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Marguerite Heyns - Blog 1: First Impressions of Bangladesh

Marguerite Heyns - Blog 1: First Impressions of Bangladesh

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I’ve been living in Bangladesh for more than three months now and this is my first blog post. I could make up a million excuses chronicling why I’ve been so reluctant to share my experience, but what it boils down to is an inadequacy of words. Anything and everything I’ve attempted to write feels like it’s second hand. I still don’t feel like I could make an accurate judgment or convey the breadth of this country—but then again no one can. Instead I am just going to write, and likely ramble, and tell you about intern life in the world’s least habitable city.

My work has been my oasis from the beginning. The start of my life in Dhaka was hardly pleasant, I was living in a cockroach infested apartment, with giant holes in the walls, bathrooms that had never seen the sight of Lysol, and a vigilant apartment committee dead set on kicking myself and the other male, unmarried intern out of the building. Not to mention it’s location, right in the heart of downtown Dhaka. Even as I’m writing these words, I am painfully aware of their insignificance. I cannot personify it. Nothing can compare to that experience. Work was the absolute opposite.

RMMRU is an incredible organization. I have had some pretty amazing jobs during my life—I worked in the teen program at Community Living Victoria for many years, I started my own jewelry company, and I was a camp counselor at an overnight camp in the rockies—but nothing comes close to touching this job. I have never felt more respected, valued, and fulfilled. It is wonderful.

I think a great organization is really made by the people. The work comes secondary. Don’t get me wrong, every single person at RMMRU is dedicated and passionate about the migration issues they battle every day, but I could work on anything with these people and it would be magic.

Unlike other NGOs in this country, RMMRU isn’t a particularly hierarchical organization. Employees, and even interns, are trusted to do the work they are engaged in. Ideas flow freely, and collaboration is integrated into each and every project. Most importantly, everyone is respected, and everyone’s input is valued, and the product is incredible. Solutions are synthesized collectively, and I love it.

Coming from a Biology background, I was seriously worried about my usefulness to this organization at first. Sure, I had taken a few development-focused courses here and there throughout my degree, but I was working with some of the most respected international relations and political science professors in the country. What input could I possibly contribute?

My fears dissipated nearly instantaneously. From my first week I was included in everything: from consultation on upcoming projects, to high stakes meetings with the International Labour Organization, to program deployment in the field. And what’s more remarkable— my input was valued. I was able to bring new perspective to issues and integrate approaches that hadn’t been suggested in the past. I had the opportunity and the skills to establish an accessible social network for my organization. Not only was I contributing to upcoming and ongoing projects, but I was helping to shape them. I came here not expecting to have a big impact. Over the past decade, development has become increasingly aware of its very problematic traditional paternalistic deployment of help. As a white woman from a privileged background, I was acutely aware of my identity entering into this sector. I was dead set on being as unassuming as possible. I knew that this experience would change me, but I had no aspirations to make any significant changes or contributions myself. And maybe I haven’t, and maybe when I leave everything will be same as it has always been, but I don’t think so. I’m not done yet, but my experience so far tells me that I’ve had an impact. More importantly, I’ve been impacted, and I will carry these lessons and insights with me forever.

(Myself participating in group discussions during RMMRU's workshop on Climate Change and Migration in Bangladesh, in Dhaka this past May) 

(A local Migrants Rights Protection Committee meeting near Chittagong, MRPCs are one of the many programs implemented by RMMRU to connect policy with practice in Bangladesh)

Today I’m conducting my first podcast. I’ll be interviewing one of the most incredible women I’ve met during my time here in Bangladesh. She is a recent graduate that started an organization to build the capacity of one of the most marginalized minority groups in Bangladesh—the Hijra people. I am beyond excited, and cannot wait to share her passion and determination with all of you.