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.

TRIP Day 4: President of Bangladesh American Chamber of Commerce

14 Aug

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”.

Arrival to Dhaka port by crossing Buriganga River

Woke up to a down-pour and walked outside to watch the small boats crossing the river carrying either cargo or people. Did not forget the experience of last night when our boat collided into an oil-tanker head on which left the front side of our boat pushed in and made our captain head to the shore. To my disappointment, we did not have to evacuate but continued the journey where everything else went smoothly, read boring.

We interviewed Rashed Rahman, a blind man who came to BERDO for computer training. BERDO provided computer training to 10 students teaching them how to use basic programs like Microsoft Office and how to browse the internet using JAWS (job access with speech) Software. Rashed was one of those students and upon the completion of the training BERDO helped him find a job at HSBC bank where he works as a telephone operator. He is 39 years old, and a very bright self-taught man who learned English by listening to radio broadcasts. He wasn’t able to get a job before the training, even with a masters degree under his belt. He tells us that he hopes to move up the latter and get a better position in the future because he is fully capable of doing more.

Rashed Rahman took a job at HSBC thanks to the computer training received at BERDO

BERDO provided the computer training to a group of students for six months, but due to the lack of funding they are not able to continue with the program. Expenses were not so high since BERDO already has the computers for use, but the teachers’ salary and the transportation costs for students to attend the training is difficult for BERDO to provide. The training is offered to students free of cost and upon the completion, BERDO works together with the students to find them a job. So far, BERDO has been able to create jobs for 42 people with disabilities, and if they can continue to provide computer training to visually impaired persons, I am confident that this number will be much higher.

After observing Rashed in action at the HSBC we come back to BERDO to spend some time with the students of the blind school. Iain could not stop filming the children who were trying to impress him by reciting Qur’an and screaming out the English phrases I taught them. Observing the school, the students and the teacher, Iain was even more eager to meet with Mr. Atiquer Rahman who has already provided donations for BERDO’s students and is committed to do more.

Mr. Atiquer Rahman, Bangalee born who now resides in Florida, has been working to help the poor and distressed people in Bangladesh over the years. He was a chairperson of FOBANA (Federation of Bangladeshi Associations in North America) which is an organization that conducts fund raisers, among other things, to raise money for the people who need it in Bangladesh. He is also the President of Bangladesh American Chamber of Commerce, and in spite of his hectic schedule, he finds time to visit different NGO’s and hospitals to asses what their needs are. Mr. Rahman welcomed Iain and I at his house for a strategic chat about the future plans how to best assist these organizations in Bangladesh who are striving to make a change.

Mr. Atiquer Rahman, President of Bangladesh American Chamber of Commerce visiting BERDO

At the end we are left to ponder which way to go; four days and 7 programs later, what can make the most impact???

Do we help BERDO emphasize it’s micro-credit program that is proving to be a success with 84% regular repayment rate? The same program that provides income to persons with disabilities who would otherwise have to rely on welfare and mercy of others.

Or do we help BERDO find donors for the computer training to people with visual impairments giving them a better chance of finding a job? It’s proven to be successful and BERDO already has the computers for use.

Or do we focus all our energies to help improve and expand BERDO’s school for visually impaired students who otherwise would not have access to school? Aren’t the children the next generation leaders??

It is hard for me to decide, and I assume BERDO faces the same dilemma since they are running seven different programs with little funding. And instead of focusing what can yield the most benefits to the biggest number of people, we are analyzing what is BERDO capable of doing in an efficient way. Which one of these programs can generate enough interest to attract donors??? Isn’t that the key? Donors are the key.

Posted By Danita Topcagic

Posted Aug 14th, 2008

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