«William Jackson May 7, 2012 Dependency in Bangladesh: Problems and Solutions Introduction Being a foreigner in Bangladesh is challenging. Anyone not ...»
THE PROBLEM OF DEPENDENCY IN BANGLADESH
AND HOW CROSS-CULTURAL
WORKERS CAN AVOID PERPETUATING IT
May 7, 2012
Dependency in Bangladesh: Problems and Solutions
Being a foreigner in Bangladesh is challenging. Anyone not from Bangladesh is labeled a
“bideshi”, or literally, someone not of this land. A bideshi is expected to act differently than Bangladeshis, which opens the foreigner up to all sorts of expectations. Unfortunately, one such expectation and belief is that the foreigner has endless physical resources and is expected to help those in need. While this is true, a Westerner has resources the average Bangladeshi could only dream of having, any bideshi who chooses to give all of their physical resources will quickly discover that there are still more people in need. Their gifts or “handouts” have only continued to demean and belittle Bangladeshis through the perpetuation of dependency.1 When gifts cross cultures, their meanings are typically misunderstood and problems are multiplied. Often times the recipient is harmed more than the giver. This is an issue that cannot be disregarded.
The financial and cultural differences between a Westerner and a Bangladeshi are astounding. The average Westerner has access to money, healthcare, retirement plans, life insurance, education, etc., while the average Bangladeshi labors hard to put food on the table and pay their monthly rent. Bangladeshis truly have to beseech the Lord for their “daily bread,” while most Westerners already have their daily bread stored in their pantry (Mt. 6:11).2 Cultural differences also distinguish Westerners from Bangladeshis. In Bangladesh families are very important to the society, gender roles are clearly defined, and people’s religion is closely held and practiced. Contrast that with America, where families are slowly eroding, gender roles are 1 For the purpose of this paper I will use Robert Reese’s definition of dependency. Dependency is “the unhealthy reliance on foreign resources, personnel, and ideas, which stifles local initiative” (Fanning 2009, 2). The majority of this paper will focus on the issues related to financial dependency, with some reference to psychological dependency as well. Both are harmful and inhibit the growth of the Church.
2 All references from the Bible are from Bible. 1995. New American Standard Bible: Ultrathin Reference Edition.
Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc.
1 Dependency in Bangladesh: Problems and Solutions fuzzy, and religion is for those who are labeled “fundamental”. One final difference between the West and Bangladesh is that the Church3 has not yet blossomed in Bangladesh.4 Regardless of such differences, Westerners and Bangladeshis interact regularly. There are scores ofWesterners living and working in Bangladesh that are either impacting or harming Bangladeshis.
Over the course of many decades, well-intentioned Westerners have sought to help Bangladeshis.5 Unfortunately, most of the help given has been financial, causing problems in Bangladesh, which has demeaned and lead to jealousy among locals, and created unsustainable growth. In terms of the Church, dependency is a large contributor to false conversions (rice Christians), jealousy among believers, and a lack of initiative on the part of Bangladeshis to extend the Church in their nation and beyond. Because of developmental mistakes Western nations have made, Westerners associated with Church (in Bangladesh) can be labeled “guilty by association.” Thus the Church has been tied to the West and its finances rather than to Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on their behalf. Dependency is a detrimental issue that Westerners will have to deal with if they seek to implement sound developmental strategies and build the Church.
Therefore, this paper will focus primarily on the problem of dependency and how it can be mitigated and hopefully avoided altogether in Bangladesh.
Because of a lack of cultural, biblical and theological understanding some Westerners have 3 I define “Church” as a global community of people who have chosen to follow Jesus with their whole lives (Mt.
10:38-39), strive towards unity with one another (1 Cor. 1:10), do not forsake meeting together (Heb. 10:25), and have desire to see unbelievers saved; as God does (1 Tim. 2:4).
4 I am not insinuating that the current spiritual condition of the West indicates that the Church is in full bloom.
However, the Church has been established in the West much more than it has in Bangladesh.
5 Dustin Miller, a Western NGO worker, who has lived in Bangladesh for 12 years, believes that because Bangladesh was born a “needy country” after the Bhola cyclone in 1970, the Liberation War in 1971, and its overwhelming poverty and lack of resources, they “developed” as a country that was helped by other nations. They were essentially taught that others would give financially when they were in need (Miller, Dustin).
had significant misunderstandings about how to use their finances within Bangladesh, which has resulted in a perpetual problem of dependency and has hindered the Church from blossoming into what it should be. The dependency issue is not solved easily, as both Western business owners and NGO workers testify, but by examining and applying cultural anthropological, biblical and theological principles the problem of dependency can be mitigated, which will produce true and sustainable fruit in Bangladesh to the glory of God.
It is obvious to most of the world that the West is blessed with material goods. Most Americans experience a standard of living that citizens of the Majority World can only dream about achieving (Corbett and Fikkert 2009, 13). The West’s substantial amount of material goods has caused Westerners to assume that if they share their material goods with the Majority World then citizens of the Majority World will experience better lives. Westerners have wrongly assumed that quick fixes and financial gifts will alleviate poverty immediately and / or grow the Church in Bangladesh.6 Westerners have a distorted worldview that says “The more material goods a person has the better off they will be.” Therefore, because Bangladeshis have less than Westerners, the Westerner believes that by giving Bangladeshis material resources, Bangladeshis will be happier.
They assume that their gifts will be directly transferred to the poor, who will then make efficient and profitable use of their gifts, return a profit, and better their lives. If all gifts produced a profit 6 William Allen conducted a church growth study in Indonesia to determine if church growth is related to pastors being paid from abroad. He gathered information from 4 Districts spanning a total of 4 decades. He found that District 1 had the most growth out of all the districts and was not funded from abroad. District 4 actually declined in growth and was the most heavily funded district. Allen found that once Western funds were involved, a loss of “lay involvement, focus and devotion” occurred on the part of the locals (Allen 1998, 179).
and caused people to rise out of poverty then it would be well worth giving away all of our resources. However, this world is fallen and sinful, and perfect situations do not exist.
Westerners have a distorted worldview of themselves, others, creation and God; which causes dependency to nations they seek to help (Corbett & Fikkert 2009, 85-89).
To prove this point one does not need to look beyond the example that Haiti provides. After a devastating earthquake in January 2010 billions of dollars (from the West) that were supposed to be designated for Haiti flowed into a black hole. Unfortunately, many months after the earthquake happened, little was done to remove rubble and rebuild in Haiti (Herlinger 2010, 27).
Sadly, Haiti has become a perfect example of how well-intentioned financial gifts to the Majority World fail to accomplish their goal of helping people.
Bangladesh is a needy country. It certainly does not have the material goods or resources that the West has at its fingertips. Often times Bangladeshis believe that the West is here to help them financially. Beneath that belief lays the scarred nation that was controlled by other “kingdoms” for more than six centuries.7 Foreign rule has caused Bangladeshis to believe that others owe them something, particularly material goods. Unfortunately, if Bangladeshis wait long enough, Western nations typically donate to them.
The Bangladeshi worldview is distorted by psychological dependency. Often this results in fatalism and a mentality that says, “I cannot do X without their help.” Such thinking leads to a 7 Bangladesh has been “ruled” by foreigners for a long time. They were ruled by the Mughal Empire, the British, West Pakistan, and finally, they have been “ruled” by Western donor nations. Bangladesh been “free” from foreign rule since 1971. Even though Bangladesh is free to govern itself today, their freedom is limited. Currently, the majority of development projects done in Bangladesh are funded by foreigners (Khan, M. Hafizuddin 2012). Even though Bangladesh is a “free nation”, they must please their donors in order to continually receive funds from them.
lack of development and initiative from within. It is interesting to note that the word for a “rich person” in Bangla is borolok, literally meaning “big man”. This demonstrates that most Bengalis believe they are under the “big man” in terms of status and capabilities. According to John Robbins, a cross-cultural worker who has lived in Bangladesh for more than 15 years, Bangladeshi culture operates on the limited good principle, which means that there is only so much “good” to go around in society (Robbins 2009, 1).8 Even though there is a limited amount of good to be distributed, if material goods come from outside of the society, then they are gladly accepted and not viewed as a threat (Hiebert 2008, 136).
A deeper peer into the culture and worldview of the Bangladeshi people is essential.
When both Westerners’ and Bangladeshis’ worldviews are changed then the Church has the full potential to blossom in Bangladesh. Unearthing the many reasons why it exists in Bangladesh is necessary. Dependency can only be solved when its root has been discovered and addressed.
Once this has happened, and long-lasting changes have been made, then the Church can flourish in a natural way among Bangladeshi people, with no strings attached.
Misunderstandings can lead to detrimental outcomes. Neither Westerners nor Bangladeshis ought to receive the sole blame for issues of dependency in Bangladesh. The problem of dependency in Bangladesh is multi-faceted. There is not one specific reason why it is a major issue nor is there one specific way in which it can be solved. Some practical examples that demonstrate the issue of dependency in Bangladesh are needed to illustrate the goal of this paper.
This principle will be developed further in the “Cultural-Anthropological Analysis” section of the paper.
(Note: Behind each example given, past actions made by Westerners play a major role in the manifestation of the problem today.) A foreign NGO worker recently taught at a local English school. After class one student, • named Rakim, approached the teacher wanting to know if he could look at a paper he wrote. The paper detailed a plan that Rakim wrote. Rakim’s plan was to help his community learn English. The student’s plan was to visit various local schools and ask for permission to teach English to students so that they would be better fit to interact with the “global community” of English speakers. The student began to insist that the foreigner help him with the project, for without his help, it would be impossible for his plan to succeed. Rakim believed that locals would listen to the foreigner, but not him.
In March 2011 a short-term team was visiting Bangladesh and was assisting a local NGO • with their work. They wanted to give the local workers (of the NGO) gifts worth USD $100 per person, a generous gift even by American standards. The cross-cultural worker advised the short-term team to not give such a large gift. Thankfully, the short-term team heeded this advice and gave gifts that had a more reasonable value.
In early 2011 Bangladeshi NGO worker, a professing Christian, was caught embezzling • money from a project. When the foreign NGO executive staff found out, they fired the national from his position. The former employee decided that he would do everything he could to expose the NGO for its religious work among Muslim Bengalis, something potentially detrimental to this NGO. Newspaper articles were written and television ads run that incriminated the NGO. The former employee believed that he should not be fired because he is a Christian, and other believers owe it to him to employ him.
Several years ago a Western NGO positioned its regional headquarters in Bangladesh.
• They only hired national believers, paying them based on worldwide standards and not local standards. Mahmoud was offered a salary five times the amount he could have earned as a pastor. He took the job, was gradually promoted to the accounting department. Mahmoud was found guilty of embezzling money and was fired (Harris and
A foreigner NGO project manager, Marco Sanchez, was closing his Computer Training • Center because he was moving out of country. His project manager, Abdul, a Bangladeshi MBB, wanted to purchase the computers from Marco and use them to start his own Computer Training Center from his home. Marco sold Abdul all of the equipment for a reasonable price, still substantial by local standards. When another MBB found out that Abdul bought the computers from Marco, this MBB became jealous and began spreading rumors that Abdul was given these computers as a gift.