So we had an ‘exposure visit’ to the Khulna division last weekend, in the south west of Bangladesh. I’ve posted a little map so you have some idea where it is in relation to Dhaka. And who knows, the map of Bangladesh itself might be useful to some folk to know where exactly in the word Bangladesh is. Before I was offered the placement in Bangladesh, I kinda knew where it was, but didn’t realise it is almost totally surrounded by India (an interesting decision at the time of the partition of the British Raj, but I won’t get into that now) and it’s only other direct neighbour is Burma.
Anyhoo, so we went down to Khulna on an 8 hour bus ride. Which truth be told, really wasn’t too bad. It was quite pleasant really. Ish. We crossed the Padma river, which is called the Ganges in India, on a ferry. The Ganges and several other large Asian rivers converge in Bangladesh and empty out in the Bay of Bengal, creating the largest river delta in the world. Bangladesh is one of the 10 most vulnerable countries to a rise in sea level. Predictions are that a 1 meter rise of the sea level in the Bay of Bengal would mean a loss of 12% to 18% of this country’s land. As one of the most densely populated countries in the world, I can’t begin to imagine the devastation that would cause. So flooding here is a big deal, and Bangladesh are starting to take climate change very seriously. Unfortunately, it will probably be climate change caused by other countries that will hurt them the most.
In Khulna, we were hosted by Eva (a VSO volunteer form Kenya) and the organization she works with, Rupantar. They work at various levels within communities, and one of their ways of communicating their messages (e.g. empowerment of women, good governance etc) is through traditional ‘pot’ songs. Pot means picture, and it’s through song, dance and pictures that they reach the lower, illiterate levels of society to educate them of their rights. (To read more on Rupantar and the amazing work they do, please see www.rupantar.org)
We had quite the show put on for us, a few pot songs followed by a meal. This was on Friday, which is a holiday here so that goes some way in showing their commitment to the work they do. I can’t imagine anyone in the UK having that much enthusiasm for coming into work on a day off.
On Saturday we were taken around to see various community based organisations that Rupantar initiated and continue to support. One was a local women’s empowerment initiative that educate local women on their rights and mobilize and support them to the extent that all these women pictured below now serve on various local government councils, helping to address various issues like child marriages and domestic violence etc. It kind of felt a bit like a press conference, except we were asking all the questions. Asked about who of them had experienced domestic violence, a laugh went round that group as if it was a silly question. Of course all of them had experienced it. Rupantar also works with the husbands of these and other women, to also educate them of women’s rights and to help stem the domestic violence. The only question they had for us was ‘Are you married?’ Turns out not only am I too old, I am also just too unreasonably tall. So no match making for me then…
The little baba below one of the children benefitting from one of Rupantar’s slum based community groups, which is a mother’s club to help provide some form of livelihood to the women in slums. This group has been going for 2 months, and they come together to cook and bake goods to sell in the local market. This was by far my favourite group to meet, their enthusiasm was palpable and it really was just a crazy scene in that little room.
We also had a bit of a ramble out to Bagerhat, which is surrounded by gorgeous green countryside. It was so nice to see green after the dull tones of Dhaka. We went to the Shait Gumbad Mosque, which was built it 1459. Shait Gumad means ‘the temple with 60 domes’, which is a bit of false advertising as there are actually 77 domes. It’s still a operational mosque, but we weren’t able to see it in full swing, so to speak.
We travelled back to Dhaka on Sunday morning (uneventful), so now we’re back in the Big Smoke.