Sirajganj

We stayed in the village for four days and had a wonderful experience. Hot days and nights were colored with the personalities of the village. From our cook Rihanna who we came to love to the messenger who was so kind to us but yelled at everyone else, we had the most wonderful time.

We were able to attend center meetings, talk with borrowers, interview an education loan borrower and watch an interview with a new member.

Here are a few stats about the branch we visited. You will be surprised at the amount of money that is handled.

The bank manager is Md. Monir Hossain. There are just three employees who work at the branch: the bank manager, the assistant manager and the messenger. The messenger cleans up, runs errands and yells at people. He was hilarious. He would be helping us and see someone staring at us too much and run over and yell at them. He kept everyone in line and added a layer of personality to the experience. We started referring to him as “The Messenger” in the same way you would say, “The Terminator.” Try it once.

The bank manager was a young man who had only been at the branch for five months but had worked at Grameen in various positions for the last seven years. He drives a motorcycle and has cool sunglasses, too. He was so nice. He has a cousin who lives in New York that he would like to visit one day. Her husband is a professor.

The assistant manager has two children. Everyone lives at the bank branch.

Here is how the banks are set up. There are small buildings set up throughout the village called Centers. Women who are borrowing form a group of five and then join a Center. This is where they meet once a week to discuss business, present loans that they want to apply for and pay their loan installments. Sirajganj has 73 Centers and 4,435 borrowers. Most are women but a few are men. Only women can belong to a Center and each Center has a Center Chief and an Assistant Center Chief who are elected by the other women for one year. The Center Chief calls the meeting to order and must also approve the loans that the other women are applying for. She goes with them when they apply for a new loan. The Center Chiefs also attend workshops and pass this information onto the women in their Centers. For instance, we attended a workshop of Center Chiefs where Grameen spent time talking about Grameen services that would be available to them during the flood season as well as discussed that some women were not adhering to the 16 decisions. The Center Chiefs are responsible for keeping the women in their groups in line. I have photo of the workshop.

There are also 38 education loan borrowers. This loan is available to the children of Grameen borrowers. There are 23 Struggling Member loans. These loans are given to beggars. They typically use this to purchase toys or other items they can sell door to door. There are 13 microenterprise loans. The bank has had perfect repayment since June so Monir is obviously doing a good job. Can you imagine a local bank with more than 4,000 borrowers who all pay on time every month?

Rihanna was the cook hired for us during our stay. She talked to us in Bangla even though we couldn’t understand her. When she realized we couldn’t understand her, she would come within inches of our faces and scream the same words louder. We still did not understand to her dismay.

One of the group members was sick one day and Rihanna was very worried. She did everything she could to help the member. Rihanna counted to ten in English several times, then stared for 30 minutes nonstop at the member, then tried to get in bed with the member. Her son Mushit, who is about seven, was very funny too. He was the village pest who would run up to the bigger kids and do or say something to make them mad. The would chase him and he would run back to his mom. Then he would do it all over again.

The interpreter who joined us is Younus. He also went to the fisheries with us. He is so much more than an interpreter. He seems to know everything and everyone which has been really helpful. He has become our friend and we look forward to seeing him later this week.

Next posts will be of a 400 year old Hindu temple with a hilarious caretake who blows a whistle and yells at everyone. Luckily Younus knew him so he did not yell at us and instead gave us a personal tour of two temples.

Also the fisheries and rest houses which has to be the most relaxing place on earth. They had these wonderul rope chairs that I threatened to tie myself in so that I would not have to leave. Someone in the group has a photo of me in the rope chairs and I will post it later.

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