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Natalia Yang - Blog 3: A Researcher in Maniganj

Natalia Yang - Blog 3: A Researcher in Maniganj

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I woke up at 6:30 am to the sound of my team member doing her morning prayer. My other team member was combing her hair while looking out at the rising sun. I slump back into my pillow and pull the blanket over my face. It was another day of field research.

Maniganj was only an hour out of Dhaka, but the cold morning air and dense fog wrapping around a landscape of yellow, red, and green fields were completely alien to me. I expected honking, the rising steam of dust and fumes, and a grey landsape to greet me. Instead, the only sounds I could hear were my team members getting ready and the sound of magpies scratching against the foggy window.

This was the first stage of a ten year survey research that RMMRU has been planning for years. It would be the first research study done in Bangladesh that attempts to disaggregate internal, international and returnee migrants, male and female migrants, community members and all the different impacts that migration has on them. It is also the first migration research in Bangladesh that will try to generate panel data, meaning it will follow the same 5000 households in 16 different districts every two years over the course of ten years.

Maniganj was a particularly special location for this research. While the majority of areas in Bangladesh have more male migrants than female migrants, Maniganj is disproportionately female, international migrants. In order to gage how gender plays into migratory movements and different experiences individual migrants and families go through, Maniganj had to be selectively chosen as a prime research site. Interesting characteristics about Maniganj stood out to me in the short time I was here. It has one of the lowest literacy rates, despite its proximity to Dhaka, an urban hub. There are more madrasas (private Islamic primary schools) than public government primary schools. In fact, in many villages, there are no primary schools. Many women migrate before marriage in order to earn enough to pay off her dowry. Many women migrate before finishing school. At a young age of 10, many already have plans to leave their family to work abroad by the time they are 14.

In my time doing field research in Maniganj, I learned more about migration than I could in an office. I learned the exploitations of migration, particularly female migration, and the long lasting effects these have on returnee migrants. I learned about the successes of migration, and women being able to provide luxuries such as toys, powdered juice and bedding for her family. I also learned how starkly different the process of my life is from a woman in this village. At the age of 10, I was waiting for elementary school classes to be finished so I could go play on the playground with friends. At the age of 10, a girl in Maniganj is preparing her training to work in a garments factory close to Maniganj, or to work as a domestic worker somewhere in the Middle East.

From the facts I gave about Maniganj, I can’t say I know how much they play into the daily realities of people who live there, or if these facts are in any way inter-related. It is one of the qualms I had about survey research. We take statistical evidence about income, demographic information, family circumstances, and expect to deduce a diverse group of people to one solution. At the same time, I realize the importance of generating this information, so that international attention can transform policies regarding human rights and migration processes.

In doing the research, I learned a very important lesson. As a foreigner in Bangladesh from a privileged background, I will never truly understand migration and its impacts on communities. No matter how much experience I may gain in the future, if I am to be part of future directions for international development, I can not take centre stage in decision-making. This should be left to the people in the communities, who have to live with the realities that our globalized economy has pushed onto them. The rest of us, who come from Western, privileged backgrounds should shoulder the responsibility that it is our daily actions that have lead to mass exploitative conditions for some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, and work as allies to rectify this.