“The poultry farm set an example for the community”

Joost Verwilghen

Over 25 years ago, Joost Verwilghen went to Bangladesh. He worked for 2.5 years as a volunteer with a local NGO and then as a program manager for VSO. In this interview with Joost, we look back on his experiences and discuss how his experiences in Bangladesh have been ‘decisive’ for the rest of his life, both in his career and private life.

Sparking positive change

‘A great example from my work in Bangladesh is the poultry farm I set up together with Aloshika Rajihar, a local NGO. Selling eggs to be less dependent on donations, that was the plan. With my knowledge of rural development I was able to help them on their way and together we managed to set up a farm with 1,500 chickens in no time. A local egg collector sold the eggs in the city. A few times a week he collected about 400 eggs, in a huge basket on his head.’

‘I have always kept in touch with the people of Aloshika. In 2006 I went back for the first time and heard how the poultry farm had been an important example for others. By now several poultry farms had been set up and with that many jobs were created for the community.’

‘I also spoke to the son of the retired egg seller. He had taken over his father’s business. Meanwhile, he no longer collected the eggs himself. ”We now pick up eggs from all the poultry farms with four rickshaws,” he said. A whole supply chain had been added.”

‘Together with other changemakers, we sparked positive changes in the community with the poultry farm. I’m still very proud of that!’

Mutual understanding

‘In the beginning of my placement I felt lonely sometimes, no one spoke English. I did my best to learn the language as quickly as possible. This helped me to get in touch with other people from the village and the surrounding area. When you are abroad for a longer time, the relationships with the people around you can also develop more and become deeper. The mutual understanding then also becomes greater. This helped me to discover what was already present in the community, what was not, and what was needed.’

‘My experiences abroad have made me more open and have taught me not to look only from my own frame of reference. In doing so, they have been a stepping stone and decisive for the rest of my life. I have continued to work a lot internationally. My placement and work in Bangladesh have given me the tools to work successfully and effectively.’

Learning together worldwide

I wrote to my parents a lot about my experiences. They, in turn, shared that with friends and family. At some point I started to compile my stories into a kind of newsletters. People responded that they wanted to help with what I was doing and wanted to donate money. We then set up the SAKO foundation. My father has been very active in that and still is. SAKO is dedicated to education and basic health care for children, together with partner organizations in Bangladesh.’

‘I myself also still like to dedicate myself to initiatives for a world without poverty. I believe that exchanging ideas and helping each other is very important for the success of these initiatives. That’s why I started working for Partin. This branch organization actively brings small charities together to make their relevance, quality, strength and support within society visible. For example, on 9 October 2021 we are organizing a national day with the theme Learning together worldwide, where anyone involved in such an initiative can get to know Partin and its members.’

Joost Verwilghen
Joost Verwilghen