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 3: Villages, health care, weather

12 Sep

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”.

I decided to skip the 7:30 breakfast, praising sleep over food and when I walked outside to meet the crew, Iain was still waiting for Saidul who apparently also need more time to rest. Plan was to go to Banaripara, which is an hour away from Barisal, and a place that was badly affected by last year’s cyclone. The scenery on the way to Banaripara is striking, rice fields, banana trees and vast open greenery.

A man working in the fields of Banaripara

We were deciding which group to visit out of 86 groups in this region, which beneficiaries to interview out of the ones who were affected by cyclone and received donations collected by AP, and when to meet the staff at Banaripara.

First we met a group in Kundihar village which is only 6 months old and has 20 members, 7 of whom have disabilities. This time BERDO’s medical doctor, Rafiqul Islam, was present so the discussion turned to health care. Rafiqul goes to different villages to meet with the micro-credit groups during their weekly meetings and he provides them with education on basic preventative methods, but he also sees patients who are sick and who need prescription for medicine.

When we asked people why they joined the group and what they hope to get out of it, along with the access to credit, many of them stated that they are hoping to receive some medical treatment. One woman came to the group meeting and brought her daughter who has cerebral palsy and said that she joined the group last week to receive a loan for a business which will allow her to save money so that she can take her daughter for treatment.

At the same time, I wasn’t surprised to hear, that most of the group members visit village doctors (aka a witch doctor – a person without any medical training using superstition to diagnose a problem and to prescribe treatment). At least for now, this group will have BERDO’s doctor to ask for advice, given that they find him in time during his runs to 86 different groups.

After finishing the meeting with Kundihar group, we went to BERDO’s office in Banaripara for a lunch. In Bangladesh, it is common that each office has a kitchen and a cook who prepares snacks and lunch for the staff to eat together. Close to the office in Banaripara lives Sabbir, a beneficiary who received a donation of about $25 dollars from AP because he was badly affected by the cyclone. He purchased an old rickshaw from the loan BERDO provided him, and he used the donation from AP to fix the rickshaw which he operates alone even though his left side is partially paralyzed. This loan allows him to help his family by generating some income, and although it may not be enough to cover all family’s expenses, but it does give him a sense of worth and pride.

Sabbir with his rickshaw is hardly making ends meet

Due to devastation and destruction of last year’s cyclone which affected BERDO’s beneficiaries of micro-credit program, AP collected donations from individuals during Christmas 2007. $1,140 dollars was sent to BERDO to distribute to those who couldn’t make ends meet. 44 members received support ranging from $15-$37 dollars because many of the them either lost homes, livestock and/or land and were struggling to feed their families. It is hard to imagine that $1,000 can have an impact on so many people, but it is because BERDO donated every single penny and selected those beneficiaries who were truly desperate. If any of you reading this would like to donate $10, $20, $100 or any other amount to help a family in need, please contact AP for instructions.

On the way back to Barisal, I was asking about the song I heard earlier, a national antham written by a great Bangalee poet Tagore, and before I knew it, the whole staff broke into a song singing with soul and deep respect for their country. Many of the people I have met have told me that they might not have much in terms of material possessions, but they have pride, honesty and hope.

We exited the car in front of a tailor shop to meet one of the stars of BERDO’s micro-credit program. His name is Shafin Aldan, a 39 years old male with a deformed foot since birth who has been with BERDO for 9 years. BERDO likes to keep Shafin as a member because of the positive example he portrays to other people with disabilities. With the loans from BERDO, he is able to run a tailor shop, employing two people, and he even has 4 rickshaws that he is renting for profit. Being with BERDO for such a long time, he has received training on different issues and he speaks out eagerly to the group members to advise them and motivate them with their new businesses. The members of the group look up to him as a man who was able to overcome the barriers of his disability and it gives them motivation.

Shafin Aldar – a star of BERDO’s micro-credit program

We squeezed past the people who surrounded the tailor shop to check out our cameras and listen to us speak, and we got back to the car to catch the boat back to Dhaka concluding our Barisal visit. I wondered what we can accomplish in such a short time, running from a place to place with enough time to smell the coffee but not enough time to taste it. I guess when the resources are scarce, you do with what you have, and now I can only hope that we had some luck on our side.

Posted By Danita Topcagic

Posted Sep 12th, 2008

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