Dunlap High School
Instructor: Leah Aeschliman
Dr. Yunus’s Legacy
Through time, many people with great intelligence thought of ideas that shock the world; but has there been a person whose idea changed the life of the poor? Yes there has been many; and Dr. Muhammad Yunus is one of them, and that is why he won the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2006. Because of the 1974 famine and the inception of Grameen Bank by Dr. Yunus, the poor in Bangladesh struggled and then received a better life.
The 1974 famine in Bangladesh caused the poor all over the country to suffer and struggle for survival. Of many, the War of Liberation was a main factor of the occurrence. Before the war, Bangladesh was a part of the country Pakistan. Pakistan was divided into two parts, the East (which is today Bangladesh) and the West (“War”). West Pakistan did not give East Pakistan equal rights as the West, including education, protection, and economic. East Pakistan therefore declared the “War of Liberation” (“War”). With the help from the Russia, India, and China, Eastern Pakistan was free from all the tortures, including the killing of innocent and intelligent people (“War”). Eastern Pakistan became an independent country named Bangladesh. The problem, however, did not end here; The War between Bangladesh (East Pakistan) and Pakistan (West Pakistan) caused great damage to Bangladesh. Attack in universities, factories, roads, bridges, and other buildings that served communities caused a great drop in economics and in food supplies. At the end of the war in 1971, standard daily lifestyle started to go down. The situation was a disaster by the end of 1973 (“Famine”). In the rural locations a family’s living cost increased by 150% and the farmers’ wages went down by 48% (“Famine”). People laid flat on the sidewalk of the urban location looking like skeletons; there was no difference between men, women, elderly, and children (Yunus, Banker vii). Those people never asked anything from the richer people who were able to feed themselves, but they just waited to die (Yunus, Banker vii). The greatest sufferers of the famine were people with low income (such as peasants) and people with no income (“Famine”). Due to starvation, death already started to occur within the early January 1974. It was not until September 1974, that langarkhanas meaning Kitchen gruels were provided by the government to feed the poor (“Famine”). And even when langarkhanas were provided, there were far too many people starving for all to be fed (Yunus, Banker vii). With such conditions, some families traveled from rural to urban locations for food; some families separated, others stayed together (“Famine”). Some even gave up their last assets for food (“Famine”). It is estimated that approximately 1 million people all over the country died of starvation from July 1974 to January 1975 (“Famine”). The famine had a great impact on people of Bangladesh, especially the poor. This famine inspired the initiation of the Grameen Bank.
The 1974 famine motivated Dr. Muhammad Yunus to start the Grameen Bank offering a better and a healthier life for the poor in Bangladesh. Yunus, who grew up in Chittagong, a city in Bangladesh (Yunus, Bankers 3), had returned to Chittagong in 1972 (Yunus, Bankers 31) from the United States (from where he got his PhD). Once he was back in Chittagong, he gave lectures to his students at Chittagong University about his complex and advanced theories on ways to solve social problems and help the people in need. Yunus no longer valued his theories once he realized that hundreds of people were suffering and even dying from starvation each day (Yunus, Bankers viii). He says, “What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation on the sidewalks and porches across my lecture hall? […] Nothing in the economic theories I thought reflected the life around me” (Yunus, Bankers viii). Yunus wanted to recover all the struggles a family might have been facing. He started by helping farmers get better harvest by teaching them techniques on growing crops and providing them with necessary supplies. He wanted to learn more about the life of the poor by visiting a single person (Yunus, Bankers viii). Many of the people he visited had a moneylender who would lend the person some money that was to be returned at the end of the week, or even a day. For the borrower to survive, he/she had to make something, such as bamboo stools (the bamboo, the borrower can buy from the money the moneylender lent him/her). The person then had to sell the item he/she made, to the moneylender to earn some money so that the he/she can repay the money given by the moneylender and have a little money left to barely keep his/her family and him/herself alive (Yunus, Bankers 47). Those people had nowhere to go since the necessary raw material they needed to make things like bamboo stools required money; those people were therefore, trapped in the “cycle of poverty”. Therefore without borrowing money from the moneylender those people could not survive (Yunus, Bankers 47). So after this experience, Yunus requested a bank named Janata Bank to lend all those helpless people some money so that they can have their essential needs (Yunus, Bankers 52). And when they do have them, they can start self-employment such as starting a small shop or making dress out of cloth, and eventually repay their entire loan (Yunus, Bankers ix). However, the bank refused to do so since those unfortunate people were not able to go to school and be literate enough to fill in the forms for borrowing money; also since those people did not have any collateral (Yunus, Bankers 54). No matter how much Yunus tried, the bank would just not accept. So, Yunus started his own bank in a village named Jobra. The bank was named Grameen Bank meaning “Villager’s Bank” (“Grameen”) from the Bengali word gram meaning “village”. The Grameen Bank is based on trust not paper of proof and contracts. Unlike other banks, there are no punishments and no court for not returning the loan; the bank deeply trusts the borrowers. In fact, only one percent of all borrowers today do not pay back their loan (Yunus, Bankers 58). The people in need borrow money from the bank and do not usually forget to return the money even though they are illiterate and do not have any collateral. The main reason for them to pay back is since this is the only scope for them to escape the “cycle of poverty” (Yunus, Bankers 58). There were many people who had great skills such as making beautiful dresses, but could not use their skills or talent because they were lacking necessary raw materials. So Grameen lent those people money for cloths, food, and for their children’s education and also for money to buy raw materials to make something out of it and sell it with a good price. Eventually they were able to save some money for any emergency and give some money back to Grameen weekly, until the one-year loan was paid (Yunus, Bankers 70). The bank lends money to mostly women. There are couple reasons for that; the first reason is that most banks in Bangladesh are designed for “men,” meaning that women in many places cannot borrow from a bank without her husband’s presence. In the rural parts of Bangladesh, some men do not have as much concern about his family as the women, and therefore, women would better manage the loan given by the Grameen for the sake of her family; this leads to the second reason for Grameen to lend mostly to women (Yunus, Bankers 72). The Grameen Bank experiment was completed successfully by 1976. Yunus wished to expand the bank from Jobra village to other villages and districts, and soon all other poor countries in the world (“Grameen”) Today the Grameen Bank serves not only everywhere in Bangladesh, but many of the poor nations of the world. The Grameen Bank also offers schools for the poor children, phones for the poor and other neat things that are beneficial to people in need. Dr. Yunus has brought hope for the people who were thought to be stuck in the “cycle of poverty”. He started the Grameen Bank which provided the desperate people with a better life. Dr. Yunus had done something no one had ever thought of doing. With all of Yunus’ effort, he received many awards including the Nobel Peace Award for the year 2006; half the money of the Nobel Prize went to his Grameen Bank and half of the money was given to Dr. Yunus himself. The people of Bangladesh and other nations of the world are all proud of Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank for improving their lives and giving them hope.
Anything bad can inspire something good; as it was with the terrible famine that inspired the Grameen Bank. In fact, if the famine never existed, there probably would be no Grameen Bank today; all these people who are poor today would not have a better life if it was not for the poor in the earlier generation to suffer from the famine and inspire Dr. Yunus to help them. However, in order for a good thing to “follow” a bad thing, a person must stand up with others, believe, and make it possible. Dr. Yunus did stand up with others, believed and thought of ideas to permanently solve the problem of poverty by starting the Grameen Bank.
Bangladesh—the country where I was born and lived for eight years—will be in my hart no matter where I go. Most of my family relatives are living in Bangladesh which attracts me to wish good for the country and the people living there. I am very proud of Dr. Yunus for creating this wonderful bank not only for Bangladesh country but for the world. Because I am satisfied with the better life of the poor, I wanted to share some information with all my readers. I have also decided to post my work to my website so that my friends and any other people who whishes to visit my website can take a few moments to read the information and hopefully enjoy their selves. Grameen opens up another door for the world to become a better place.