It’s difficult to believe that it’s that time again. Looking around my hotel room, all my stuff strewn about, and knowing that somehow, someway, it will all fit back into my little suitcase. Early tomorrow morning I will head back to the one place that has been more consistent than any other over the past year: the airport.

Before we go any further, let’s put a soundtrack to this post, shall we? Here’s a song from Habib:

[podcast]http://el-oso.net/mp3/habib.mp3[/podcast]

I came to Bangladesh to witness first hand what I’ve been reading about almost every day: the work of the Nari Jibon project. I came in with high expectations and they surpassed even those. Here are some pictures of Nari Jibon’s students and staff:

And here is a video I put together:

Did you catch Asia Afrin “Anni” describe how she wants to be a lawyer and how she feels that women deserve just as much respect as men? Get this, Anni is only 14-years-old. At 14 I think my main concern was figuring out how to use my parents’ car without them knowing. And here is Anni filling me with hope for the future. Thankfully she is at Nari Jibon where she can continue to flourish and find success.

In addition to Rafiq, Sujon, Bipa, Taslima, and all the wonderful staff at Nari Jibon, there is someone else who really deserves much more recognition than she receives for the tremendous success of the project and that is Nari Jibon’s founder, Kathy Ward. Kathy, a professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University, first came to Bangladesh to study “The Effects of Global Economic Restructuring on Urban Women’s Work and Income-Generating Strategies in Dhaka, Bangladesh.” (For more on this, have a listen to the introductory podcast to the Nari Jibon project.)

There is a thinking in academia that researchers should be completely detached from what they are studying. That the goal of academic research is to establish causes and effects, not to come up with solutions or policy. And especially not to try to implement those solutions.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to come up with the same conclusions as Kathy and her colleagues: most urban Bangladeshi women are restricted to either garment work or sex work as a way of earning income because they don’t have the skills for other types of labor. But rather than just publishing the obvious in scholarly journals, Kathy set up the Nari Jibon center as a place where all classes of urban women could gain technical skills for a nominal fee. Shawn of the Uncultured Project has a great homage to and video with Kathy.

Update: Special thanks to Marc Fest for his donation to Nari Jibon. You can also donate from here.

What’s this? You need more music. Alright, here’s another Habib song:

[podcast]http://el-oso.net/mp3/habib2.mp3[/podcast]

Walking through Dhaka’s dusty streets can be oppressive. Everywhere are young tokai, ripe for the brochures and press releases of aid organizations. They grab at your arms, gesturing hunger, pleading for the equivalent of half the cost of a cup of coffee in the US. Traffic and the honking of horns are constant. On the sidewalks amputees sleep on cardboard boxes with flies circling around their eyes and mouths.

At times it gets to be so much that, ridden with guilt, I seek refuge in the air conditioned lobby of a five star hotel and pay more money for a croissant than most Dhaka street kids will see all month.

There is no shortage of research, articles, and photographs about poverty in Bangladesh. But I’m much more interested in those who are focused on how Bangladesh can become a fully developed country (hopefully while maintaining its own unique culture) during the first half of this century. Like residents of other developing countries (especially poor Muslim countries), Bangladeshis often look to Malaysia as an example of a poor country that was able to fully develop itself without pandering to the West and without relying heavily on foreign investment.

Which is why it was so fascinating to read Marina’s impressions of her recent visit to Bangladesh. Marina (a friend from Malaysia who has appeared on this blog before) is the daughter of former Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad who, with some controversy, is credited for Malaysia’s economic boom. During her visit she visited the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, which seems to share Kathy’s belief that educating women is the path toward development. She also visited a rural village to better understand the Grameen bank’s microlending revolution. And she got to know the workers of several NGO’s in Dhaka – incuding BRAC, the world’s largest NGO.

But your best source for getting a better understanding of Bangladesh comes from my good friend Rezwan and his blog, The 3rd World View. Rezwan is a Bangladeshi currently living in Berlin. (Remember his adorable daughter?) He has both an insider’s and outsider’s view of Bangladesh and his posts are a mix of fun, fascinating, and intellectual.

Now I’m about to head to Nari Jibon to say my goodbyes. Next stop: Doha.

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