Rachel Hathaway returned last week to Bangladesh, prepared to encounter hundreds of children begging in the streets.
During her first visit there in 2009 to study microfinancing, Hathaway, 36, of Orono and a companion were able to provide food, education and doctor visits for some of them. She continued that effort in a small way during her first 24 hours in Dhaka, the ninth largest city in the world with 12 million residents, as she struggled with jet lag.
“The food is brought to my room and I eat quickly, trying not to doze off just yet,” she wrote in an entry on her blog dated June 13. “Half of the food is still on my plate. So tired. But the food is still fresh and warm, and there are children downstairs literally starving on my doorstep.
“Back down to the restaurant for a box,” she continued. “This is shared among four boys picking through the garbage on the street below. Three of them are happy with the arrangement, but not the boy who was handed the box — he wants it all. I don’t blame him one bit. He doesn’t know yet that I’ll come back every day to feed him, talk with him, and just be there with him. Not yet.
“But these small gestures are really not enough, they offer only a short term solution,” Hathaway, who will graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in business and economics. “I must return to the [U.S.] in less than three months. And I haven’t enough money with me to help them all. Not even all of them on this block. I think to myself, ‘How many blocks just like this are there in Dhaka? Each with its unfed street children?’ It’s an overwhelming thought.”
Hathaway, a Millinocket native, did not graduate from Stearns High intending to save the children of the Third World. Named the outstanding vocalist in state music contests, she attended the University of North Texas in Denton for a year, then moved to New York City. She worked professionally as a jazz vocalist and in real estate there for 13 years but returned to Maine to raise her son, Jacob Hathaway, now 12, when the market took a downturn.
Hathaway returned to school to study business and became fascinated by how entrepreneurial loans from microfinance institutions to millions of people who lack access to traditional financial markets were changing lives for the better in Third World nations. Two years ago, she spent her summer working in Bengladesh for the Grameen Trust Bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus, now 70. His work in microfinance earned Yunus the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and a Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.
Microfinance institutions are creating a new business structure that marries the for-profit model with agendas for societal betterment, according to Hathaway. A loan of less than $500 can allow a family to climb out of the cycle of abject poverty, she said.
“Microloans are empowerment tools that help poor people start small businesses, operating on the assumption that lack of opportunity is the main barrier to creating a better and solvent life,” Hathaway said last month.
This summer, she is in Bangladesh to complete research for her thesis. Hathaway is scheduled to return in February 2012 on a Fulbright Scholarship to continue that work for her master’s degree, and eventually, doctorate degree, in business.
In addition to her academic work, Hathaway will be working through her recently formed foundation, Seeds of Change Consulting Corp., to raise $15,000 to build transitional housing for the Maer Achol Children’s Shelter, founded by Christian Raymond. She met Raymond and became aware of the orphanage in 2009.
“Over the next two years a number of girls who grew up with Maer Achol turn 18,” she wrote in her Fulbright proposal. “Sadly, when these children transition into adulthood, Bangladeshi regulation stipulates that they must leave the shelter. However, the streets of Dhaka are unsafe for single orphaned girls.”
On one of her first days in Dhaka, Hathaway was reunited with Raymond, his staff and the children, many of whom worked for subsistence wages in the garment district, who have been rescued from the streets of Dhaka.
“I am rejuvenated by the scene,” she wrote last week on her blog. “Suddenly many new ideas, projects and pathways open themselves to me, as we talk about partnership ideas between Maer Achol and Seeds of Change; as we animatedly discuss the volunteering I can do when I return as a Fulbright Fellow; when we talk about ways to access funds and job opportunities within the garment district; and as we think about how to raise monies for the higher education that is currently beyond the financial reach of these deserving youth.
“We will do it,” she continued. “We have to. It’s time to get down to business. This is why I came to Dhaka. Even modest successes will carry an impact, so we put our best foot forward for the women and children depending on us.”
TO BE BOXED:
Seeds of Change Consulting Corp.
Founded by Rachel Hathaway in 2010
Motto: Social change through Education, Empowerment and Economic Development. Spread the word, plant the SEEED.
Mission: Fostering social change through education, empowerment and economic development.
Vision: At Seeds of Change Consulting, our vision is to become the partner of choice for organizations engaged in international development. We advocate for and extend opportunities to at-risk street children and women in the developing world so that they might overcome the barriers created by poverty and oppression. We initiate and facilitate projects to overcome unmet community needs, finding resources and providing equitable solutions.