ignorance, dispossession, dependence, exploitation and indebtedness – are so pressing that under normal circumstances they immediately consume whatever they earn or receive in the form of resources, a special project was needed to tackle these problems at all levels.


Due to the great success, financial support from GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) was won for a further 200 families in July 2007.

Meanwhile, some 600 families have benefited from the project, and Mati is passing on the Idaep philosophy to three local partners to train other NGOs in how to use the approach.

The success of the project is monitored using defined indicators in a closely meshed monitoring system. Proven successes to date are e.g.:

  • In 87% of families the nutritional situation has improved significantly, 82% can now eat 3 meals a day regularly.
  • The income of 92% of families has at least doubled.
  • There has been a diversification of income sources: each family now has an average of 2-3 income sources.
  • While before most families lived on income from day wage relationships, or were not the owners of their source of income (farm animals, rickshaws, shops, etc.), which significantly reduced their earnings, after 2-3 years the overwhelming majority of over 90% have their own cow, rickshaw, poultry breeding or business. The number of families who can rent land has also risen sharply.
  • More than half of the female heads of households now earn their own income, also move outside their own farm, and according to their own statements have a greater say in family matters.
  • Hygiene conditions have improved greatly, most families now have their own latrines and water pumps.
  • The rate of child marriage in families has fallen from 21% to below 5%.
  • While previously no child from the families had a 10th grade school-leaving certificate, now several girls even go to college.

Poronto Bella – afterglow

Aging with dignity is a pious wish for many in Bangladesh, as there is no state social system. If the children cannot pay for their parents, they face hard times in old age.

The precarious situation of old people left alone was particularly striking for Christa and Jörg Wahl from Freiburg when they visited us in April. Together, we developed the idea of promoting minimum basic care for the elderly: Poronto Bella. With an annual contribution of 140 € per year you help elderly people to a little more security and dignity.

MATI & Foundation Bridge: Millennium village Harguzipara

In 2015 it will probably become apparent that the Millennium Development Goals agreed at UN level in 2000 to halve global poverty fell far short of the targets.

We suspect that this is not necessarily due to a lack of money, but to the wrong interventions. In order to keep costs down, investments are made in projects that are too large and have a questionable effect. Those affected, i.e. the poor, are too little involved, do not really participate, and corrupt political elites often stand in the way of real development.

In November 2009, together with Peter Haas and Bettina Mühlen-Haas of the Brücke Foundation, we laid the foundation stone, or rather the basic talks, for a new joint project: The Millennium Village.

The aim is to use a village with exemplary measures decided “from below” to show how self-defined development could really look within the framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

We chose Harguzipara because no NGO is working directly in this village yet, and of the 300 households almost 70% are poor or extremely poor. In initial talks with the entire village population, we explained our plans, dashed hopes for a great blessing of money, and expressed our expectation of the active help of the people and the equal participation of men and women. When we were still welcome afterwards, the real work could begin.

The villagers have set as priorities the improvement of sanitary facilities, access to education for the children, and the creation of income opportunities for the women. So far, children only go to school up to grade 5. While men are mainly employed as day labourers on the construction sites in Mymensingh or Dhaka, there are hardly any job opportunities for women. Since almost nobody owns their own land and living conditions are very cramped, the typical female employment opportunities such as keeping animals or cultivating a vegetable garden are also eliminated.

As a first step, a community center was built, which is to serve as a room for meetings, as a classroom for a preschool, evening school and after-school, as well as a training room for sewing training. The land for the center was donated by a villager, when building with hand have laid out many families.

The teacher for the preschool and the teacher for the sewing course are also women from the village. The women who complete the course are allowed to take the sewing machine home afterwards and also receive a loan as starting capital for their own tailor shop. Interest in training is very high.

Five savings groups have been formed for women, who will initially still be looked after by Mati, but with the aim of operating independently within the next five years. The women save together in a pot from which they grant loans to the group members. Women are still very sceptical and only time will tell whether the concept will work.

In the next few months, 25 simple toilets and three community water pumps are to be installed for the first time. There is also a health fund for villagers to tackle treatable diseases, and in particular to improve the health of young mothers, pregnant women and newborns.

Right at the beginning we analysed the situation of the village through a detailed household survey. In this way, we have gained a broad database that provides us with insights into the structure of poverty, the level of education and health, and working and income conditions. This makes it possible for us to document the progress of the village well and transparently. To date, all measures have been financed by the Brücke Foundation.

Basic health

h4>Vaccination campaign with the Bengali government

All Mati offices are vaccination wards where several times a month Bengali government health workers offer basic immunizations, especially for children and young mothers.

Health Fund

The Mati Health Fund is a purely private institution that enables us to provide urgently needed medical and medical care for the poorest people quickly and unbureaucratically. People in need turn to our staff, and after a quick examination of the individual case, we arrange cost-effective treatment, accompany them to the hospital, where treatment is only for cash, which the poorest usually do not have, or dispense important medicines. Each month, about 15 people receive financial and logistical support when visiting the doctor, and another 120 people can obtain urgently needed medication through our offices.

Vocational training centres

MATI also operates various training centres at each project location. There is a tailor training, a computer training, an education for office workers, as well as various training courses for agricultural programs, and from 2011 also a carpentry training.

Together Against Climate Warming: The Breath for the Planet Project

Bangladesh is one of the countries most likely to be affected by climate change. Although the industrialized countries are the cause of the problems that Bangladesh will suffer as a result of global warming, there is an increasingly broad middle class in Bangladesh, whose lifestyle and consumption patterns follow the bad example of the “developed” states without reflection, thus contributing to a further worsening of the problem. With this project Mati’s educational work this time is not primarily aimed at the poor, but at the “rich”.

For example, we have designed a touring exhibition that provides information on the causes and effects of climate change worldwide. At schools and universities in the Mymensingh area, and with a mobile open-air cinema, we show the film “HOME”, and then discuss with the viewers what the responsibility of each individual lies, and with what small steps in everyday life each can contribute to reducing climate-damaging behaviour. There is great public interest in the topic, and so the “Mati-Klima-Team” is often invited to events with the request to show film and exhibition.

But to go beyond talking, we started planting trees together with the Mati women in summer to help Bangladesh’s green lungs breathe. Each Mati member will receive a tree seedling of their choice (fruit, medicinal or timber trees), which they plant in the area of their hut. This benefits not only the climate, but also the family, who can harvest the fruit of the trees.

“soup kitchen” Sankipara

Since 2006 the people in Sankipara, where the Mati main office is located, are invited to a free lunch every Thursday. Mostly mothers with children and old people come. While there were thirty in the first weeks, we now regularly count over a hundred guests. An old woman once told us: “Dinner at Mati’s is a feast I look forward to every week.” The common meal is a good opportunity to stay in contact with the people at our front door and to meet them at eye level or plate level. The catering of over a hundred people costs about 10-12 € per Thursday.

District waste collection Sankipara

At the same time, Mati was now able to resume operation of the district waste collection system in Sankipara, which 100 households have joined. For a small monthly fee, the household waste is collected daily from a bicycle rickshaw converted into a garbage truck and taken to the landfill. We had to stop work in 2008 because the trash trickshaw was rusty and no money was available for a new one. Mati is supported by 30 – 50 children and young people aged between 5 and 25 years, who regularly motivate their neighbours with small actions to keep the area clean.


Since 2010 young physiotherapists have been coming to Mati regularly for longer work stays. Children with club feet or hemiplegia, for example, are looked after regularly. Furthermore, many back patients, cross section or stroke patients belong to it. All of them cannot get any other therapy, because physiotherapy in Bangladesh is relatively unknown or expensive.

Medical Competence Center Huzurikanda (MKHZ)

Since the beginning of 2017 MATI is supported by the Stiftung Brücke Balingen Bangladesh in setting up a medical competence centre in Huzurikanda. Here the threads of MATI’s health work are to be put together.
For example, the construction of an optician training workshop began in April 2017. 5 young trainees learn the trade under expert guidance of German senior opticians to be able to adjust glasses independently – at a price that even the poor can afford.

In addition, the work of MATI in the field of ophthalmology is also co-financed by the Balingen Bangladesh Bridge Foundation through serial examinations with diagnostics and subsequent drug treatment or operations in the Mymensingh Eye Hospital.