This post is second in a three-part series of reflections from Dory Cooper, past president of FeelGood at the University of Vermont. In November 2014, Dory joined fellow FeelGooder Tim Baccaro (Stevens FeelGood ’15) on an investor trip to Bangladesh with The Hunger Project, one of our Commitment 2030 Fund partners. On February 5, they hosted a FeelGood LiveLab about their trip, which was recorded so you can check it out here.
So what’s going on in Bangladesh anyway? Where even is it? Are there tigers roaming the streets? Let’s take some time to go over some Bangladesh basics!
Bangladesh is bordered by India on the West, North, and East with the Bay of Bengal to the South and neighbored by Bhutan and Nepal. The country became independent from Pakistan in 1971 and is now a Parliamentary Republic. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (approximately half the population of the US in an area the size of Wisconsin!) with its capital, Dhaka, the most densely populated city in the world. The currency used is the taka (78 taka = 1 USD) and the average yearly income is about 1,000 USD.
Why Extreme Poverty and Hunger Exists in Bangladesh, according to THP Bangladesh staff:
- Weak education system.
- Lack of “moral elite” and nation wide leaders.
- Government corruption and gangster politicians.
- “Dependency Syndrome” – natural disasters and suffering led to handouts from the rest of the world which citizens became dependent on for resources, and then assistance stopped.
- Rapid economic growth with garment industry has led to certain people gaining a lot of power in a short amount of time.
- ⅔ of all marriages are Child Marriages – girls and boys under the age of 18 are married and not able to continue schooling. Girls are seen a liability and many parents want someone else to be responsible for them as soon as possible.
THP Bangladesh’s Objectives:
- “Mobilize people for self-reliant actions towards the Millenium Development Goals” – THP provides training and education to create leaders who promote the MDGs and take action in their own communities. Programs include: Animator Training, Youth Ending Hunger Movement, Citizen for Good Government, and several others. THP assists and guides, but doesn’t fund any of their individual projects.
- “Empower women as key agents of change” – THP trains women as animators, encourages them to run for government positions, and acts as a link to bring women leaders together through various events, like the annual Unleashed Women’s Leadership Conference.
- “Strengthen local government and civil society” – the corrupt government hinders the growth of small rural communities. Often leaders buy votes and lie to the people in order to remain in power. THP puts together events to improve voter education and encourage leaders to realize the importance of the MDGs.
The visions ands goals we heard from local leaders were incredible. We heard student leaders declare that they are committed to eliminating child marriage in the country by 2015, politicians say they will stop at nothing to achieve all of the MDGs by 2020, and women tell us that their mission is to help other women become financially independent from their husbands.
These stories and goals were not unique to a few leaders. We heard them over and over from each village and city stop we made. The progress being made in Bangladesh and positivity of the people is inspiring. I had expected to have a heart-breaking moment on my visit, but it never came. The whole time I was there, I felt nothing but love, happiness, and hope that each day will be better than the one before.
If you missed Part I, check it out here. And stay tuned for Dory’s third powerful and informative reflection next week!