Where to begin?

Its been a pretty crazy few weeks. I’m in a little town called Mongla in south Bangladesh. We’re working with a local partner called Bangladesh Nazarene Mission (BNM) who are focused predominantly on preparing communities to become resilient to disaster. The main threats are cyclones, floods and increased salinity in the water. The local partner are collecting data from the communities in the form of community risk assessments, which are then used in a Ward Disaster Management Committee (WDMC) so that community can work out an action plan to prepare for the next cyclone or flood. Its a fascinating yet slow process – main needs here consist of water tanks and cyclone shelters. As UK volunteers we just don’t have the budget for that just yet! Its become apparent that the low-budget skills we can offer the community people are English lessons, first aid training, manual labour and Child Development Centre (CDC) sessions with primary school children on hand washing and some basic principles on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

The people I meet here daily are so hospitable. They literally have nothing, yet they share everything with us. Its taken me a while to be okay with this bizarre ‘white people’ tension. Some communities we meet purely ask for money, and everyone asks for a photo. Most of you will know I came out here to find some perspective and flipping hell have I got it. I don’t think I have an answer but its an interesting tension which I think will always be apparent when working in development. Plans here change daily and you just have to go with it. It makes me realise how busy my life is in England, and also that English people worry way too much. Having too much choice really makes you question your decisions sometimes, but here people really are happy. They eat, they sleep, they dig the land!

The landscape is beautiful. It like the books from Geography. Ponds everywhere with small mud roads that separates the water from the house. Most of the ponds are rice paddy fields, but workers here also cultivate fish and shrimp. The water is mostly saline though so there is also continuous development to source crops that can withstand the environment. The villages are remote and quiet, and often the people will nip up a tree to grab some coconuts to give to us whilst we play with the children.

Its been difficult to put our field experiences in our project context, purely because its mostly project set up. Games, bicycles, singing and balls really are all you need to connect with a community here so we continue to do this as we build relationships with the people here in Mongla. I hope the budget will come soon enough, but for the mean time i’m here to serve as many people as possible.

Some things I have learnt after spending nearly a month in Bangladesh:

1.  You can never have too much rice.

2. Jokes can last for EVER. I said one thing 2 weeks ago and we are STILL talking about it. Lol.

3. I miss correct waste disposal.

4. All the Ps and Qs you learn growing up in England are just not valid here.

5. I am sweating in places I didn’t know were possible.

6. I am very indecisive when choosing fabric.

7. I do not want to think about leaving this beautiful country.

8. I miss everyone more than I thought I would! Family is so important here as well so it sure does make you think about your own.

If you pray, please pray for direction for our project, else just send me a message on Facebook. X

সহিষ্ণুতা – Patience

For any who know me, you’ll know i’m probably not the most patient person in the world. I LOVE to be busy. I plan. I party. I work. I go out for food. I do church(es). I volunteer. I AM BUSY.

A week later and we’re still here in Dhaka waiting for our final UK volunteer to arrive. For any that are joining the party a little late, I am in Bangladesh for 10 weeks on an ICS placement. We’ve had a week of orientation with our Bangladeshi volunteers and are staying at the Church of the Nazarene International HQ in the capital. Its basically the head office for the two projects our team will be working on whilst we’re out here. Its been tricky to wander freely, but occaisonally we have been out into Dhaka. The Northern team has gone to Bishiri, near the Indian border to assist Garo Baptist Church and on Wednesday we’re heading to a small fishing port called Mongla in the south to assist Bangladesh Nazarene Mission.

The reason we’re here is climate change. We are the first UK volunteers working with projects to inform the local communities about changing weather conditions and the impact that those conditions have on their work, and ultimately their livelihoods. The ICS programme exists to promote shared learning across the world, as well as assisting in the local development for third world countries. In a nutshell, the government has funded Tearfund to run ICS in Bangladesh with their existing partner – Church of the Nazarene International, hence why we’re here.

This is an experiment. Everything is quite new, and the goals and ambitions set for the projects are quite broad so its down to the team leaders and in-country coordinators to help us to make a specific project plan that is realistic for the time frame. I imagine we’ll be conducting community interviews and courtyard meetings, to understand where the community is at first. We hope to deliver some presentations on climate change, and then interview the community at the end of the project to see what they’ve learnt as a result.

Bangladesh is a fascinating country. I remember learning about it in Geography at school, it was one of the case studies that you just have to remember because things are just so complex. There are 3 rivers, the Bay of Bengal and even some snow melt from India! Where we’re going, it could take just 25 years for the encroaching saltwater in the South West to poison fresh drinking water and waterlog the farmland. Cyclones and river erosion literally mean this country is disappearing, with more than 30-million people being displaced as a result.

Life isn’t all doom and gloom though! Dhaka as a city is beautiful and terrifying. Rickshaw art is something to be marvelled at, and the poverty is  more intense than i’ve ever seen before. The flavours and smells are captivating, and the Bangladeshi volunteers and locals are extremely amicable and proud of their country. Our Bangla volunteers had never been on an escalator before, so yesterdays trip to the shopping mall was an experience!

Climate change is an important part of why we’re here – but ultimately we are pioneering long-lasting relationships with the locals and sharing the gospel. I’m learning that building rapport with diverse communities is the key to development. I have always disagreed with the concept of western people going to marvel at poverty, because I believe poverty is all around us, especially in the western world. Here though the people we meet are so pumped about improving their country they want to pick our English brains on culture, marriage age, music, work ethic and just everything! They love their country so they want to make sure the physical land doesn’t disappear! That’s a pretty big wake up call for me as a western person as well, what with my extreme choice and cheap clothing and excess rubbish…..

Highlights of our relationship building have included:
-Dancing (ceilidh, hindi, macarena, tribal, cotton eyed joe, aaaaand many more)
-Pictionary
-Animal charades
-Uno
-Disney movies

Building relationships takes patience. If we want to make an impact here we have to be patient. In the long periods of spare time I have i’m browsing through Romans again, so naturally – ‘rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer’ (Romans 12:12). I hope and pray that this trip teaches me to be better at waiting and listening as a result of being patient. I can already see snippets of God working through my journey to this point, and in the people I meet, but alas that’s for another post I think. I’ll also let you know how the whole woman-in-a-muslim–male-dominated-society-thing is going, cos its er… interesting.

Much love xxxx