Quite a day…

This is some graduate program! I mean, NKU’s MPA program has literally taken what I’ve read in text books about NGOs to actually meeting with the Executive Director of Padakhep, Iqbal Ahammed in person in Bangladesh! What other programs can do that?
Padakhep, established in 1986 with the mission of “creating self-financed, self-employed and self-empowered communities with increased capabilities by providing need-based services and supports like microfinance, agriculture, health, sanitation, education, HIV/AIDS prevention, gender, environment, social security, marketing, technology, etc.”
We met with the ED for about two hours discussing their model of microfinance, which mirrored greatly the Grameen model. However, the rate of repayment was lower than Grameen’s 98 percent at only 80 percent. Additionally, the NGO’s interest rates were not fixed (based on type of loan) like Grameen. Padakhep charged an application processing fee to their borrowers. Despite these differences, the overall results of the program were similar. We met with borrowers whose success was great and dreams for their children even greater.
Later we went to a center that was operated by the NGO that was like a drop-in center for the abandoned children for the slums area in Bangladesh. The center operated daily, with a capacity of 40 per day from ages 5-18 learning daily living skills and even vocational training. At night, 25 of the children slept there. It was one of six centers that are run by this NGO. The kids were cute and performed for us…they seemed so happy and they were so cute. Hard to imagine they were just discarded by their parents. But they have each other and a caring staff/role model. Hug your children tonight people…


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I ate every bite…

Today we stopped for lunch and I had the most exotic thing I’ve eaten in several weeks. It was fantastic. I couldn’t stop raving. The dish had cheese, bread, tomatoes and yum!

It was…

And oh my god it was so wonderful…I just had to blog about it 🙂

Set Your DVR!

Coming this fall…

Every village has one –that rambunctious little scamp whom everyone likes to pick on. The one who spends most of his life running away from the bigger kids. All the girls don’t want to be arranged to marry to him.  He’s a mix of Dennis the Menace, Eddie Haskill and Steve Urkell all rolled into one.

That’s Mooshiet!

 Not the sharpest tool in the shed but very sweet at the same time, he’s a character all of his own. We couldn’t make him up if we tried. One day, he went off to school only to return about an hour later. His reasoning – it’s hot. Well Mooshiet, this is Bangladesh and heat is kind of its thing!

Seriously, we could write a sitcom about this precocious little seven-year-old…we already have a title 🙂

Mooshiet is the middle child…if only you could follow his wacky adventures like we did…

The Village…

Our trip was to Sirajgonj, where we hopped out of our Toyota Towne Ace van after a 250 km (four plus hours) and resided at the local Grameen bank branch. This branch was very nice – a two story concrete building where the branch manager and his assistant manager lived upstairs. We stayed three nights and four days. Our assignment was to interview various borrowers (using our interpreter) of the Grameen bank as well as those working for Grameen itself. Our group interviewed a young man who was getting an education loan, a woman who twenty years ago lived under a tree before getting her first loan of 900 taka ($7.15) and now makes a good living selling handcrafts and owns her own land. We also interviewed a former street beggar who used a loan to buy a chicken in a failed attempt to no longer have to beg (selling the eggs). Unfortunately, the chicken died and the women lacked the self-confidence to talk about it. Overall, she just didn’t seem to understand the value of the loan itself for someone like herself (a rather uncomfortable and heart wrenching interview).  The stories were inspiring and familiar: before the loan life was hard and post Grameen loan, an easier life. On a more personal level for the borrower members (mostly women) a loan from Grameen meant a more prominent position in the family as well as the respect of their fellow villagers.
We also discussed with Grameen employees the organizational hierarchy, culture and any managerial issues they might face.
Like any small town, the pace of life in the village is slower. Livestock amble around the village, not fenced in, sleeping on the road or chewing grass everywhere. According to our interpreter, everyone in the village knows which animal belongs to whom, but they all look alike so go figure. The air is so much better, as is the view. Rural Bangladesh is beautiful, with rice patties and canals as far as the eye can see. Add to this scene some rowboats on the horizon and silhouettes of fishermen on their bamboo fishing apparatuses or farmers planting rice or stripping jute and you kind of get the picture.
Our people of the village were so great. Every night they would come down to the bank and ask us to come out. All in all, about an average of 25 people a night would be there. They asked us questions (through our interpreter) on things like our name, if we were married, our age and if we liked our time there. Of course we did…However it was hot. In our down time, we’d play cards. Tori played soccer with the kids. We had our first real rainstorm, which was great as it cooled things down for about an hour or two…It was relaxing and really nice to see a Grameen bank in action. But most probably the coolest thing we did was to spend a couple of hours at the village’s primary school. The kids were so great. There were 304 students and only four teachers. The kids did a presentation for us and we had a nice discussion with the teachers comparing the American school system with theirs.
Also this country has the biggest bats I’ve ever seen! They are the size of hawks…not kidding! I half expected them to swoop down and carry off a few of the lambs on the street.
Toward the end of the week we headed about 30 km to the fisheries by CNGs (motorized cage cars) and stayed at an AIR CONDITIONED rest house. Grameen was asked by the government to take over the management of the fisheries. While the accommodations were lovely, my time there was marred by an awful bout of fever, stomach flu and general sickness. It took several days to recover, but I’m good now, no worries, and the week itself was great and enjoyable overall.

The Grameen Logo/Entrance to village bank branch…

Tori “striking” a village child with soccer ball…note the yellow ball hitting the child under his chin – Tori is pretty competative at soccer 🙂

Just kidding, the kids (at least the non-injured ones) had a blast

Beautiful countryside…

Students at the primary school…

Reminds me of my own classes 😉

Students preforming a program for us…

I always feel like somebody’s watching me…

So I get that I look a lot different than the people in this country, that I’m a distinct minority here. People stop in their tracks when they see us. Some take pictures, some want to have you take their pictures. Most just stare. They walk with you, almost like they are your shadow. They can be less than a foot away, and not say a word.

While other people will approach to ask you, what country that I’m from.  I answer America or the United States. They smile broadly, thrilled that I’m taking the time and talking to them.  Upon finding out where I’m from, they offer their name, I offer mine. This dialogue can generate an excitement as others will come over and witness the exchange. Then they offer their names, hands, etc.  After they know my name and I theirs, they just stare.

But the really strange thing about the entire situation is that all I’m trying to do is buy a sprite at the market.

As soon as our group steps out onto the smelly, hot sidewalk, all eyes are on us. It’s surreal. It’s like we’re a combination of royalty, famous and the first Caucasians these people have ever seen – in either the city or a village. Someone is always watching. People in transit must get whiplash as they pass by…In stores we can be shuffled ahead to the front of the line or other hotel guests are asked to wait for another elevator b/c we get to go before them. And when you refuse to be treated this way, they won’t accept it. They won’t take “no” for an answer. Rather than make a scene or be considered rude, it’s easier to just do what they’re asking.

It’s unnerving but  that life here in the ‘Desh…at least everyone is friendly…but it certainly gives you an insight on what minorities all over the world must feel…

 

Poverty…

It’s really difficult to truly describe just how poor the people of Bangladesh are…I’ve seen children sleeping on the sidewalks. As we drive from the city into the more rural areas there are tent cities filled with people of all ages.  Trash is everywhere, piled high; as are the street beggars picking through it.  These people are the saddest of all b/c they comprise of the elderly, young and disfigured (a result of the arsenic in the water perhaps) who approach you individually while you are sitting in traffic. Some beggars are children themselves holding babies and pointing to their mouth. The stand there, pressing their faces against the window, just hoping you’ll give something. The heat is oppressive and standing in traffic is dangerous, but there they are every day for hours at a time…

According to our interpreter there is currently more than 30 million people in the country who are unemployed. Also, only 38 percent of the population is considered to be educated, however this term is somewhat deceiving as education is measured merely by the fact that a person can write their own name.  If you take into consideration that one of the goals of the Grameen model is that borrowers themselves must sign for their loans, the country’s education numbers would be even graver as Grameen has 8 million borrowers.

Finally, the government doesn’t offer any social services nor are there any operating non-profits on the local level (there are some NGOs). So essentially many people are left to their own devices.

The one thought that keeps cycling in my head is that this place is like Haiti before the earthquake. What must it be like there now?

I’m your Yunus…

Yunus…
So as many of my cohorts have already mentioned on their respective facebook pages (especially in their profile pics) we met the guy who developed the microcredit concept 31 years ago as an anti-poverty tool, Dr. Mohammed Yunus. We took pictures and he took a few questions…his message was simple, that it only takes one idea to make a difference in society.