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.

walking the line

26 Jul

While I unfortunately can’t say that the mystery bacterium have disappeared, I do feel the need to take a step back from my recent cynicism – and, for better or worse, I still have plenty of time to stay lost in thought.

As a friend reminded me over lunch the other day, there is a great danger in portraying Bangladesh as a perpetually plagued country. Yes, there are problems; floods, poverty, rising cost of living, and a caretaker government that is looking ever clumsier in its attempt to clean corruption out of power. But these negative aspects are all too often all that is shown of Bangladesh to the world. Triumphant students whose dedication is rewarded when exam results are announced, joyful celebrations of Bengali culture, and incremental successes of its economy just don’t make for exciting news.

In a lot of ways, this has a familiar ring. Hasn’t media everywhere generally turned to covering the most sensational, sexy, sometimes chilling, sometimes infuriating events as a means of selling their news? I’m not nearly well traveled enough to say that it is so everywhere across the globe, but I think it is safe to bet that selling sensation, be it sex or utter desperation, is a whole lot easier than selling modest achievements in many countries around the world.

The problems of Bangladesh – the poverty, the disasters, the political wrangling – have proven an easy sell, but only when the proportions are so outrageous that people can’t help but stop to take notice. I came into the country thinking that maybe, in some small way, I could help to make the less outrageous, but equally important problems apparent – the workers who struggle day after day to put two meals on their family’s table, the people with disabilities who face unbridled discrimination as they search for jobs, the preventable illnesses that lead to a significant portion of disability throughout the developing world.

But, after talking over lunch about Bangladesh’s image abroad with a Bangladeshi who was educated in London and chose to return to Bangladesh to serve his fellow citizens, I’m beginning to think that telling the important stories is much more difficult than I had first imagined. First, there is danger in making the problems outrageous in a way that is nearly the same as the media and falling into the exact same sensation sells trap. Secondly, there is the very real possibility that my advocacy could simply contribute to the “bad luck country” image – and that image honestly doesn’t do Bangladesh any good. It isn’t exactly a tightrope act, but it is certainly a challenge

Then I step back and realize that there is so much hope to write about that, even if it doesn’t sell, it certainly isn’t hard to find and is almost impossible to escape. Bangladesh has its share of problems, but it also has a huge bounty of beauty and energy. “Every day I wake up to the sounds of people working,” my friend told me over lunch, “and they are working hard – they’re shouting out their wares and carrying 20 kilos in a basket balanced on their head.” He went on to emphatically tell me that, “there is great potential here for people to improve their lives – we just need to give them a chance.”

It is this chance, along with the small steps in the right direction, which really deserves attention in the international limelight. If we could get people as excited about vitamin A deficiency-related blindness in kids as we could in former Bangladeshi lawmakers’ last minute maneuvering to somehow debunk the corruption charges brought against them, just think of what could be accomplished.

Posted By Caitlin Burnett

Posted Jul 26th, 2007


  • Barry Williams

    July 28, 2007


    I’m really glad that you are seeing the bright side of everything around you. Keep on looking towards that and working for positive change. Although it is a relatively small change, you have shown me that Bangladesh is more than the sum of the news stories that I read.

    I can’t wait to find out more.

  • Samuel

    July 30, 2007


    For some reason, my email bounced back…I enjoyed your last posting, nice message!

    The reason for the problem:
    5.1.0 – Unknown address error 550-‘ [] is currently not permitted tonrelay through this server. Perhaps you have not logged into the pop/imapnserver in the last 30 minutes or do not have SMTP Authentication turned onnin your email client.’


    Hello Caitlin,

    Thanks for your email – v sorry for my tardy reply, have been out and about and fairly hectic, am sure you can empathise! Well similarly Bangladesh has been an incredibly rich, overloading experience – hard to believe I only have 3 weeks left. I have posted a couple of observations/reflections on the following website under the Asia tab: but haven’t really kept a regular appraisal.

    I don’t know about good places for coffee, but wrt comfort food, the nearest I have come to is the American club, and Bagha (British Aid Guest House Association) club of which I’m a temp member (as a Brit). The American club is in Gulshan 2 before the circle if you were travelling from Baridhara DOHS, the Bagha is the other side of the circle, on the way to Gulshan 1 off Kamal Ataturk Road. Access to both is as guest of members only unfortunately, I don;t know if you might know anyone who’s a member? There is also El Toro, Mexican place in Gulshan 1, have you come across it?

    Alternatively, I’ve just chatted to my American host and good friend Paul, who is suggesting the idea of a burger night, if you were interested you’d be most welcome to come round and join us. You’re probably leaving shortly also, but if you’re up for it, suggest when might be a good time and we’ll figure out if it’s possible.

    Anyway, hope you’re well.



  • Ellen

    July 30, 2007


    Caitlin —

    Really interesting to catch up on your impressions of the country. I printed them and will share them with my brother John (your mom’s cousin). Keep up the good work.


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