GF supporter and actress Yeardley Smith (voice of “Lisa Simpson” on the popular TV show The Simpsons) and President and CEO Alex Counts traveled to Bangladesh in late July 2010. They visited Grameen Bank and some of the other enterprises Professor Yunus has launched to accelerate poverty reduction. This is Alex’s third blog post chronicling their visit.
Our third day in Bangladesh was a day of rest. On day four, the five of us headed to Gazipur, north of Dhaka. Although Saturday is a bank holiday, it’s a working day for Grameen Shikkha, the arm of the Grameen family of companies that promotes education.
We spent about an hour at a preschool program that Grameen Shikkha runs with PLAN International and the local primary school. They recruit and train local teachers to provide learning and enrichment for students ages 3-5 in the nearby villages, which prepare them for success in first grade—similar to Head Start in the U.S. Despite the limited facilities, the children—about 30 of them—were eager to learn. The teacher was energetic and focused on drawing all the kids in to learn and play. The Grameen Shikkha staff were mostly retired Grameen Bank employees (most appeared in their 40s) enjoying a second career.
We also interviewed eight of the 503 Grameen Foundation-supported recipients of Grameen Shikkha scholarships. Each student knew that Grameen Foundation was the donor providing their scholarships, and that Microsoft Corporation (in three cases) and a Seattle nonprofit (in the remaining five) had staked us to create a perpetual endowment that was benefiting these students during their high school years. They used their monthly stipends of $4-$8 (depending on the size of the endowment) to pay education-related expenses. They’d practiced their English, and with a few promptings in Bengali, they were each able to complete three-minute interviews with us. It was sobering to hear that each student’s parents, if alive, had received little if any formal schooling.
We then visited Grameen Bank clients’ homes in rural Bangladesh. One woman, Phul Khatoon, was very pleased with how well stocked her small general store was (thanks in part to successive Grameen loans).
Later, we sped back to Dhaka to get ready for dinner with Professor Yunus, his wife Afrozi, and some of his senior staff. Around a rectangular table in a semi-private room of an Indian restaurant, Andy enjoyed discussing social business with Professor Yunus, while Yeardley spent the evening getting to know Afrozi, a physics professor. By the time we reached out hotel, we were ready for a good night’s sleep!