Over the last two months, I have been working at South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. So far the fellowship has been an interesting and valuable experience. It has allowed me to have the unique experience of living in a less developed state, but more important, to contribute to the improvement of human rights in Bangladesh.
Former Hubert Humphrey Fellow Dr. Uttam Kumar Das has brought the idea of the establishment of a Human Rights Law Clinic (HRLC) back from the University of Minnesota Law School to Bangladesh, after completion of his fellowship. SAILS currently has the only HRLC in the whole country, and consists of volunteers from all law schools in Dhaka. In this context, I have developed and taught lectures, and led learning session for the volunteers of the clinic. For example on: European Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law, LGBT rights etc. The main purpose of these sessions is to encourage the volunteers to become human rights activists themselves, and to strengthen their practical skills in this regard. The learning experience was clearly not a one-way thing, as all the questions, comments, and discussions sharpened my mind and thoughts on human rights issues as well. I have also worked on an assessment for a new governance project called “Legal Empowerment of the Poor” from BRAC, which will be implemented by SAILS in the near future. Legal empowerment is relatively new phenomenon in the development sector. In Bangladesh, BRAC has legal aids clinic that legally empowers women on their family rights. However, this program does not reach other vulnerable persons in Bangladesh. The new program will be complementary to the existing legal aid programs, and will for example also focus on poor entrepreneurs, children or poor city dwellers.
Besides my work for SAILS, I have met incredible people in Bangladesh. It’s amazing and also confronting to see the happiness of people with so less opportunities and material belongings and to reflect that on our own “rich and developed” lives. Dhaka is a bit dirty compared to our standards, but the city is so vibrant and there is a positive abundance of young people who want to work and change the world they live in. I made many Bangladeshi friends, tasted local foods, enjoyed religious and cultural festivals, have seen the beautiful countryside, and met more hospital and friendly Bangladeshis. I am certain I will miss Bangladesh when I take off in within two months.
I am very grateful for the financial support the Human Rights Fellowship provided me. The fellowship strengthened my wish to work professionally in the field of human rights or development in the near future. I have seen with my own eyes how small changes can make big impacts on the lives of underprivileged people. I hope my work here contributed to (small) changes as well and will lead to big impacts for the people involved.
The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.