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January 5, 2014

Microfinance helping to combat poverty in Bangladesh

NORMAN — Editor’s note: Transcript senior staff writer Joy Hampton is traveling with a U.S. State Department-sponsored group to Bangladesh. Journalists from Bangladesh visited Oklahoma in 2013.

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Oklahomans in Bangladesh have remained safe, comfortable and pampered this week even as Bangladesh is in a political upheaval that has cost lives and resulted in the burning of several schools slated to serve as election polling sites.

The young country is struggling, and yet its people remain courteous and friendly to Sooner state visitors on a State Department program.

Bangladesh is a very poor nation. In its landmark series on the garment industry, NPR reported that Bangladesh garment workers are the lowest paid in the world, and yet those jobs are an important step out of severe poverty and starvation for many. The industry employs mostly young women who come from rural areas to work in Dhaka, the nation’s capital.

The garment industry is only one means out of poverty, however. Microfinance of village artisans and entrepreneurs is being used at the grassroots level to help combat poverty in Bangladesh.

In 1972, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was a young man with a vision to decrease early childhood mortality in Bangladesh. An employee of Shell Oil Company at the time, he wanted to make his young country a better place for its citizens.

“The biggest killer of children in Bangladesh was diarrhea,” Abed said.

Abed discovered there was a simple solution to this deadly problem — an oral rehydration solution with the right combination of sugar, salt and water would save lives.

He founded the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee, now known as BRAC, to teach one woman per household how to make this solution and teach the other women to make it. The organization had the ambitious goal of reaching out to 16 million households through teaching people in their homes.

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