The Santal tribe make up most of the population of northwestern Bangladesh. Santal families depend primarily on agricultural labor as a livelihood, but because of the long periods of drought, the large plains area in this region of Bangladesh is largely over-cultivated as the Santal people work desperately to grow enough rice and tobacco crops to last through the dry periods.

Bangladesh Northwestern Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion


The Weather

  • Hundreds of rural villages dot northwestern Bangladesh, where poor families typically live in simple dwellings. Bangladesh Community
  • Compassion-assisted children receive nutritious meals at their church-based child development centers. Bangladesh Children Eating
  • Many villages have hand-pump wells where families collect water for their daily needs. The job of collecting water falls to the women and children. Bangladesh Girl Pumping Water
  • Without Compassion’s support, many children in northwestern Bangladesh wouldn’t be able to attend school. Bangladesh Girls Walking to School
  • Children everywhere, including these Bangladeshi boys, enjoy the simple pleasure of climbing trees. Bangladesh Boys Climbing a Tree
  • In Bangladesh more than 54 million children are younger than 15. Most of them live in extreme poverty. Bangladesh Girl Carrying a Sack

Overview: Northwestern Region

Northwestern Bangladesh is a large plains area. Because of the long periods of drought, the land is largely overcultivated as the people work desperately to grow enough crops to last through the dry periods. The area is most known for growing rice and tobacco. Many families literally starve during times of drought, and access to hospitals and clinics is limited. Children commonly suffer from malnutrition, infections and waterborne illnesses.

The people of the Santal tribe make up most of the population of northwestern Bangladesh. The Santal are considered some of the poorest people of Bangladesh. Their poverty is largely attributed to monga, a drought period from September through October. This already-dry region becomes even more arid during these months, and then for four months out of the year, no crops can be grown. Since many Santals work as subsistence farmers, monga means a lack of food and a loss of jobs.

The most common religion of the Santal people is idolism or ethnic religion. They do not practice Hinduism, but they worship several Hindu gods. The Santals have their own tribal language, called Santali.


Culture Corner


A delicious but not-too-sweet vermicelli

Prepare shemai, a typical Bengali dish.


  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 handfuls very fine vermicelli
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 handful raisins
  • 4 almonds, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 pint whipping cream


Melt the butter in a pot at a low heat. Break up the vermicelli and stir into the butter. When it turns golden brown, add the milk and stir, increasing the heat until the mixture boils. Add the sugar, raisins and almonds. Cook for 10 minutes at a low heat. Pour in the cream and cook for a few more minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Chill vermicelli in the refrigerator. Serve.


Life in Northwestern Bangladesh

Northwestern Bangladesh is home to the Santal – a prominent tribe in the region. Santal families depend primarily on agricultural labor as a livelihood. But in this drought-prone part of the country, crops often fail. Here, families earn an average of only $1 a day. Some families supplement their earnings through such cottage industries as weaving.

Families in the northwest are large, but homes – crude constructions of mud and straw, with tin roofs – are usually no bigger than 10 feet by 8 feet. Homes also lack electricity, running water and adequate sanitation facilities. To collect water, villagers often have to walk long distances to the nearest source, such as a stream or community well.

However, though extremely poor, the Santal people have a rich cultural heritage, especially in music and dance.

Children at Home

Children in Bangladesh’s northwestern region grow up in crowded homes of six or more people. Cow sheds are often attached to the homes. Few have running water, and most use crude latrines made of bamboo. Water is often collected from a community well several miles away.


Community Issues and Concerns Community in Bangladesh

The people of the Santal tribe once owned vast plots of land in northwestern Bangladesh. But neighboring tribes took advantage of their lack of education, and gradually took over the land, leaving the Santals with no property of their own. Today, most of the Santal people do not own their own land, and work as day laborers, earning an average of $1 a day.

There is little access to clean water in the dry northwestern region. Families have to walk miles to get water from community wells or dirty streams. Few families have sanitary latrines at home, leading to the spread of disease.

Santal people tend to have large families, with the average mother giving birth to six children. Many families are headed by single mothers, who are either widowed or abandoned by their husbands.

The Santal tribe is also known for making chuani, a homemade alcohol. Because of this, alcoholism is prevalent in this region, often leading to violence and unemployment.

Local Needs and Challenges

Children in northwestern Bangladesh’s remote villages have many urgent needs. Malnutrition and the lack of medical care are major concerns. In addition, the consumption of contaminated water and the lack of adequate sanitation leads to many illnesses that can be life-threatening to young lives. Because parents can’t afford the required fees, many children do not attend school. Those who attend typically drop out after fifth grade. Because of low education levels, the majority of Santal people cannot read or write.


Schools and Education Education in Bangladesh

Lack of education is another primary cause of the Santal tribe’s poverty. Traditionally, little importance was placed on education for children, and more than 80 percent of Santal adults cannot read or write. Today, most families cannot afford to send their children to school. Most children spend their days working in the fields.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

Child development centers in northwestern Bangladesh provide registered children with a place to learn and grow. While their parents spend their days harvesting and selling in the market, Compassion-assisted children attend health classes, tutoring sessions and receive a nutritious meal or snack.


Working Through the Local Church

Compassion is the only organization in Bangladesh that works directly in partnership with the church.

The church building is used for program activities. Here, registered children receive a wide range of benefits, including nutritious meals, medical assistance, payment of school fees, clothing and hygiene supplies. Children are known, loved and protected by their sponsors and program staff members. Parents are glad to send their children to the church for these benefits, which they cannot afford.

How Compassion Works in Bangladesh Compassion in Bangladesh

Compassion's work in Bangladesh began in 2003.

Compassion partners with churches and denominations, helping them provide Bangladeshi children with a program of long-term, holistic child development. This program gives impoverished children the opportunities they need to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

The Role of a Partnership Facilitator

As liaisons between local church partners and Compassion, Partnership Facilitators play a vital role. Among other duties, they assess partners’ needs, monitor their implementation of child development activities, provide training for their staff, and relay information from the national office.

Glen is Partnership Facilitator for eight Compassion-assisted child development centers in northern Bangladesh. For Glen to visit the centers, which are located in remote villages, he uses a combination of buses, rickshaws and motorbikes.

Expressing his passion for serving children in need, Glen says, “I grew up in a village, so I know what these children face. I believe if they are cared for, they will someday contribute to their communities and ultimately, the country.”


Prayer Requests

  • Alcoholism is common in this region. Please pray for the safety of the children here, as well as the strength for them to resist the temptation to drink.
  • The Santal people live in desperately poor conditions. Pray that God will release them from the bonds of poverty.
  • Pray that parents in this region will realize the importance of education, and that the children here will learn and grow in their schooling.