Bangladesh Country Information
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country on earth, with 146 million people in an area the size of Wisconsin. The capital, Dhaka, has over 10 million people, while the second largest city, the port city of Chittagong where the WorldTeach program will be located, has 2.8 million. A large population, a turbulent history, and more than its share of natural disasters have presented challenges for this small but important country that is nestled east of India, on the Bay of Bengal, at the mouth of the Ganges River.
This Muslim country is now a parliamentary democracy, one of the few democracies in the Muslim world. The region which today is the nation of Bangladesh has had a very long and rich history and culture. The region was first mentioned in the ninth-century BCE epic story Mahabharata. For centuries Buddhists were the ruling class in the region, to be supplanted in the thirteenth century by Muslim rulers. During the European age of exploration, several nations came as traders and missionaries, including the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. It was, of course, the British through the British East India Company that prevailed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and then in 1859 the British Crown took over.
Crowded, pungent, and sweltering,
When the British ended colonial rule in 1947, British India was partitioned into two states divided along religious lines: Pakistan and India. Bangladesh formed part of Muslim Pakistan and was called East Pakistan. Never really empowered by West Pakistan and separated from it by over 1,000 miles and vast cultural differences (including a different language), the region by 1971 was engulfed in brutal warfare between the Pakistani Army and Bangladesh Freedom Fighters. By the time independence was achieved in late 1971 the economy was in shambles and civil society in tatters. During the first decade of independence the country was further challenged by assassinations, coups and attempted coups. According to UN reports, managing corruption remains a challenge in this seventh most populated country in the world. However, Bangladesh is also the home of one of the most important innovations for developing countries today, the famed Grameen Bank. This revolutionary system of giving micro-loans to poor people, especially to women, was established by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, a strong supporter and member of the Bangladesh Board of Advisors to the Asian University for Women.
Unique Challenges for Bangladesh Volunteers
While the WorldTeach Bangladesh program allows volunteers to serve in a very unique institutional environment, this context also presents some challenges that are particular to this program. As an innovative liberal arts college to prepare high-caliber Asian women for leadership positions, AUW volunteers are required to perform at a high-level of academic rigor as well as navigate through the politics of tertiary institutional learning with the utmost professionalism. Working at a new university requires a commitment not only to providing students with the best education possible but an ability to remain flexible through institutional and administrative changes. As with any professional setting, it is necessary to have a proactive and friendly attitude towards building relationships with colleagues and other volunteers. The instructors of AUW not only work together on a daily basis, but most live within the same apartment buildings. The closeness of this personal/professional arrangement can be both rewarding and challenging at times. Finally, while the AUW provides a fantastic context for higher learning with ample resources (especially as compared to most other WorldTeach programs), it takes a more concerted effort to break beyond the comforting walls of the university and integrate into the greater Chittagong community.
Web Resources for Bangladesh
- Government of Bangladesh | Official Website
- Embassy of Bangladesh to the United States | Official Website
- Asian University for Women | Official Website
- The Daily Star | Bangladesh’s English Language Online News Source
- Online newspapers | Media sources in Bangladesh
- Background notes | US State Department country profile
- Country studies | The Library of Congress’s historical, social, economic and political profiles on Bangladesh
- Discovery Bangladesh | Travel portal
- TrekEarth | Photos of Bangladesh
- The Economist| Archive of the magazine's articles on Bangladesh