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Dhaka Faced with Problems of Growth

The Guardian article features the overpopulation problem in Dhaka.

The Guardian article features the overpopulation problem in Dhaka.

In a special series on overstretched cities running in ‘The Guardian’, an article looks at the rapid urbanization and growth of Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Due to this growth, problems such as insufficient monsoon rain drainage in the sewer infrastructure have emerged, partially due to the administrative problems of Dhaka.  Beyond the difficulties faced by the sanitation workers lies the problem of a country of 160 million with no effective political decentralization of authority to regions and urban government.

According to UN Habitat, Dhaka is the world’s most crowded city and the fastest growing in terms of population.  This overpopulation means that Dhaka has grown faster than infrastructure development and that the management of the city is lagging.  In Dhaka, governance of the city systems are the responsibility of, “a chaotic mix of competing bodies”, which leads to a lack of coordination and many hands passing the blame.

The city sewer cleaners, dubbed as having the ‘worst job in the world’ by international media, face stigma and dangerous work conditions.  Many in the profession are Hindu dalits, significant because the majority of Bangladeshis are Muslim, and Hindus were singled out for persecution during Bangladesh’s war for independence from Pakistan.  Furthermore, dalits belong to the lowest caste level, known as ‘untouchables’, and often are given low-paying, lowly jobs in society.

Despite these serious issues of urbanization, there is hope: Bangladesh has won praise for it’s progressive responses in other arenas, such as climate-change, and experts deem that social movements borne from the confines of urban spaces can have the power to change and discipline governments.  According to Population Sciences Professor Nurun Nabi, “Many stories will be written by the people of this nation – forget about the political parties.  Someday they will wake up and be forced to comply with their speech.”

For more information and a fascination depiction of the strain experienced by this megacity, please click here.


Long-time Volunteer Examines the Progress in Bangladesh

In our last post, Sara Jackson, a long-time volunteer with the BHP, described her first visit to Bangladesh.  It serves as juxtaposition to her most recent visit, in 2017.  She recounts her most recent trip:

“I recently returned to Vancouver after three months in Bangladesh.  The IUBAT nursing program has their own Bangladeshi faculty these days; therefore, instead of teaching, I spent my time supporting the instructors by writing exam questions, filling in some knowledge gaps and accompanying them to hospital clinical practice sites with the students.  The faculty are all young, bright, passionate, and well-versed professionals.  I found the students to be open and willing to learn and succeed in this not so easy country.  I was able to offer some language instruction and was pleased to edit research papers and assist with academic writing.  I basically jumped in to help as needed.

Apart from work at IUBAT, I prepared a two-day workshop on hygiene and infection control for the Sajida Organization’s (an NGO-health organization) new homecare aid hires.  This was a very positive experience.  The Organization invited me to attend a three-day workshop on High Risk Labour and Delivery, facilitated by Team Broken Earth from Newfoundland.  The target audience was a large group of OBGYNs that the Sajida Organization employs at their progressive hospitals.

Another one of the highlights was a social event on a Saturday. We spent the day on a hired boat with large speakers and a DJ. One of the students prepared chicken biryani and snacks for the cruise. Bangladesh has a six-day work and study week, so this was a great opportunity to have some much needed leisure time. I was enjoying myself so much, I decided to extend my time in Bangladesh by an extra month. The work was so interesting and varied. Bangladeshis are warm, welcoming, kind, and not to mention, have a great sense of humour!

IUBAT is now fully staffed with Bangladeshi nursing faculty.  I was fortunate to connect with IUBAT Nursing graduates employed in research, with international NGOs, as nurse managers, coordinators and in other high functioning and demanding positions in healthcare.  These students have a bright future to pursue.  In and around Dhaka, growth and change is highly visible.  Many of the construction and mega projects are mind- boggling to see and strangely futuristic.

One week before returning to Vancouver, two volunteers from Alberta, Nancy and Eve, arrived.  This was Nancy’s second visit.  The time we spend as volunteers in Bangladesh is so appreciated.  Volunteers leave this country with more knowledge, indelible memories, but mostly an open heart.”

Sara, we appreciate your insight, expertise and your immense contributions to the success of the Bangladesh Health Project, both in North America and in Bangladesh.  This longitudinal description is helpful for our readers who are interested in the progress of the Program and the country, or are curious as to how things are currently, as compared to when they themselves last visited IUBAT!  We look forward to more of these types of stories from people who have been with the Program over the years as it grew.

Long-Time Volunteer Describes her First Visit to Dhaka

Sara Jackson, a long-time volunteer with the BHP (also featured here and here), wrote to us and reflected about her recent visit to IUBAT. Sara is a volunteer at home, as our return volunteer recognition liaison since 2013, and abroad, serving as visiting nursing faculty and student support when at IUBAT. She has also lent her expertise to the Sajida Organization (an NGO health-organization in Bangladesh) for the purposes of homecare program development. When she is not overseas, Sara is a Licensed Practical Nurse in Vancouver, and has culled her vast clinical experience from a variety of settings, spending the last 15 years working with HIV/AIDS and co-occurring disorders, including palliative care. She is presently employed as a clinical research associate with the BC Centre on Drug Use, and is also an ESL teacher to internationally educated nurses.

We have asked Sara to detail her first trip to Dhaka so that it truly illustrates the transformation and the extent of the change that the Program has undergone. She writes:

“My first trip to Bangladesh was in 2014.  I volunteered with the Project as visiting faculty and worked alongside a critical care nurse from the US, two Canadian nurse educators, and a retired orthopedic surgeon.  At that time, fourth-year BSN students from Vancouver Community College spent a six-week practicum in Dhaka studying community and global health.  We were all hosted at the IUBAT guesthouse.  In addition, a most wonderful American poet from Louisiana, Dorie LaRue, shared the space while she was volunteering with the English faculty.  Dorie later published a book of poetry about her experience in Bangladesh entitled, ‘Mad Rains’.  It’s a wonderful read.  I was fortunate to have shared many Dhaka adventures with Dorie.

The IUBAT campus is in Uttara, a model town in the suburbs of Dhaka.  The campus was more modern than I imagined.  All classes are taught in English and the senior students had a good command of the language.  I instructed first and second-year students in bedside nursing skills and vital signs in the Nursing Lab and theory in one of the bright classrooms.  The VCC and IUBAT students studied and mentored each other.

The 'Soul Train' during Eid

The ‘Soul Train’ during Eid

Dr. Nazmul Huda from Dhaka provided us with plenty of opportunities to visit various healthcare facilities, including a weekend trip to his family home near Barisal in the south.  The road trip alone was like watching a non-stop National Geographic documentary.  It is difficult to put into words the scenes of humanity witnessed.  Dr. Huda also arranged a paddle wheeler excursion on a restored vessel down the Mehgna River.  We were able to spend some time away from Dhaka, the chaos capital of the world, at the tea plantation area of Sylhet, as well as Rajshahi, the mango capital of Bangladesh.  Rajashi is a lush, green, and agricultural area uring the monsoon season.  It is located on the Padma River and is surprisingly quiet.  There are many ancient Hindu temples and mosques close by.  What a dream to experience such a place.”

Thank you Sara, for painting such a rich picture of your first glimpse of Bangladesh and of the BScN Program at IUBAT. Sara’s account will be continued in the next post, where she recounts her 2017 visit.

A ‘Do-It-Yourself’ Approach Published by IUBAT Advisor

CvAlex Berland, Advisor on Health Sciences at IUBAT for the BScN program, has recently published an article about the Bangladesh Health Project entitled, A ‘Do-It-Yourself’ Approach to International Nursing Education.  Featured in the October 2017 edition of the American Journal of Nursing, this article provides a practical framework for social entrepreneurs who wish to develop similar volunteer projects.  His advice is especially pragmatic, relevant and drawn from extensive experience, and amongst his suggestions: conduct research prior to committing to an endeavour and be aware of the possibility of relying heavily on your own resources.  With some hope, the Bangladesh Health Project may inspire similar initiatives elsewhere!

To purchase and read the article, please click here for the online article.

Alumnae Publishes Nutrition Textbook

COMMUNITY AREAA member of our first graduating class, Sushma Sapkota (previously mentioned here) has had quite a vocational journey since moving on from IUBAT.  She has worked in a variety of settings and occupied a number of roles, but now, she has also added the title ‘published author’ to her resume.  In her own words, she describes her career progress and how she came to write a textbook:

“After graduating with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from IUBAT, I began working at an American super-specialty hospital in Uttara, Dhaka.  While working, I was able to see the difference that nurses make and the smiles on patients’ faces, which made me realize that IUBAT taught us the skills in order to make those smiles happen.  Soon after, I obtained my Master’s degree while working at Ayesha Memorial Hospital, a universal medical and nursing college.  All of the standard practices that I learned from IUBAT, I applied to my everyday regimen at Ayesha Memorial Hospital.  After completing my Master’s degree, I worked as a nursing supervisor at Sajida Foundation in Narayangong, Bangladesh, then came back to Nepal where I began working as a lecturer to BSc Nursing students, teaching Community Health Nursing, Nutrition and Dietetics, and some courses of Medical Surgical Nursing and Midwifery Part III (Postnatal).

Industrial visit with students

Sushma, in the field with her students

After starting my career as lecturer, I realized that my education from IUBAT was similar to some best colleges of Nepal, however, at times, I felt like I was spoon feeding information to the students.  It seemed like the teacher was doing more labour than the student.  I was then promoted to work as the coordinator of the Nursing program for 1st and 2nd year students.  I got a chance to learn more about leadership and management of students, and was even able to apply my leadership skills that I obtained from my own studies in Nursing Administration, part of the IUBAT Nursing Program.  While working as a clinical supervisor, I often heard positive and encouraging feedback from the students that they wanted to emulate my style and skillset.  Students were inspired by my class, teaching and clinical supervision style.

Nutrition Exhibition with Sushma and her students

Nutrition Exhibition with Sushma and her students

In addition to working as coordinator of the 1st and 2nd year program, I also got the chance to work as the coordinator of the 2nd and 3rd year program.  In the meantime, I also received my ‘Skilled Birth Attendant (SBA) training in Nepal.  Most recently, I am working as coordinator of the 4th year Nursing students; I design the curriculum, rotation plans (especially clinical postings), weekly class schedules, prepare exams and end of year assessments, and schedule clinical rosters for the students.  I also coordinate with the nursing chief, clinical supervisor, and hospital management team regarding clinical postings.  As the 4th year coordinator, I am responsible with selecting research topics and supervising 3-4 students in their research.

My greatest achievement to date is publishing my nutrition text entitled, “Comprehensive Textbook of Food and Nutrition”.  Preparing a book was challenging; I had to study many references to make it more credible and useful.  A large number of books on food and nutrition are available in the market, but some had much irrelevant material, or were missing content, or contained content that was far too tailored to one university’s curriculum to be considered comprehensive.  I have reviewed different national and international books, journals, reports, articles, guidelines, policies, strategies, and protocols related to food and nutrition in order to produce this text.  The book has 13 units, written to meet the course requirements of the nursing programs of many different universities; however, it will also be helpful for students enrolled in similar areas of study such as Public Health, food technology and so on. I have tried to incorporate all essential areas of food and nutrition in this book to provide a complete understanding of the subject.

sush cover book

Producing a book requires coordinated effort, which no author can accomplish without the involvement of friends, relatives, colleagues, seniors and especially teachers.  First of all, I want to thank God Almighty who made it possible to fulfill my vision of writing this book.  I feel grateful to, and want to acknowledge, Dr. Karen Lund, Senior Advisor of Health Sciences (ex-nursing program chief of IUBAT), and Adjunct Professor Alex Berland, for their support, guidance and inspiring words for my book.  They helped me tremendously in writing this text.  They were even kind enough to send me examples of texts in Canada as reference.

It would be unfair if I didn’t acknowledge the professionalism and diligence of my nutrition teacher: Judi Morton at IUBAT, who taught me the nuances of this subject.  My book delivers a comprehensive overview of nutrition, from introduction to food and nutrition, balanced diets, nutritional needs across the life span, to management of health and disease through therapeutic diets.  It contains numerous figures and tables which illustrate key concepts and conditions as well as explain details about the national nutrition policy in Nepal.

Last but not the least, I am grateful to IUBAT, as my education gave me a platform to write a book, as well as develop my skills as a nurse and a person.  I learned about plagiarism, which is a not a well-known concept amongst students of Nepal.  As a result, many of the books in Nepal are just copy and paste, but knowing this and trying to avoid it, I was able to produce a nutrition text that could exist as a standard of reference in Nepal.”

Congratulations to Sushma on her monumental achievement and on her contributions to healthcare knowledge and education in Nepal.  Publishing a textbook involves rigorous effort and is an extremely large undertaking.  Excellent work, Sushma, and we can hardly wait to hear about your next project!

Volunteers Recall Memories of Bangladesh

Nancy and Emily at the "Mini" Taj
Emily Hagg, a ICU RN at the Foothills Medical Center in Calgary, and Nancy Campbell, a Registered Nurse with Alberta Health Services, recently returned from Dhaka, where they volunteered with the Bangladesh Health Project. We asked Nancy and Emily to regale us with their favourite stories and most memorable moments from their trip.

Emily: “I was in Bangladesh from Jan. 11th to April 3th, so I was there for almost an entire semester. My official role was as a Post-Graduate Research Fellow, which mostly entailed being available as a mentor to the nursing instructors already in place and helping out with whatever I could in the classes and clinicals.

Nancy: “I arrived in Dhaka March 7th and left April 8th. My arrival was easy for me as Emily was already there! Emtiaz from the IUBAT Nursing College met me at the airport and I felt supported for the entire time. My official position was the same as Emily’s: Visiting Research Fellow, and my role was the same as well, to support the Nursing Faculty in the clinical and classroom settings. I also had the opportunity to work with the Sajeda Foundation on the development of their Home Care Program and their Seniors’ Supportive Housing Facility project.”

Emily: “What I especially loved about my experience was how friendly people were in Bangladesh, from the instructors, the students, to people on the street: just big smiles wherever I went. Initially, I had to adjust to the attention and the people just wanting to know about you and get close to you, which is very different from North American culture! I also will always remember how respectful the nursing students were! They stood when we instructors came into the room, calling us “ma’am”, earnestly listening to every word we ever said, and being protective of us when we were out in public together, etc. They were so polite and pleasant to work with!”

Emily at the Pink Palace in Old Dhaka

Emily at the Pink Palace in Old Dhaka

Nancy: “Yes! The thing I will always remember is walking into a classroom that first afternoon and all of the students standing up when the faculty entered. That just doesn’t happen in Canada. As I got to know them, I was humbled by their commitment to their education: the daily challenges they had just to get to school, on top of having to learn in English – nursing education is tough enough without these challenges. There wasn’t single day that I didn’t have an interaction with one of them that made me smile. They included us in their annual picnic and it was an incredible day, full of surprises and adventures.

IUBAT was similarly great: a sanctuary created by the school with the tea in the cafe, the guards that helped you cross the road in crazy traffic and of course, the long lineups to use the elevators. The faculty of the nursing college were simply amazing. They mentored us on “life” in Dhaka as much as we mentored them on nursing education.

It was interesting to be stared at and be asked to take pictures with total strangers. Add to that the population density that I hadn’t yet ever experienced – I didn’t know what to think at first. While it was unusual to have my activities/freedoms curtailed, I did not ever feel threatened or unsafe. Also, everyone should ride in a rickshaw at least once in their life! One cannot think of Dhaka without thinking of the traffic and the noise; there are absolutely no words that adequately describe the travel by van in that city.”

Emily: “I was definitely surprised by the instant celebrity status we seemed to develop by just entering the country and how hard that was to get used to. I didn’t think it would be quite the extreme that it was. It would have been nice (and easier to move around) if we were more ‘invisible’.” 

Emily and Nancy at the guest house

Emily and Nancy at the guest house

Emily: “If I had any advice for those interested in volunteering, it would be to be prepared to ‘go with the flow’! Things change rapidly and your day seldom works out as you initially planned it. It’s important not to get stressed out about stuff like that. Also, the accommodations are better than the volunteer manual makes them out to be! There’s hot water showers, a washing machine available, etc. It’s also so nice not having to prepare lunch and supper everyday! Finally, Caucasians should be extra prepared to be an object of fascination every where you go. It often takes longer to move around because of this fact.”

Nancy: “Anyone who is open to a new experience should go. I would encourage my nurse colleagues to go and experience a world where you can truly mentor nursing leadership AND grow an appreciation for the respect that nursing receives in Canada. Perhaps a practical piece of advice would be to get your visa before you arrive – I spent 2.5 hours in the VISA on arrival booth and an additional hour when I left because I had overstayed by 2 days. Despite that, it was amazing to be able to have a small impact and change the world of nursing in Bangladesh. I hope to go back very soon.”

A big thanks to Nancy and Emily for sharing their favourite recollections of Bangladesh; we love hearing from our volunteers! If any potential volunteers are interested and would like more information, please go to the Volunteer section on our website.

Mourning Dr. M. Alimullah Miyan

P1010575-001The pioneer of non-government universities in Bangladesh and Founder and Vice-Chancellor of IUBAT University Prof Dr M Alimullah Miyan passed away on May 10, 2017. This is a great loss not only to his family and friends in Bangladesh, but also to many people around the world. Dr. Miyan’s passion for education and his inclusive approach inspired many international faculty to volunteer at the remarkable university that he founded.

Dr. Miyan was an eminent global academic, bringing together the best ideas from many countries to create a uniquely Bangladeshi university. He balanced religious, cultural, social and educational values to create an “environment built for learning.” His life-long commitment to social justice is being implemented through Knowledge-Based Area Development. He consistently promoted teaching excellence and encouraged academic freedom and innovation.

For the College of Nursing in particular, Dr. Miyan planted the seed that has blossomed into the only independent non-government nursing college in the country. He was a pioneering advocate for the nursing profession in Bangladesh and worked tirelessly to overcome social taboos and institutional obstacles. At every major nursing function at IUBAT, Dr. Miyan spoke movingly of his vision for nursing, his ambition to develop professional leaders and his pride in the students and graduates.

We mourn our loss of this unforgettable, larger-than-life personality; we honour a life-long example of what can be achieved through courage, hard work and idealism.

Updates from BHP’s Advisor of Health Sciences

Alex IUBAT 2017
Alex Berland, Advisor of Health Sciences at IUBAT and founding member of the Bangladesh Health Project, reports on his recent visit to IUBAT.  He writes:

“The university is overall busier than ever with new construction underway to meet the demand for good quality higher education. College of Nursing enrolment remains disappointing, mostly due to proliferation of private colleges with cheaper fees; guardians may not consider quality in making decisions, especially for their daughters. IUBAT is now reducing BSN tuition fees with scholarships for strong students.

On a brighter note, I was happy to observe in both classroom and hospital the quality of current students. Obviously, our faculty are doing a terrific job promoting English use, encouraging critical thinking and pushing students to use problem-solving skills. Dr. Masud, Coordinator of the College of Nursing, is building a strong faculty team of graduates from IUBAT as well as other good colleges. After several meetings with faculty, I feel very positive about their ability.

Our library collection and nursing lab benefitted from re-organization by visiting faculty Anne-Marie Hummelman. Spring semester volunteers, Emily Hagg and Nancy Campbell, shared their positive impressions of faculty that they have been mentoring. Also, I visited an excellent practice site, Universal Medical Hospital, led by a visionary chairwoman who has hired IUBAT graduates as senior managers. Similarly, at Sajida Health Programs, IUBAT graduates hold senior roles managing innovative programs. Several IUBAT graduates recently sent news about their career accomplishments, so I am feeling very positive about the impact of the Bangladesh Health Project through its many supporters and visiting faculty over the past 13 years.”

Bangladesh’s Progress Highlighted in Medical Publication

The BMJ, an international medical journal, recently published an article entitled, “Why has Bangladesh done so well?”  In the article, Richard Smith, the chair of the Board of Trustees of icddr,b (formerly known as the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh) discusses the elements that may have helped improve the standard of living in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has had a tumultous past, rife with episodes of civil unrest, war and famine, with each event resulting high mortality rates.  However, it has now become one of the few low income countries to achieve the Millenium Development Goals: life expectancy has increased from 50 to 70+, child deaths under 5 years have dropped from 25% to 4%, and maternal mortality has fallen from 700 per 100 000 to 150.  Almost all children go to school, and the literacy rate of ~67% is equal among both males and females.

The author discusses several relevant cases of health improvements in Bangladesh, exploring why the country has made such major strides in its development. For instance, Richard Smith explains the role of factors such as education, research, cultural sensitivity, social science and female empowerment in the usage of oral rehydration treatment (ORT) to treat roughly 80% of cases of childhood diarrhoea, the highest rate in the world.  Lessons such as these has helped Bangladesh work towards becoming a middle-income country within a decade.  Despite all of the progress, there are still obstacles that Bangladesh has yet to overcome; amongst the issues are a moderately high maternal mortality rate, security, child marriage and loss of land due to climate change.

For more details and an in-depth analysis, please read the blog post on


Project Lauded for Innovative Instruction

Since it’s inception, the Bangladesh Health Project has relied on the generosity of overseas volunteer faculty who have taught students, developed courses and mentored local faculty.  Many of the volunteers originally visited IUBAT as nursing students themselves, through the arrangements that their own school had with the Project.  Some students came solo, others in groups with an instructor.

One such academic partnership was with the University of Vermont (UVM) through Professor Rycki Maltby. The relationship between the two institutions was featured in the book, Innovative Teaching Strategies in Nursing and Related Health Professions by authors Martha Bradshaw and Arlene Lowenstein. The immersion course, offered to senior nursing students, was highlighted as a unique learning experience and noteworthy for instructors as a teaching example. IUBAT and the Bangladesh Health Project welcome future partnerships with academic institutions and any students that may have an interest in getting involved.

The Bangladesh Health Project has accommodated many volunteers in our guest house.  We are grateful for volunteer faculty, as we could not have succeeded without their assistance in building the scholastic foundation of the Project.  For pictures of the guest house, please check out our Flickr page and to read about volunteer opportunities, please visit our website.