A Hubble Bubble and the Genocide

Today the TEEAL team was able to meet with officials involved in the major changes occurring with higher education within the country. Recently the World Bank has agreed to fund the Higher Education Quality Enhancement project which aims at making universities in Bangladesh internationally competitive and to help bring new resources to public universities.

Street in Dhaka
Street in Dhaka

One of the major phases of this project through the University Grants Commission is to expand the wireless internet connection for all public university campuses and to build a digital library for all students and faculty to access. Currently this online digital library has 30,000 e-books and 3,000 journal articles from 11 major publishers. They are looking to expand fiber optics to all universities within the next 6 months and to link all campuses to one network to make it easier for students to access the digital library.

Of course this may seem then that TEEAL would prove to be obsolete as an innovative source of information for university students and faculty.  However, we argue that even with a wireless connection, often in rural areas where most agriculture universities are located, there will be very slow connections and downloads of articles will be a lot faster using TEEAL. We also have access to some publishers the digital library does not.  Furthermore, during our meeting with Dr. Hossain from the UGC, he stated that they were looking for additional resources for the agricultural students; so this could be a perfect way to supplement the digital library. Based on our meeting, what we will more than likely do is to give the UGC their own TEEAL set and train the digital librarians on the system so they can help refer universities to TEEAL if they call looking for additional resources.

Street food vendors in Dhaka
Street food vendors in Dhaka

Following this meeting we met with the Deputy Secretary of the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project. He was able to give us some more details about the project, such as they were ending World Bank funding in 2018 and were not sure how they would continue to fund the digital library past this date. They also seemed interested in helping us form a relationship with the digital library as an alternative resource for universities.  They are more than willing to discuss being a partner in our endeavor and help us connect to more universities. I think both the meetings were very successful and that Chandra will be sure to follow up with them shortly regarding progress forward.

Following our meetings we made our way to the national museum to learn more about the historical and cultural background of Bangladesh. On our way to the museum we were able to explore more of the downtown area of Dhaka.  We started to see how crowded the city could be.  In these areas there is often just one small street meant for cars, rickshaws, CNGs, pedestrians, and street vendors. Everything is so tightly packed together and I truly admire our drivers for being able to find ways through and around people.  It was nice to get this small dose of crowded Dhaka, with the protests continuing it won’t be safe for us to visit old Dhaka. However, I can picture old Dhaka to be very similar to what we saw today; old buildings that now hold countless shops, street vendors with makeshift stalls, and the ever present press of people as they come and go among the old memories and new trials that make up the lifeblood of every city.

Rickshaws on a street in Dhaka
Rickshaws on a street in Dhaka
TEEAL Team as we enter the National Museum
TEEAL Team as we enter the National Museum

The museum was very nice with a lot of different artifacts from around Bangladesh throughout it’s entire history.  I was actually really surprised at the condition of some of the artifacts.

Calvin, Chandra, and Hill at the National Museum
Calvin, Chandra, and Hill at the National Museum

There were temple statues from the 8th century that appeared to be in almost perfect condition.  I know that in many developing nations museums and the preservation of national artifacts often comes in dead last for funding allocation when it is competing against education, food security, infrastructure, and technology. There are stories of the National Museum of Egypt being in shambles in the early 1900s with mummies and artifacts just piled in basement rooms. With no catalog of the objects in the museum, this led to the theft of priceless national treasuries from Egypt. That being said I am unsure what the basement of the Dhaka museum looks like but the visitor sections I felt were well put together.

Poster for the Abiden exhibit at the museum
Poster for the Abiden exhibit at the museum

We were able to explore the agriculture, life, textiles, animals, and plants of Bangladesh along with viewing historic artifacts from the culture of the country. Probably my favorite name for an object was an old clay pipe from the 5th century that they called a hubble bubble.

Of course the museum also focused a lot on the recent struggles of Bangladesh, especially in regards to their Liberation War in 1971 against then East Pakistan.  I was very impressed with the displays dedicated to this time period.  The rooms were filled with large copies of news articles and headlines, letters from leaders, pictures form the press and more personal snapshots taken by citizens during the events. There was a lot about this time period that I had no idea about.  I knew before coming to Bangladesh that they had once been part of India until the partition and then were part of Pakistan as East Pakistan, and were able to gain their independence in 1971.  However, what I was shocked to see was the brutal genocide that occurred during the war by the East Pakistani army and its Militias.  The genocide began on March 26, 1971 when West Pakistan launched Operation searchlight to suppress Bengali protest for self-determination. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 3,000,000 were killed and around 200,000-400,000 Bengali women were raped in a systematic campaign.

It was shocking to see the images of the dead and maimed laying in the streets of Dhaka.  In one corner were large picutres of mass graves filled with skulls .  They also put together a memorial for the systematic murder of the intellectuals a the University of Dhaka that occured at the start and end of the campaign. The US at the time released that was posted in the exhibit that read “It was the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.” What was amazing to me and extremly diappointing was to hear that “Genocide” was used by US officials in Bangladesh to describe the events and yet Nixon and Kissinger chose to downplay the events to protest West Pakistan interests. As a student of human rights and as one who studied the Holocaust intensely, I found the exhibit disturbing and upsetting on a very personal level. I felt anger that the US could have sided during the war with West Pakistan and that yet again the phrase of “Never More” uttered at the end of the holocaust again was a lie that is constantly perpetrated by world leaders. To this day it is hard to prove that event such of this can be considered Genocide as described by international law; however Truth and Justice Commissions are still being held against those that perpetrated the violence, especially Bengalis that assisted the militias in the attacks.

TEEAL Team leaving the museum
TEEAL Team leaving the museum

With this sobering display the last one we visited at the museum everyone was looking for  little happiness.  We decided the best thing was to do some final souvenir shopping for ourselves and our friends.  We were able to walk to a shopping complex to buy some items.  Of course on the way Calvin, our superstar sandman, was asked for pictures. Calvin and Hill will be in a ton of photos around Dhaka by the end of our stay here! Tomorrow we plan to spend the day finalizing our marketing plan and hoping to work on our presentation. I can’t believe our trip is almost over!

TEEAL Team at the Shawrma House for lunch
TEEAL Team at the Shawrma House for lunch
Prime Minister's House
Prime Minister’s House
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“Does this mean we can’t go to India??!!!”

Today we were able to visit the Bangladesh Agricultural University and meet with the Vice Chancellor.

Shamir, Hill, and Calvin at BAU
Shamir, Hill, and Calvin at BAU

BAU is the main agriculture university in Bangladesh and is home to 44 departments with 548 professors and 5,887 students. Graduates from University number 40,378 and the PhD students and professors have completed 1,036 research projects. The focus on the university is on applied research which will be nice for TEEAL to be involved in researchers that have a direct impact on farming practices.  One of the main criticisms of the program is that it focuses on the higher divisions of society with intellectuals and there is little evidence that this system has led to changes in the developing farming industry.

The Vice Chancellor seemed very interested in receiving a TEEAL set, they currently have access to about 3,000 online journals through Indiajournal.com, AGORA, and HINARI. However, they are still missing some of the more famous publishers and their journals.

Amanda, Hill, and Calvin at BAU
Amanda, Hill, and Calvin at BAU

The VC is also interested in bringing more digital and online resources to the library and although TEEAL is offline it offers some of the attractions of online research. The main concern of the administration is the cost of the system.  Despite the fact that they are getting the system for free, the update cost at $650 seems a little out of their budget range. We explained that holding trainings could reduce this cost however they seemed at times confused about what everything would entail.  Our team highly suggests that during future meetings TEEAL designs a power-point to be used to explain the system. This way if anyone is uncomfortable with English reading tends to be easier for them than interpreting the various accents and speeds at which we talk.

It appears that with limited internet access, intermittent power outages, and a small computer lab with internet access that having a resource like TEEAL would be beneficial for the campus.

TEEAL Team visiting the BAU library.
TEEAL Team visiting the BAU library.

We were able to see their network server room and meet with the main ITC administrator who seemed positive that the set would work well on the system and could be added through the server with little technological difficulty.

Part of the BAU campus includes two research centers.  However, these centers are not connected to the main BAU network. I would recommend that there are separate meetings held with these institutions.

BAU server room
BAU server room

I would also recommend separate trainings for them. I am nervous that hosting only a few trainings in Bangladesh limits the positioning of TEEAL. If we want to promote this we need to hold more trainings. It takes work to infiltrate a country efficiently with a new program and only focusing on 4-6 institutions might limit our impact; especially since trainings are constrained to 35 people max and many rural places might not be able to send representatives for the specific trainings. We will have to discuss more of this as a team in order to figure out how marketing could make up for limited trainings.

Exploring the greenhouses at BAU
Exploring the greenhouses at BAU

After our meetings we were able to explore some more of the campus including the germplasma lab which is the largest in South Asia and the second largest in the world. It was an outdoor facility with various plants, trees, and shrubs from different countries.  The scientists conduct research on the plants and often will look into genetics and splicing in order to develop superior crop and tree varieties.  Shamir also introduced us to more of his friends that volunteer with his NGO.  It was great to talk with some students and get to know what they study and their perceptions of the university.

Selfie at BAU, TEEAL Team and BAU students
Selfie at BAU, TEEAL Team and BAU students

We got to play cricket, which was a first for all of us.  I think Hill and Shamir were definitely the star players.  Additionally, we were able to watch the interdepartmental faculty handball tournament championship game.  Animal Husbandry beat Agricultural Engineering to defend their title as Faculty Handball champions. Maybe at Cornell we should look into CIPA or CIIFAD handball tournament, faculty vs. students?

TEEAL Team at BAU. From back right to front right:  Calvin, Hill, Shamir,  and Amanda.
TEEAL Team at BAU. From back right to front right: Calvin, Hill, Shamir, and Amanda.
Germplasma fields at BAU
Germplasma fields at BAU
Rice fields at BAU
Rice fields at BAU
Touring the germplasma
Touring the germplasma
TEEAL cricket team
TEEAL cricket team
Calvin playing cricket
Calvin playing cricket
Shamir showing Hill how to play cricket
Shamir showing Hill how to play cricket
Hill playing cricket
Hill playing cricket

The evening at the campus ended with a walk around the grounds talking about future plans and the studies with Shamir’s friends. We also got to try some chai and winter cakes that we ate while sitting on the train tracks that run through campus.  I think that was one of the best experiences of the entire trip. We finally were able to slow down and enjoy the company of some incredible people while taking time to enjoy the simple things we often take for granted in the United States.  It is rare to sit with friends and drink tea and coffee without planning events or trying to network, in Bangladesh the culture seems to foster close relationships based on true friendship and companionship.

TEEAL Team at BAU
TEEAL Team at BAU

Unfortunately the day ended with reports of a student strike in Dhaka and 17 other districts as well as a continued blockade. This ruins our plans to go hiking in the mountains at the border to India, and ends all hope of our possible visit to India this time around. We will have to see how the day goes tomorrow but we are bracing ourselves to stay in the hotel and leave for Dhaka when it gets dark to avoid the protesters.

Sunset at the BAU
Sunset at the BAU

Goats on a Roof

When you travel do you ever run into something really strange that makes you want to do a double take? That is what goats on the roof was for me.  That strange occurrence where you can’t exactly be sure if that is what you are really seeing and yet at the same time it feels completely normal.  Nothing out of the ordinary, just drove past and was like, “Hey there is a goat on that roof.” It makes sense knowing that many people often participate in rooftop farming; and yet it was unreal actually seeing a live goat staring at you from a roof as you drove by.  This brings up lots of question for me. For one, why do I find incidents like this strange? How can I make an impact in international development when I enter a country to help as a complete stranger? How do I appear walking down the street; am I someone else’s goat on a roof?

As the team travelled today from Dhaka to Mymensingh district to visit the Bangladesh Agricultural University I mulled over these questions. The trip is about 3-5 hours depending on traffic so we left very early in the morning in order to avoid any possible trouble with the ongoing blockade. It was nice to be able to travel a little out of the capital in order to explore the country more and understand how more rural universities operate.

As soon as we entered Mymensingh I fell in love with the city.

Mymensingh
Mymensingh

It reminded me a lot of parts of Freetown and Cairo. Small streets with mainly rickshaws, motorcycles, and CNGs operating. Little shops covered all open sidewalk space and despite the few precious inches of walking room vendors set up more tiny street stalls and food carts. The constant sound of honking, yelling, and bicycle bells filled the air and I loved every second.  It’s that feeling when you get somewhere that tells you that you belong there.  When looking at colleges, everyone always says that you will know you belong on a campus. I never felt that way about a place until Cairo. When I got to Caro it felt like I belonged there.  There have been a few other cities where it felt like I fit, like I was part of that place; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Istanbul, Kisumu, Krakow; and now Mymensingh.

This afternoon we decided to visit a museum that contained the works of Zainul Abedin.

Zainul Abedin Museum
Zainul Abedin Museum

He was an artist from the 1930s until the 1970s and his sketches of the famine in the 1940s were viewed worldwide and he is considered the father of Bangladeshi Art. His sketches were very beautiful and it he included plenty of different perspectives and variety of angles in his work. The grounds surrounding the museum were gorgeous as well with gardens and flower patches scattered around and flower trellises hanging off the front arches.

TEEAL Team at the Abedin Museum from left to right Joy, Calvin, Chnadra, Shamir, and Hill
TEEAL Team at the Abedin Museum from left to right Joy, Calvin, Chnadra, Shamir, and Hill

Following the museum we decided it would be interesting to take a boat ride on the Brahmaputra river.

Brahmaputra
Brahmaputra

This is one of the three major rivers in South Asia and is truly a life force in the region for agriculture.  In the middle of the river is a large sand barge that has been claimed as farming land by a variety of different people. This farming would not be possible in the sandy soil without the water from the nearby river. It was peaceful to float down the river and watch as other groups of students relaxed in the sinking afternoon sun.  As someone who has always lived close to water I don’t think I could go for very long with seeing a lake or a river, it just seems to have a calming effect on one’s disposition.

Boats on the Brahmaputra
Boats on the Brahmaputra
Brahmaputra
Brahmaputra
TEEAL Team on the Brahmaputra. From Back left to front right: Joy, Chandra, Calvin, Amanda, and Hill.
TEEAL Team on the Brahmaputra. From Back left to front right: Joy, Chandra, Calvin, Amanda, and Hill.
TEEAL Team selfie on the Brahmaputra. From left to right: Shamir, Calvin, Hill, and Amanda
TEEAL Team selfie on the Brahmaputra. From left to right: Shamir, Calvin, Hill, and Amanda

As we docked on the sand barge we found what Hill has termed “Farm of Cuteness.” He was very accurate in that name, there were baby goats, sheep, and chicks that were just begging to be oohhed and awed over. Hill even got to hold one of the baby goats.

Hill and his new found spirit animal.
Hill and his new found spirit animal.

However, we quickly stopped all notions of him bringing it back to CIPA.  After exploring past the farm we vised a Krishna temple.  I was shocked at the warm reception we received. The priests greeted us and provided us with a small snack of a dried milk sweet cake, apples, and oranges.  One of the practitioners that spoke fairly decent English was more than willing to explain the practices of the temple and the challenges they had communicating with the city.

Farm on the sand barge.
Farm on the sand barge.
Farm on the sand barge.
Farm on the sand barge.
Farm on the sand barge
Farm on the sand barge
Exploring the sand barge
Exploring the sand barge
Boats on the Brahmaputra view from the sand barge
Boats on the Brahmaputra view from the sand barge
Exploring the sand barge. From back left to front right: Calvin, Amanda, Chandra, and Joy.
Exploring the sand barge. From back left to front right: Calvin, Amanda, Chandra, and Joy.

Before heading to dinner the team decided to explore the BAU campus before our meeting with the Vice Chancellor in the morning.

BAU Student Union
BAU Student Union

While there, Calvin proved to be the star of the show as students asked to get pictures with him. However, myself and Hill also got to star in some of our own photos.

Amanda with some students from the BAU
Amanda with some students from the BAU

After meeting up with some of Shamir’s friends we were able to walk through the gorgeous botanical gardens on campus that are used for research purposes by the faculty and students.

Memorial at BAU
Memorial at BAU
Memorial to students who fought for the use of Bengali as the national language.
Memorial to students who fought for the use of Bengali as the national language.
Botanical Gardens at the BAU
Botanical Gardens at the BAU
TEEAL Team at the botanical gardens at the BAU
TEEAL Team at the botanical gardens at the BAU
Botanical Gardens at the BAU
Botanical Gardens at the BAU

As the day ended, I think the answers to my questions I had asked myself at the start were beginning to form. Despite past travels, each new destination for me will be unique and bring about challenges in and of itself.  Just because I have travelled to developing countries before doesn’t necessarily mean that I have the experience needed for a new culture. I need to keep my mind open and be willing to learn new things.  Going into development work I need to rely more on local contexts. Instead of immediately finding fault in a practice I need to take the time to understand what is happening and to look at the consequences that can come to a local community from development.  It is a challenge and will involve constant innovation and reflection but it is necessary for sustainable development.

Bringing Peace and Agricultural Resources…TEEAL can do it all!!!

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!

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Traffic in Dhaka

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.

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BARC Offices

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.

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BARC Offices

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.

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TEEAL Team at BARC Meeting

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.

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Parliament Building
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Parliament Building

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.

TEEAL team and the parliament building
TEEAL Team in front of the Parliament Building. From left to right: Shamire, Calvin, Chandra, Joy, Amanda, and Hill.

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.

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TEEAL team on the streets of Dhaka

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.