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Himalaya

Day 121: Dhaka

Dhaka, Bangladesh 
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With Grameen Phone's Naila Chowdhury, we pick our way through the fields to see how a single mobile phone can change lives in the poorest of villages.
Michael Palin - HimalayaI am intrigued, and impressed, by the number of women in high positions in Bangladesh. The two main parties, the Bangladesh National Party and the Awami League (the ones responsible for the current wave of hartals) are both led by women. One of the most successful groups of garment factories, employing 7000 people and exporting 68 per cent of their output to the USA alone, is run by the highly charming Rubana Huq and her husband, but she is the one who travels the world and brings in the orders.

In early afternoon Ishraq takes me to meet Naila Chowdhury, a director of Grameen Phone, one of the great success stories to come out of Bangladesh. Naila, impressively built, with a strong handsome face, is, like Rubana, charming, accommodating and, I suspect, pretty ruthless when necessary.

'Grameen' means village and the villages of Bangladesh are poor. To try and help break the spiral of poverty, a man by the name of Muhammad Yunus came up with the idea of micro-loans aimed at the rural poor, who maybe need a few extra taka to buy a cow or a plot of land or a sewing machine. He set up the Grameen Bank 25 years ago and now it has over three and a half million borrowers, 95 per cent of whom are women. (Grameen prefer to lend to women, as they're less likely to run off with the money.) The Grameen Phone project is an extension of the idea. A woman in the village takes out a loan to buy a mobile telephone and a solar panel with which to recharge it. She earns money to pay back the loan by charging local people for calls, both within the country and internationally. A lot of Bangladeshis are migrant workers in places like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 121: Dhaka
  • Country/sea: Bangladesh
  • Place: Dhaka
  • Book page no: 274

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