Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Jungle 1, Tim 0. Idiots, Doctors and Nurses

In nearly fifty years of work, VSO has sent tens of thousands of volunteers to placements around the world, and inevitably, there have been accidents and some fatalities. Typically these are road – related, although someone did die of Rabies a few years ago. It’s not something we ever really think about; but at the same time you don’t want to add to the statistic. However, I’m not sure how it would look if ‘fell down a waterfall’ got included in the VSO ‘deaths during service’ book. It might be hard to be sympathetic, and an observer might rather just wonder what a total moron that person must have been.

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A new proposal to alleviate poverty in Bangladesh

[This has been cross-posted at Drishtipat here]

Please download the Rickshaw-Development-proposal.pdf

The challenge was to propose an idea which would have the greatest impact on poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. After nine months of living and working in the country as volunteers, my colleague Thomas Wipperman and I realised that the answer was all around us. There are many marginalised groups in Bangladesh; indigenous people, farmers afflicted by the Monga famines, HIV sufferers – but they compromise a tiny minority in a country of over 145 million. When the purpose of intervention is to reach as many people as possible at the lowest end of the social scale, the stand-out constituency is the rickshaw pullers. Rickshaw pullers are the essential cogs in Bangladesh’s machine. And they deserve better.

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The Chittagong Hill Tracts

One of the benefits of VSO is that you can go and work in other areas of the country if a partner NGO has a particular need for some work that you’re able to do for them. It’s similar to a mini-secondment system. And so last month I left Sylhet for two weeks and went to work with some other indigenous community rights NGOs on their IT systems. This normally would be astonishingly boring, except these NGOs are based in the dangerous, treacherous, primitive and absolutely wonderful Chittagong Hill Tracts.

 

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Floods in Bangladesh

‘The Inheritance of Loss’, which won this year’s Booker prize is set in northern India, and there’s a scene around p.170 where one of the characters, an aging snob is reading a paper during monsoon season, and idly remarks that ‘the Bangladeshis are up their trees again’. I didn’t like the book, but that line of mild racism did stand out amidst the otherwise meandering pomposity. I didn’t think it was serious though.

 

However, the rain really has been coming down across South Asia and especially in Bangladesh this week, causing hundreds of deaths and millions of people to be stranded, and losing everything. Bangladesh in the rainy season has more surface water than the whole of Europe, but now half the country is submerged and it’s apparently going to get worse before it gets better.

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What kind of culture embraces wrestling, but rejects toilet paper?

Last weekend I was finally able to get out of my office and go and conduct some field research, a Participatory Rural Appraisal, to use the technical name. My NGO got the funding from VSO, and we’re aiming to go to 15 indigenous community villages all around Sylhet division, which is an area almost the size of South Wales. It’s an essential survey for us, as it will able us to obtain crucial information on the situation of our beneficiries, so as to be able to design our projects better. I just wish it wasn’t during the monsoon.

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Alone in the countryside?

I’ve just returned to Dhaka after five days away up in the north-west of Bangladesh, very near a large town called Dinajpur. I was working for a big partner NGO of VSO Bangladesh, called Gram Bikash Kendro (GBK), who really are a development powerhouse of the region, employing over 300 staff, delivering seven big projects, working across many themes such as education, health, micro-credit, the full development monty.

I was there to help them produce a website; planning and producing thier content before another colleague comes up and designs the site. It was a good experience for me to see how big organisations are run in Bangladesh (compared to the four staff in my own NGO), everyone was very friendly and spoke decent English, so I’m happy with the experience, and hopefully they should have a functioning website within the next month.

It was hot though – Dinajpur is in the hottest region of Bangladesh, and last week, across the country, 29 people died due to the extreme weather. What made it even worse was that the power supply was really awful, blackouts for three or four hours every evening, so there was not much else to do except lie on a towel in the dark and hope to eventually get to sleep. Not exactly a lively week for me.

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Kolkata and Dhaka – a tale of two cities

You can see some photos from Kolkata here 


Bangladesh in the heat almost clings to you, is impossible to wash off or escape from. So I can barely believe that it was a month ago now that Tom, Georgia and I made a little getaway to Kolkata for the weekend. It’s only about 150 miles away from Dhaka, was part of the same Empire until 60 years ago, and predominantly is made up of Bengali people – but it was like being in a different world.

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