Since arriving in Bangladesh a month ago on Thursday, I’ve spent the majority of my time working with Shahed and the Subornogram Foundation on their schooling initiatives. This was one of the opportunities that really attracted me to apply to this program, as I am an advocate for the importance of schooling our (the worlds) youth; and waking up every morning to trek to one of Subornogram’s schools where all of the children are so excited to see you that they forget what they’re actually in the classroom for isn’t exactly a negative.
However, another reason that I was so attracted to this opportunity in Bangladesh had to do with the unfortunate effects of illegal sand dredging done in and around Mayadip Island. Currently there are two known companies illegally extracting sand from the banks of the Meghna River near Mayadip Island. Both of these companies are locally owned, and they possess an incredible amount of political clout. While there are legal sand dredging operations taking place in the Meghna River (within designated zones), these companies have continued, despite a ruling by the Bangladesh Supreme Court to stop, to illegally extract sand from outside of the legal zones, and along the river banks. This dredging causes the mass erosion of both the riverbanks and the banks of the islands in the river, which in turn creates instability in an area that has already been hit hard by effects of climate change. The inhabitants of Mayadip Island often face bullying by the dredgers when they defend their islands banks, and quite a few have ended up in the hospital.
Despite all of these hardships, the people on Mayadip Island are among the warmest I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this summer, and of everywhere I’ve been here in Bangladesh, Mayadip Island is far and away my favorite destination. A 40-minute boat ride from the mainland, across the Meghna River (which is one of the most impressive rivers I’ve ever seen), and you’re greeted by a little slice of paradise that most of the world doesn’t even have the pleasure of knowing exists. I’ve now spent a good three days on Mayadip, and it’s easy to see how tight knit the community is. There are around 1,300 residents on Mayadip Island, where the main industry revolves around fishing – the fishermen are called ‘Jele’ in Bengali. Most, if not all of the women are housewives on Mayadip Island, and families are started at very young ages. I had the pleasure of relaxing under a tree with most of the young men aged 22-27, from one of the villages on Mayadip. Of the 12 men sitting with me, only two weren’t married. I know that this tends to be the case in quite a few places around the world, but, as a 27 year-old man, I don’t see marriage in my near future. But I digress.
Getting back on track, I wanted to give an example of just how close this community really is. The Subornogram Foundation runs the island’s only school, which Shahed and I have visited briefly on each of our trips. On my first visit, Shahed introduced me to a young woman who, due to some very unfortunate circumstances, was left widowed with three children to raise on her own. It’s not rare in Bengali culture for the women to be housewives; most of which aren’t able to take part in the local economy not because of a lack of skills or ability, but due to societal norms. So you can imagine how difficult it must have been for a young woman with no industry available, to be left widowed with no income, and taking care of three young children (especially when ALL of the residents of Mayadip are faced with food security issues and environmental degradation due to the illegal sand dredging!). After the untimely death of this young woman’s husband the community got together, pooled what little money they did have and offered it to the woman to provide a cushion. Still realizing that this wasn’t going to be sustainable, Shahed and the community leaders met and decided that this woman could become a volunteer teacher at the islands only school, while collecting a salary. She accepted, and now has a means by which to take care of her children.
The world could learn a lot from the inhabitants of Mayadip Island.
Posted By Chris Pinderhughes
Posted Jul 23rd, 2013