My Raincoat is 8,000 Miles of Land & Sea

I am indebted to W&M Law and Professor Warren for landing me my first office job. I have worked as a busboy, driver, landscaper, JCPenney salesclerk, singer, but I have never sat in on a meeting – how adult.

At Winrock International I work on two USAID funded projects to combat human trafficking of men and women in Bangladesh. The first is a newly awarded program, USAID’s Fight Slavery and Trafficking-in-Persons project, which focuses on preventing trafficking, protecting survivors upon their return, and prosecuting trafficking rings. The second project, Bangladesh Ashshash project, focuses on restoring dignity, well-being, and self-sufficiency for men and women who have escaped trafficking, primarily through job training and placements to achieve economic independence, as well as psychosocial counseling to overcome any trauma from trafficking events.

I am interested in these projects both because of the universality of trafficking-in-persons (TIP) globally, and the opportunity to dive deep into a regional study of Bangladesh and its neighbors. I majored in Chinese studies in college and have been looking for an opportunity to look at the other big one, India, which Bangladesh is tied culturally and historically to.

The 8th most populous country in the world, Bangladesh is one of the most climate threatened nation-states in the world. Around 80% of its land experiences annual flooding, both from the mighty Himalayan waters that course down into the Bay of Bengal, and the deadly cyclones that sweep inward from the Indian Ocean. Cyclonic destruction in the 90’s was widely covered by international press, portraying Bangladesh as the apex of third world human suffering, with over 300,000 people dead from flooding in a single incident. Adult literacy in Bangladesh was at 48% as recently as 2007. But Bangladesh has made great strides in the recent decade with improved literacy rates and a National Plan of Action to combat TIP, which is rampant in the country, primarily successful because of poor literacy among adults and the shortage of domestic jobs for the country’s 163 million people. Migrants are often lured abroad by the promise of higher paying jobs, but then are either forced to work without pay or forced into some entirely different work, like prostitution.

One of the greatest successes of the Winrock Bangladesh programs has been identifying how men are affected by sex and labor trafficking. The general population typically think of trafficking as forcing women into prostitution abroad, but it is a much more diverse issue than that. The programs have identified what services men need upon returning from a trafficking experience, often different than those women require.

I look forward to talking about my work more in the next blog post. And while I regret I can’t be in Dhaka this summer talking with survivors face-to-face, my shoes are grateful to be spared the muddy monsoon death guaranteed by a summer in Bangladesh – the wettest place in the world.