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.

poverty and the market

08 Jul

Barisal, the subject of a recent blog post, is now an idyllic memory; the pace of life slow and the natural surroundings beautiful. In BERDO’s microcredit groups there, hope overrode the intense suffering of those who lived in poverty. Even the landless had hope and options, however limited the quantities might be.

In Tongi, a semi-urban area only 25 kilometers from Bangladesh’s bustling capital where BERDO operates another microcredit program, the situation is much different. If anything, the suffering of “the poorest of the poor” is first and foremost.

Tongi, unlike relatively isolated Barisal, is a community of migrants. From all over Bangladesh, families come to Tongi in the hopes of creating a better life after they are unable to carve out a secure living for themselves in their home villages. Landless, they travel to Tongi in anticipation of getting jobs in the industries that serve Dhaka and its ports.

Due to its proximity to Dhaka industry, particularly garment factories, offers the illusory hope of jobs for migrants. However, when no jobs are to be found, NGOs step in to grant some relative security in the form of loans – in the absence of collateral like houses, lands, and commercial goods, banks will not consider the needs of the poorest members of society as they try to improve their lives.

Unlike the groups of Barisal who were optimistic in the face of the barriers they tackle, community members in Tongi appear worn down by the difficulties of their life. One woman, when I asked her what she would like to teach me about her life, simply told me in response, “We are illiterate. We have no power to implement our knowledge.”

In the absence of local agriculture, it also appears as though the market may exert more pressure here. Vitally important in the lives of all Bangladeshis, the price of basic goods is skyrocketing across the nation. While a kilogram of rice used to cost 15 taka, the same amount of rice now costs 28 taka. Every day the prices reportedly rise and there is no sign of them going down. The business syndicates that controlled the price of goods prior to the caretaker government’s assumption of power continue to exert their power unchecked even during the crackdown on corruption. For those without opportunities to generate and secure income, the future is uncertain.

For me, my time in Tongi pointed me to the same questions I asked after my experience with the corrupt border guard: If the caretaker government doesn’t succeed in stamping the corruption out of society, where will that leave Bangladesh? And, most importantly, where will Bangladesh leave her poorest citizens?

Right now, with the Tongi residents still fresh in my mind, the oppressiveness of their poverty has left me somewhat unwilling to consider the consequences of the unchecked downward spiral that seems to have gained a particularly troubling momentum as of late. The monsoon clouds that are gathering on the horizon this afternoon, rather than lending me a sense of relief with the promise of cooling the day’s heat, now seem an ominous portent.

Posted By Caitlin Burnett

Posted Jul 8th, 2007

1 Comment

  • Samuel

    July 13, 2007


    Hello Caitlin, Came across your blog, listed on an Advocacy Project e-newsletter, enjoyed reading about your experiences, as a fellow DC grad also spending my summer in Dhaka, recognising many of your impressions, thanks for sharing them. Hope the rest of your project works out well and you get to see some of the ‘fruit’ of your or BERDO’s work before you head back. All the best, Samuel

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