This entry is a part of series summarizing a trip to rural and remote villages in Bangladesh to observe the impact of micro-credit program. Iain Guest, the Executive Director of Advocacy Project, joins us. To read the whole story, start in the reverse order beginning with blog titled “Trip: Washington to meet Dhaka”.
I am awakened at the crack of dawn as our boat was pulling into the port recklessly and bumped two other boats trying to squeeze between them. A wake-up call alerting me that I am still in Bangladesh just in case my dreams carried me elsewhere.
We headed for BERDO’s office in Barisal where we were welcomed by BERDO’s staff and hot breakfast of tea, pitas and roasted vegetables. I sneaked to Maksuda parents’ house for a quick outdoor shower by the tube-well because I know what lies ahead: a whole day of village-hopping to meet the beneficiaries of the micro-credit program.
We arrived to meet the micro-credit group in Jagua village, but it seemed like we were there to meet the whole village as everyone gathered to see what the fuss was about. The group has 29 members and seven of those members have some type of a disability. We made our introductions short and started bombarding them with questions because we were short on time, like most of the Westerners always are. I was taking their answers with a grain of salt because we were discussing their personal matters, such as profit and family status in front of the whole village in a country where respect and family image dictate actions.
In this group there are three mother-daughter teams where a mother received a loan on behalf of her child with disabilities and when appropriate, both will work together to repay the loan. Silpi, who is mentally challenged, and her mother Salehar received a loan which they used to purchase cows to rent out for cultivation. This business doesn’t require much physical work from the mother or daughter which is good for them because Silpi’s mother is an older woman and Silpi cannot finish the job alone.
Mahmuta and her daughter, who has multiple disabilities, repaid their loan that was used to buy a cow for milking business and now are awaiting for the second loan. In this case, Mahmuta does all the work because her daughter is too young to help. Then, there was Mukul, who is blind, and her mother who used the loan to purchase clothes and then sell them door-to-door for a profit. Both are equally involved in the business, and Mukul doesn’t let her mom do all the talking which made me happy because she feels the ownership of this business too.
The idea of composing a micro-credit group of disabled and non-disabled members is to integrate the disabled members into the community life-style. By working together in groups where they receive education about human rights, including those people with disabilities, BERDO is hoping to overcome the stigma that people with disabilities are a burden to their families and community. Providing loans to people with disabilities, who sometimes need help from families, proves that they are capable of generating income and that they should not be excluded from such activities just because they have some form of disability. While observing the group in their interaction with each other, there was no sense of discrimination towards the people with disability. Moreover, there was no difference between the disabled and non-disabled members leading me to conclude that this group has overcome that awful stigma.[youtube]L2_BVRIpAaM[/youtube]
Two hours later we only finished few interviews, so we scheduled to meet some families in the late afternoon at their homes where they could talk to us more freely. We met Aslam, a 26 year old, who is the leader of Jagua group and suffered a stroke from high fever after which he became paralyzed and lost his job as a bus supervisor. He has had to deal with accepting his disability, the loss of land and cattle sold by his family to cover his medical treatment, and the negative perceptions of his fellow villagers.
Now, Aslam is running a grocery shop with the loan provided by BERDO and is only making a profit of 100 taka per day, which is equivalent to $1.50/day. With this profit he supports a family of 5 and he is hopeful that with the second loan his father can purchase fishing equipment and will be able to sell fish at his grocery store. Aslam informed us that people treat him differently now that he is working again, and they don’t refer to him as “that lame man”, but call him by his name.
We finished two more interviews before sunset, and by this point we were clearly exhausted resulting in confusion and forgetfulness as we were interviewing. But this didn’t stop Iain’s journalist nature from coming out in full swing snapping pictures, filming videos and chatting with everyone. I observed him as he interacted with others in a compassionate and friendly manner and I tried to learn from a man who has worked for Guardian, the International Herald Tribune and the BBC. After dinner with Saidul and BERDO’s staff, Iain and I sat down for a cup of tea and some sweets to exchange our notes and prepare for the next day.
To read Iain’s blogs about Bangladesh or where other fellows are working, visit:
Posted By Danita Topcagic
Posted Aug 13th, 2008