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Eckerd College students Matt Flege and Samantha Symon recently returned from a month-long trip to Bangladesh where they traveled with the Director of Service Learning Brian MacHarg to research the subject of human trafficking. Their work was sponsored by the American Institute for Bangladesh Studies.
Bangladesh is a unique country and their experience there offered particular challenges. The country struggles with widespread poverty, pollution, overcrowding, child labor, flooding, arsenic poisoning in the water, malnutrition and an underdeveloped infrastructure. The students would regularly see poor children working to break bricks on the congested, polluted streets in 105 degree weather.
These highly visible social problems, combined with exposure to the particular subject of our research, proved to be draining at times. The Eckerd group met with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working to rescue children out of brothels. Students met 7-8 year old girls who had been brought out of brothels or arranged relationships.
Vital to the solution of ending human trafficking is the empowerment of women. While in Rajshahi, Bangladesh it was the pleasure of the Eckerd team to see the work being done by Association for Community Development (ACD). The ACD works to stop trafficking across the nearby border with India but they also do great grassroots education on women's empowerment.
During a 4 day visit with ACD, the Eckerd group met a young woman named Asma. Asma's face was terribly disfigured because she was burned when a vial of acid was thrown in her face by her husband at age 16. Acid bulbs are a common form of abuse by some men in Bangladesh. She was pregnant at the time and both she and her baby barely survived the attack. Asma lost one of her eyes because of the acid and her face will always be disfigured, thus alienating her from much of society.
The Eckerd students learned while they were there that Asma's other eye was beginning to show deterioration and she was in need of medical treatment to save her sight. The Eckerd group was told that ACD could not afford such an expensive procedure. Even more surprising for the group was the fact that it would only take 1,000 US dollars for her to keep her eyesight in her good eye. The Eckerd students and service learning director made the commitment to raise the necessary $1,000 for the medical procedure upon return to the US.
The Eckerd group that visited Bangladesh will be making a presentation on our experiences on Eckerd College's campus on Friday, October 28th at 5:30PM in Miller Auditorium. Following the presentation will be a showing of the Academy Award-winning documentary "Born Into Brothels" at 7:00PM. Both are free and open to the public.
Director of Service Learning