“My friend came to me, with sadness in his eyes
He told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies…
Where so many people are dying fast
And it sure looks like a mess
I’ve never seen such distress” (Bangladesh by George Harrison, 1971)
George Harrison’s plea for help for the ailing masses of Bangladesh was arguably the first celebrity-led initiative of its kind for a humanitarian cause. The extent to which the concert was able to help an infant nation stutter to its feet is debatable. What is not debatable however is that, as the years have rolled by, Bangladesh has responded with intent, albeit a bit slowly, to all problems – existential and otherwise, that afflict countries in their journeys from being imagined conceptions to fully forged nation-states.
Bangladesh is the youngest country of South Asia, the seventh most populous country of the world and 49.6% of its population lives below the dollar-and-a-quarter-a-day poverty threshold (UNDP, 2008). Bangladesh has also registered a 6% growth in its GDP for the last three years. Statistics however paint only half the picture. Cyclones, people living in intractable poverty, cheap labour fuelled-sweatshops stuck at the bottom rung of global garment chains are as important as bustling market places, leafy neighbourhoods, beautiful national parks and the micro-credit revolution in completing the motif that is Bangladesh.
The micro-credit movement has played an important part in the creation of micro-entrepreneurs and has managed to pull a large number of people out of poverty by granting them access to means of production. BERDO, the organisation that I am going to intern with, occupies its own special position in this melange of micro-finance institutions in Bangladesh. It provides loans of $50 to $200 to disabled people, arguably the most disadvantaged section of the population in an already burdened economy. BERDO also runs its own school for visually challenged children and uses ICT to empower disabled people and to help them find employment. I am really looking forward to the fellowship at BERDO and hope that it would be my window into problems encountered in the management of micro-credit projects and also into tertiary programmes initiated to aid visually impaired people.
A stuttering 65-seater Fokker F-28 flew me into Dhaka yesterday. The traffic jams I encountered on my way from the airport to the BERDO office, the crowds – huge enough to make real Malthus’ worst fears and the nebulous clouds of smoke emitted from bone-clatteringly rundown buses were all experiences that were quintessentially Dhaka and introduced me to life in this teeming metropolis. As I walked into the BERDO office in Mirpur, Dhaka I realised that my greatest challenge would be not to exoticise poverty and to steer clear of the conception of Bangladesh as a land devastated by climatic excesses and dependent on foreign aid for its very existence, and to see the country for what it really is.
Posted By Abhilash Medhi
Posted Jul 1st, 2009