So it appears that we don’t have to visit opposition leader Zia today to plead our case to end the protests. Luckily the protests have calmed down and we were able to visit some parts of the city and get to our morning meeting. Though we were prepared to fight for our SMART trip; even if it involved some tough diplomatic relations!
It was nice to be able to get out into the city today. It’s difficult in our current neighborhood to get the true feel for Dhaka. Being out in the traffic with horns blaring and getting to see another area of the city was nice. Again, I was struck with how similar developing nations appear. While each place may have it’s own unique flavor with different clothing, food, billboard advertisements, and automobiles; each place can also be identified through the ever present construction, congestion, the street stalls with food and tea, and the tin shacks that crowd narrow streets and train tracks.
When looking at Bangladesh’s development, Joy compares it to India about ten years ago. Development has helped to lift many out of poverty and increasing incomes has brought new businesses, higher level of education, and increased technology use. However, there are still about 63 million people that still live in poverty and there are challenges for further growth including internal migration into cities which has led to increasing urban poverty, competitive international trade environment, and environmental impacts. This is why the blockade is detrimental to Bangladesh; it limits travel for the everyday worker who needs to get through the city to their jobs. Everyday that the blockade continues, more revenue is lost. This is why it is challenging to support the opposition. Even though they make a case about fair elections, in the end they are damaging Bangladesh’s development which they claim to support.
Our meeting today was focused on agricultural development within the country. We were able to meet with Bangladesh Agriculture Institute (BARI) and Bangladesh Agriculture Research Counsel (BARC). Both of these groups work to bring together researchers, scientists, and institutions to address the most pressing agricultural concerns. Between the two groups they consist of 2,000 researchers and scientists and 13 research centers throughout Bangladesh.
BARC has had a past TEEAL set at their main library in Dhaka for the past few years. However, they were never able to get the 2011 update to work and they lost contact with the TEEAL office. This brings up one of the main challenges with TEEAL and issues with communications between the TEEAL staff and the institutions utilizing the program. With TEEAL sets placed in over 400 institutions it becomes a challenge to ensure that each one is being updated and receiving trainings. This is where the consultants fro the Sathguru Foundation and ITOCA come into play to ensure that all the institutions are being adequately served. However, this is still a large task for anyone to achieve.
BARC does have students and researchers who come in to use the TEEAL set at the main library and they appreciate that the download time for articles is often quicker than over the internet. However, they are having challenges to attract researchers to come into the library to conduct research. Most researchers and scientists prefer to use internet from their homes or offices versus coming into the main library to utilize databases such as TEEAL. This brings up a second challenge for TEEAL and how to promote it’s use in an increasing internet reliant world. The main computer specialist mentioned that if researchers could log into TEEAL via remote access through the BARC network of computers that would be more helpful. Unfortunately due to licensing agreements with publishers this is not allowed. It might also be more efficient for BARC and BARI to have only one set at the main location that the other research centers can access via their hared network. This way, they don’t have to install 13 separate TEEAL sets, buy the updates for each of the 13 and then go around to install the updates as well. This would allow for much easier maintenance. This has been a request of other institutions in Africa and it is something that will have to be investigated. Perhaps if one of the major publishers agree it will be easier to convince the rest.
Both BARC and BARI wanted us to install the TEEAL set immediately. It was nice to see their enthusiasm for the program. The computer specialist stated that this program was also much easier to use than other databases they had. The next step after sending them a new TEEAL set will be establishing trainings. Everyone at the meeting seemed very responsive to this idea. They currently host about 3-4 trainings a year themselves and were more than happy to have us host one, and pledged to host others in the future on TEEAL. One of the major suggestions I have for these trainings is to see include the use of AGORA as well. Since it sounds like from our discussions a majority of researchers find it more comfortable to utilize internet resources from their own offices or homes, using AGORA might be more beneficial for them.
A great aspect of this meeting was that both BARC and BARI are more than willing to send us copies of their own research, including their journal they publish. This will be a great addition to the South Asian research sections for TEEAL and really help to foster international engagement among researchers and scientists.
It appears that our team will really have to focus on the biggest concern of bringing the researchers to the library and how to advertise TEEAL as a worthwhile resource in order to have people travel to use it. We did discover that the most pressing research topic currently in Bangladesh is climate change and the focus on different crop variations in order to continue to grow rice in floods or to grow potatoes and maize in different climate conditions. Perhaps looking at the amount of research TEEAL contains on this topic we can utilize that as an incentive to promote its use. We will have to brainstorm more about this challenge.
Following our meeting we were able to stop and see the parliament building which was surprisingly a really modern architectural design and it was gorgeous. It appeared to me to be a combination of part fort and part avante garde architectural wing for an art museum. We also made some friends who wanted to take their picture with us. After we stopped by the Prime Minister’s Office which was a beautiful white house surrounded by a painted black and gold fence and immaculate lawns and gardens. Very impressive, but also a stark contrast to the beggars sitting across the road; as is most government buildings in countries. They are built to give off this sense of power and wealth for the country, while ignoring the problems close by. It is no different in DC, where people seem to live in a bubble of politics while students in the city are placed in failing school systems.
Lunch was delicious as we decided to sample some of the local cuisine. We ended up ordering a fixed menu to serve six people but ended up with enough food to serve probably 7 or 8 people. There were so many dishes I lost track of what I was eating. But suffice it to say we sufficiently stuffed ourselves to make dinner an impossibility. This evening we were able to visit a store called Aarong which was full of handicraft items made in Bangladesh. It is run by the BARC and they pay fair wages to all the artisans that produce the items. It was nice to see the different crafts and buy a few items of family, friends, and of course ourselves.
Overall, the day was very nice and we were extremely excited to be able to leave the hotel. However, among arrests of opposition leaders and continuing protests and the blockade we will continue to take each day as it comes. Of course we always have the option of visiting Madame Zia.