Danita Topcagic

Danita Topcagic (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization - BERDO): Danita was raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but moved to the United States with her family at the age of fourteen as a refugee. She is passionate about humanitarian work and earned her BA in international relations from University of Missouri – Columbia. Danita received her MA in global finance, trade and economic integration with a focus in international development from University of Denver.

Preparing for Bangladesh

06 Jun

Map of Bangladesh

For all pictures visit:

Before I take my first breath of thick and polluted Bangladeshi air, before I stutter my first Bangla word to the rickshaw driver hoping that he speaks English, and before my perspective starts to transform due to real life experiences, I feel the necessity to start this blog in a way that we, westerners, analyze country’s development and the quality of life. Although I am aware of its limitations, I choose to begin with this approach to allow myself, and others, to see how incomplete of an evaluation this is, especially when compared to later stages of my blog which will be written after having some first-hand experience.

Another reason for starting with countries’ overview is to present disability issues as a part of Bangladesh’s overall development and to note that there are several problems facing this country. Most of these problems require immediate assistance therefore creating a situation where they are competing with each other for financial aid and support.

Bangladesh is a poor and overpopulated country with 8 to 9 percent of total population disabled and most of them lack access to medical facilities, education or job market (BERDO). Many people would think that the recipe for success would be to provide and improve education and health care, but this is where things get complicated in a small country of 55,584 square miles with a population of 153 million where 45 percent of people live bellow poverty line (CIA World Factbook).

Furthermore, 56.9 percent of the population is illiterate and less than 40 percent have access to modern and affordable health care (UNDP). According to Millennium Development Goals report, Bangladesh is on the right track to halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, however 39.7 percent of children under five years of age are underweight and 19.5 percent of total population sustains livelihood below minimum level of dietary energy consumption.

As one can see, poverty rates for this country are overwhelming, including disabled and non-disabled persons. However, having a disability adds another level of difficulty. “If poverty lines are adjusted to reflect the fact that disability absorbs substantial amounts of both time and money, poverty rates for disabled will be much higher” (Amartya Sen). This is why it is vital to provide health services and assistance to the groups that are vulnerable because of this vicious cycle of poverty and disability where one feeds the other. Poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability due to lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation and safe living and working conditions. The barriers to education, employment, and public services prevent their escape from poverty.

Government of Bangladesh is showing interest in tackling these problems and it enacted legislation in 2001 to protect the rights of the persons with disabilities, the Disability Welfare Act – 2001. The progress is slow and there is a general feeling that disability is not a priority. I argue that disability needs to receive more attention from government and donors because it is so much easier to prevent an illness than it is to treat it. Most of people who are disabled have preventable impairments caused by malnutrition and poor sanitation. These people are lacking basic human rights. Healthy people have a passion for work and fulfillment therefore they will be able to take care of themselves and at the same time, alleviate some of the burden on the government.

To give a complete picture of Bangladesh, here are some fact facts:

273-232 B.C. The Mauryan Empire ruled the area.
750 A.D. Buddhism brought by the Pala dynasty.
1150 Senas bring Hinduism to the region.
1206 Muslims take control of Bengal.
1650 The British begin arriving in Bengal.
1858 British Raj begins.
1947 India and Pakistan gain independence from Britain.
1971 Bangladesh declares independence from Pakistan.
(credit:”Bangladesh: Enchantment of the World”, by Tamara Orr)

In 1972 Mujibur Rahman became prime minister and few years later he was assassinated and a new government took control in a coup. After that, Bangladesh has had two female prime ministers (Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed). Momentarily, a military-backed caretaker regime suspended planned parliamentary elections in January 2007 in an effort to reform the political system and root out corruption. Elections are due by the end of 2008.

Bangladesh is situated between India and Burma, and it is slightly smaller than Iowa. About a third of this country floods annually during the monsoon rainy season, hampering economic development.
Natural resources: Natural gas, arable land, timber, coal.

Population: 153,546,901 (2008).
Religion: Muslim 83%, Hindu 16%, other 1%
Literacy: 43.1% (definition: age 15 and over who can read and write)

Economy has grown 5 to 6 percent over the past few years. Problems are associated with delays in exploiting natural gas resources, insufficient power supplies, and slow implementation of economic reforms.
GDP composition by sector: agriculture 19%, industry 28.7%, services 52.3%.
Population below poverty line: 45% (2004)
(credit: CIA World Factbook)

Posted By Danita Topcagic

Posted Jun 6th, 2008


  • Dunja and Slaven

    June 7, 2008


    Many wishes for successful and rewarding 5 months!

  • Daniele

    June 8, 2008


    I am quite impressed by this first contribution to your brand new blog.
    It is well written and especially well researched. Data, figures and some history are just what is needed for allowing the reader to familiarize with the problems BERDO and you will be countering with your laudable activities and to get to know the broader context of Bangladesh. Good start!
    Good luck!

  • Olena K.

    June 15, 2008


    This first blog entry clearly conveys your passion for the project and for making a change – good luck in Bangladesh!

  • Kasandra

    June 17, 2008


    Heeeeeeeeeej, pa ti pises k’o velika =)
    Stvarno profi odradjen posao!

  • Concierge

    August 24, 2008


    Hello, excellent site, very rich in content and correctly carefully thought out, personally I found here much interesting and useful……


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