HIGHLIGHTS

  • From Akhter Hameed Khan, director of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development, he learned how disciplined, cooperative saving by villagers can break the cycle of poverty. In October 1960, therefore, he convinced eight rickshaw men to contribute the cost of one cup of tea each day to form a fund.
  • With this tiny sum YEASIN launched what later became known as theA
  • YEASIN attributes Deedar’s success to the active participation of its members and to excellent relations with government agencies and banking institutions.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his moving rural Bangladeshis to self- reliance and economic security through an efficiently and honestly managed village cooperative.”

 CITATION

Throughout Asia, cooperative societies have attempted to empower the poor through collective savings and enterprise. Thousands of such societies exist in Bangladesh alone. Yet under the existing conditions of extreme poverty, mistrust and mismanagement often undermine the novice cooperatives. Many fail. Others simply fail to prosper.

As a young tea shop proprietor in the adjoining rural villages of Kashinathpur and Balarampur, MOHAMMAD YEASIN lived amidst pervasive scarcity. From Akhter Hameed Khan, director of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development, he learned how disciplined, cooperative saving by villagers can break the cycle of poverty. In October 1960, therefore, he convinced eight rickshaw men to contribute the cost of one cup of tea each day to form a fund.

With this tiny sum YEASIN launched what later became known as the Deedar Comprehensive Village Development Cooperative Society. By 1986, when he stepped down as manager, Deedar was Bangladesh’s most successful cooperative. Relying solely on its own resources, by 1988 it had amassed assets in capital and property worth U.S.$300,000.

YEASIN learned early that all households in a village must be “partners in the process of development.” He expanded Deedar to include not only laborers but artisans, tradesmen, small farmers, and, eventually, moderately well-off landowners. Today virtually all adult villagers are members of the society. Women joined in 1962 and now play a role in village affairs undreamt of in the past. Also hundreds of children, through their membership, are taught the lesson of thrift.

Deedar’s members meet every week to propose, implement, and evaluate programs. These touch all aspects of village life.

The cooperative operates its own stores for farm inputs and consumer goods. Its mills process mustard seed and rice. It manufactures bricks, hires out tractors and rickshaws, and operates an irrigation project and a fish pond. The society pays 70 percent of teachers’ salaries and administrative costs at Deedar Model High School, which it built in 1968. Through the society, village women learn to sew, weave, and embroider and to raise fish and fatten cows and goats. Young men without jobs are trained as mechanics, drivers, tailors, traders, and animal husbandmen.

Deedar gives to the mosque and maintains special funds for the elderly and the destitute. In 1986-87 some fifty-five babies were delivered by Deedar-trained midwives.

Incomes in Kashinathpur-Balarampur are rising for farmers and nonfarmers alike. Deedar itself employs 37 villagers; 160 others receive seasonal employment from the cooperative’s enterprises. Moreover, 250 members are now self-employed thanks to interest-free loans from the society.

YEASIN attributes Deedar’s success to the active participation of its members and to excellent relations with government agencies and banking institutions. Most others attribute Deedar’s success to YEASIN.

As manager for twenty-six years, YEASIN astutely practiced the art of the possible. Spurning flashy proposals, he moved the society from small projects to larger ones in accordance with its means and in keeping with local needs and circumstances. He stayed attuned to his members and won their confidence through his good judgment and tireless efforts. Most of all he inspired trust.

Of himself, fifty-three-year-old YEASIN says, “I am a small man, and I work for the small man.”

In electing MOHAMMAD YEASIN to receive the 1988 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his moving rural Bangladeshis to self- reliance and economic security through an efficiently and honestly managed village cooperative.

 RESPONSE

I am a small man from Bangladesh. I work for the small man. My formal schooling is very little. I read only up to sixth grade and my English pronunciation is very poor. I beg your pardon for that.

Today I feel very emotional. I know that I am not qualified to address such a distinguished gathering. I have been honored with the great Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. At this memorable hour I thank God for the honor that he has given me. I pay my hearty salutation to the soul of late President Ramon Magsaysay. He is remembered by this great award. I believe he will remain immortal in the minds of millions of people for this great work. May God give him peace.

I thank the honorable members of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation that they have selected a small rural worker like me for such an award. This will give inspiration to millions of rural development workers in Bangladesh and in the rest of Asia.

Today I remember Akhter Hameed Khan, the founder-director of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development and the architect of the Comilla Model, which is widely known throughout the world. Director Khan received the Magsaysay Award in 1963. I was a devoted student of his. He was my teacher, friend, and philosopher in the field of rural development.

Being inspired and guided by Director Khan, I formed with eight other members the Deedar Cooperative Society in 1960. On the day of formation, we decided that each one of us would sacrifice one cup of tea everyday and would put the money into a savings account. Today, 1,650 members of the Deedar Society are following the same practice, although the price of tea has gone up. This way we have accumulated our capital and assets of U.S.$300,000.

When I started my work as an organizer of my village cooperative, I did not know that for this work I would one day be honored in an international forum like this. But since I was a poor man myself, the poverty of my village people disturbed me; since I was young I wanted to do something for them. When I learned about the cooperative way of development, I dreamt of a good future. I faced many problems but I was always hopeful. I never became pessimistic. Today Deedar has become a model cooperative society. The achievement of Deedar is now a great inspiration for the other villagers of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) is now experimenting with a project called the Comprehensive Village Development Program, using Deedar as a model for a cooperative society. The influence of Deedar upon hundreds of cooperative organizations is great. Many people visit Deedar daily to learn of our experiences.

In building Deedar, I faced many difficulties in the initial year. But within a period of seven to eight years, I was able to motivate the villagers and show them the way to self-respect and self-reliance. I tell my villagers that we are not helpless, we should not live on the mercy of others. We can build our own future. I love my people and my organization. In return my people give me their support. We put our labor together. I feel that sincerity, hard work, and devotion do not go unrewarded.

I experimented with a number of my own ideas, which were let democratically accepted by cooperative members. The reason for the acceptance was that I had developed them by working very closely with the villagers. I did not impose ideas. Most of my experiments produced good results and some of the tested ideas were accepted by government.

I confined my role to leading the organization. I remained in the same post for more than twenty-five years. Deedar is my only dream I want to die as a social worker since I believe that the struggle in which I am involved has yet a long way to go. My people are still poor and have to travel far. This award, and this honor that you have given me, will provide new enthusiasm and inspiration to me and to my colleagues.

My award is a recognition of the good work done by the members of my society. I believe it will inspire millions of rural development workers working at the grass-roots level in Asia. It will be rewarding me when these workers receive such awards in the future.

 BIOGRAPHY

The adjoining villages of Kashinathpur and Balarampur lie athwart the main road to the district capital of Comilla, in eastern Bangladesh. In this region the ground is high and villagers are spared the floods that periodically cause many other Bangladeshis to suffer famine and homelessness. But they are nonetheless poor. The average farmer toils in a paddy field of less than one acre, which provides his family with the barest necessities, or often less. Half the families possess no land beyond the ground under their simple dwellings. In this world, small holdings, land is calculated in “decimals” hundredths of an acre and the owner of three acres is a fairly substantial landowner The villages of Kashinathpur and Balarampur are Muslim. Their lore recalls a golden age of high art and wealth in ancient cities and, abundance and harmony in rural villages. However, conquest by Britain in the eighteenth century and economic transformations in modern times have meant wealth for a few and poverty for many. In 1947, when freed of British control and of ties with India, the people of East Bengal (Pakistan) found themselves in the grip of severe economic and population dislocation, with a social structure that permitted a handful of local “harvest” to dominate the vast majority of “have-nots.”

MOHAMMAD YEASIN was born in Kashinathpur on 1 January 193 and grew up during the disruptive years of World War II, the famine of 1943, and the massive shift of peoples between India and Pakistan when the subcontinent was partitioned. There was little work. Many families could afford only one meal a day, and some had so little surplus that their dead were laid to rest without the dignity of the burial shroud required by Islam.

Compared to most, YEASIN’s family was not poor. His father, Haji Alimuddin, owned an acre of rice land and two or three oxen. During the off-season he worked as a brick mason to help support his wife and three sons, of whom MOHAMMAD was the eldest. The family home of earth and thatch contained just one room, which was partitioned on when the boys began to mature. Their mother, Laila Banu, cooked over a fire of waste wood and often shared their meager meals with pot relations. But even for their own family there was not always food. YEASIN has never forgotten the day when, at the age of nine, he and his mother and his younger brothers waited hungrily all day long for his father to bring home rice, and how joyous they were when he arrived with it at three o’clock the next morning!

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)