Caitlin Burnett

Caitlin Burnett (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization – BERDO): Caitlin is a native of Williamsburg, Massachusetts. She received her BA in psychology and politics from Ithaca university in 2005. At the time of her fellowship, Caitlin was studying for a Master’s degree in ethics, peace and global affairs at the School of International Service at American University.

Fulfilling basic needs

19 Jul

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


  • Cathy Burnett

    July 19, 2007


    The need for resources seems overwelming, given the lack of an intrastructure to support services. Are there any establsihed medical clinics that could become a home base for meeting some of the basic health care needs, as a starting point to garner an organizational framework?

  • Jeanne

    July 21, 2007



    I’m your mom’s friend in Dallas. I’ve been reading your blogs and am amazed at the experiences you are having. Of course, there is such need in a place like Bangladesh and many other countries in the world, yet there are people in other places who are extremely wealthy; the contrast is astonishing. This wealth could be put to good use in Bangladesh, in the same manner that the Gates family has done in many places. Perhaps more awareness and more compassion by others like the Gates could make a difference in many lives.

    Before closing, I’d like to compliment you on your writing – I’m very impressed at your eloquence.

    Be careful and have a safe trip back to the U.S. next month,


  • caitlin

    July 22, 2007


    Jeanne and Mom,

    Thanks for your comments!

    The need for resources is definitely overwhelming, particularly for health care. According to statistics, as of only a few years ago there was one physician per 5000 individuals in Bangladesh. For comparison, as of 2005 America’s ratio was 283 physicians per 100,000 residents (approximately one per 350 individuals), the picture is fairly discouraging.

    Interestingly, a local English daily published Bill Gates’ remarks at Harvard’s commencement recently. While he wasn’t talking specifically about Bangladesh or the average American citizen, his comments are very valuable! If you are interested in reading more, the text of the speech can be viewed at


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    June 18, 2012


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