Diaries from Bangladesh

Jeff, ASC's Employment Lead, spent two months in Bangladesh, working for the largest development NGO in the world. He shares his experiences. May 19, 2023

As part of studying for my Master of International Relations (Human Rights) at the University of Sydney, I was able to organise an internship in Bangladesh at BRAC –  the largest development NGO in the world.

BRAC is an incredible organisation that was founded in 1972 in an effort to rebuild the country after its gruesome war for independence from Pakistan. BRAC employs over 90,000 staff and reaches more than 120 million people. With BRAC University, BRAC Bank, 12 social enterprises that include textiles and clothing stores, fisheries and dairy products, BRAC really felt like a huge part of Bangladeshi life.

I spent two months with the BRAC Migration Program, mostly at the Head Office in Dhaka. The program primarily supports Bangladeshi migrant workers returning from abroad after being trafficked into forced labour. Men will often be tricked into paying huge amounts of money for passports, visas and travel to another country, sometimes with fake work contracts or the promise of a well-paid job that will allow them to send money home to their family. Their passports and travel documents are often stolen on arrival, they are kept in group accommodation and are forced to work in poor conditions for little pay.

Women and girls are often abused by their employers, forced to work for little to no pay or sold into sex work. When these people return to their country, they are worse off than when they left and BRAC provides things like emergency accommodation, material support, counselling and in-kind support to help participants develop their own income-generating activities.

The funding for these migration projects came in the millions of dollars/euros/pounds from organisations like Australian Aid – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s international development program – or from foreign embassies (this year from Denmark, Switzerland and Germany). I was involved in the writing and development of funding proposals, end-of-project reports and in collaborations between BRAC and the IOM (the International Organisation for Migration at the UN).

One of the highlights of my trip was travelling to villages around the country and meeting beneficiaries of BRAC’s programs. BRAC workers would check in on them and their new businesses – which included raising cattle, spinning thread to sell to large textile factories, and growing crops while completing agricultural education programs. I’ll never forget the generosity of the people we visited. After everything they had experienced, they were trying to give back and share their food, their tea, even the fruit they had grown. One family had heard the Australian intern was coming along on the visit and had gone out of their way to buy bottles of Coke for us. Not an everyday purchase for many!

I also had the opportunity to visit the Rohingya refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar on the border with Myanmar. I learnt about the support being provided by the large international NGOs (Red Cross, UNHCR etc.) including water and sanitation, child protection and education, community engagement activities and the day-to-day of running 31 camps where over one million stateless people live.

It was an amazing experience that has given me an insight into how the types of services we provide at ASC are scaled up and implemented at an international level, and I am very grateful that I was able to fit it around my work here in Sydney!

Celebrating our change makers – National Volunteer Week 2023 How the Asylum Seekers Centre is ‘Finding Freedom’ this Refugee Week