Iain Guest

Iain founded AP in 2001 after many years of writing about and working with civil society in countries in conflict. He was a Geneva-based correspondent for the London-based Guardian and International Herald Tribune (1976-1987); authored a book on the disappearances in Argentina; fronted several BBC documentaries; served as spokesperson for the UNHCR operation in Cambodia (1992) and the UN humanitarian operation in Haiti (2004); served as a Senior Fellow at the US Institute of Peace (1996-7); and conducted missions to Rwanda and Bosnia for the UN, USAID and UNHCR. Iain recently stepped down as an adjunct professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where he taught human rights.

The Wisdom of the Poor

21 Aug

Banari Pana, August 21: In Banari Para we are meeting individuals who were hit by the typhoon which swept in at the end of last year. Many have had trouble with repayments and BERDO has extended their grace period for repayments until the end of this year’s harvest.

As noted above, The Advocacy Project launched a modest appeal for BERDO’s beneficiaries at short notice, and raised $1,140. At the time this did not seem like much, given the scale of the disaster. But it meant a lot to those who generously contributed, and we have been curious to see how the money had been spent.

Here in Bangladesh, it seems like lot. BERDO divided the money up into 42 grants of 2,000 taka, which were handed out by Saidul Huq with some ceremony during one of his visits. This is equivalent to one-third of a small BERDO loan, and does not need to be repaid.

Sabbir receives his AP donation from Saidul Huq (photo Maksuda Huq)


This visit suggests that the grants have been well used, and that these beneficiaries clearly have a long-term perspective. (It’s common to read that the poor only think of the immediate future).

Take Dalim Begum and her brother Babul. Both are disabled. Dalim lost most of the use of both of her legs, and Babul has a serious speech impediment. Dalim received a loan from BERDO of 5,000 taka, which the family used to purchase a cow.

Once it starts producing milk, it will bring the family 100 taka a day which is a steady income. But the cow was young when they bought it 5 months ago, and has yet to start producing milk. Meanwhile, repayments started after only two weeks and the family has to pay back 125 taka a week. In addition, the cow has to be fed. This family dealt with this by using our grant to rent out a rickshaw, which they rent out again for 120 taka a day. This will cover them until their cow starts producing an income.

Lasrul Islam is someone else who has used our grant as an investment. He received a loan of 9,000 to set up a grocery shop on the main road. He used the AP money to buy food and stock the shop.

Sabbir, 20, also used our grant wisely. Two years ago, he came down with a severe fever and suffered partial paralysis in one of his arms and legs. Eight months ago, he secured a BERDO loan for 5,000 taka and bought a rickshaw. The rickshaw itself was in poor condition, so he used our grant to repair it. The repair cost 2,000 taka and he found the extra 500 taka on his own.

Sabbir (l) and his mother Rahima

Sabbir is still earning less than he should from his rickshaw (25 taka a day) and takes on occasional laboring jobs to help repay his BERDO loan. But his mother Rahima has five other sons and this helps to cushion the family. She keeps close watch on Sabbir.

Mothers like Rahima are emerging as critical to the success of these loans, as they did in Barisal. Beauty Begum was determined that her daughter Popi, 12, who has a speech impediment, would go to the local school like any other child. But this would require money, to cover the cost of food, books and clothes. Her husband died of cancer recently, and she has two other children to care for.

Beauty Begum applied for a BERDO loan, received 5,000 taka, and set a small shop which brings in 250 taka a day. She has kept up with the weekly repayments (135 taka) and has paid off 2,000 taka of the loan. Somehow, she is also able to find 60 taka a month to equip Popi for school. She watches with pride as Popi submits to her video interview.

Popi herself is a charmer. Judge for yourself. The video will be posted soon.

Filed under: Bangladesh | Tagged: Advocacy Project, Bangladesh, BERDO, blind, micro-credit | Leave a comment »

Posted By Iain Guest

Posted Aug 21st, 2008

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