When BERDO’s beneficiaries come together, the meetings are inevitably festive. The bright colors of the saris and longis that participants wear seem to infuse the air with energy in defiance of the cheerlessness of the mildewed walls around us. With ready laughter and many jokes with punch lines that I don’t always understand, I’ve been glad that I long ago mastered the art of nodding and smiling. But underneath the lighthearted current, there are some very strong desires that creep into many of our conversations-I hesitate to label it desperation, but that might not be that far off the mark.
When asked about their needs, the individuals that BERDO serves have been anything but shy. Underlying their many needs is the paramount need of Bangladeshis in an era of increasing cost of living: money. They also tell me about the infrastructure they need, like a center where disabled children can receive rehabilitative health care, and the goods that are most vital to their lives, including free medicine and vitamins. Students tell me, “we need a place where we can gain access to the tools we need- Braille paper and typewriters, scribers and cassette players.” Several members of microcredit groups have asked me to help them find funds for a handicraft center where community members can learn new skills to generate income.
At the end of our meetings together, every single time, someone has more shyly snuck in, “will you remember us when you return to America?”
As I have reassured every one who has asked, I am absolutely certain that I will remember the women, children, and men I have met over the past several weeks for quite some time. The faces and names may inevitably become muddled, but their messages will not be lost. Already I am starting to hatch plans- how much would a well-loved Braille typewriter cost to send from the US to Bangladesh, after all?
But besides the ways that I, with the help of my family and friends, can directly help fulfill their needs, the constant laundry lists have made me think. If nothing else (as become abundantly clear from the stream of question marks in previous blogs), my experience in Bangladesh is bringing to mind important questions that I am sure will continue to grip my mind.
I can’t help but wonder, what would happen if these students and mothers asked with the same energy and intensity for these goods and services from their government? Has the government fallen so far away from its citizens that they cannot even hope to receive what they need to fulfill their basic needs? How do you create a culture where public servants truly serve the public? How can we, Americans or otherwise, work towards this change?
I keep hoping that one day the answers will become clear to me, but I guess only time will tell. In the mean time, I’ll just have to continue asking questions.
Posted By Caitlin Burnett
Posted Jul 19th, 2007