Although I have been very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Sudan to visit our projects, I have not visited all of Practical Action’s countries of operation. I have hundreds of colleagues who, sadly, I have not been able to meet in my three and a half years working for Practical Action. We communicate through email and Skype, and although these technologies promote good working relationships, nothing beats having a real conversation in person.
So last week it was a real joy to meet one of Practical Action’s most dedicated project workers, Nazmul Islam Chowdury, from Bangladesh. Nazmul is currently visiting the UK as part of our work campaigning for more political action, leadership and funding for the fight against climate change.
Nazmul is truly inspirational. We speak at length about the Pathways from Poverty project which he manages in Bangladesh. This ambitious project, one of the largest in our history, endeavours to help 119,000 of the poorest women, men and children in rural areas of the country to take the first step to a life beyond poverty.
Many families here are achingly poor, and have been impoverished for generations. Their poverty is not just a shortage of money with which to buy things. It means starvation, dirty water, ill-health, inadequate shelter, limited access to education. It is the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.
At the beginning of the Pathways from Poverty project, people had lost hope of things ever being different or better. Nazmul’s assurance that, within 12 months, communities would have enough food to overcome their hunger was met with huge suspicion. That suspicion only intensified when Nazmul shared his idea of a beautifully simple farming technique, sandbar cropping, which could secure food for life. “People thought I was mad!” he says.
Floods in Bangladesh don’t just destroy homes and lives when they arrive; they also leave a crippling legacy when the waters subside. The ‘char’ – the silted sand plains that the floods leave behind – are too infertile for even the most skilled farmers to tend. Nazmul’s idea was to simply dig holes in the sandy plains and fill them with manure, compost and then plant pumpkin seeds. Within seven days the pumpkin seeds start to germinate fresh green shoots. And hope springs once more.
“I remember one woman in particular who was so delighted with her pumpkin harvest. She told me ‘I’ve fallen in in love with this. Before I hated spending time in the field because it seemed so futile. Nothing grew. But now I want to spend all my time tending to my crop of pumpkins. I’ve never seen so much food. This technology is helping us to grow food in the sand. It’s a dream.’ Listening to stories like this makes me feel immensely proud of the sandbar cropping technology. I think it is the best example of ‘small is beautiful’.”
The Pathways from Poverty project is already having a huge, transformational impact on the lives of some of Bangladesh’s most desperate people.
I ask Nazmul what drives him, and am so inspired by his response:
“I feel a great sense of responsibility to the Bangladeshi people. Everyone pays their taxes. And those taxes have paid for my education. I feel it is my duty to pay people back. I use this philosophy to inspire my team. I want to see people in my country enjoying their lives, not spending every moment worrying about their survival, about their children’s survival. We may never be rich like the Americans. But I want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to earn what is sufficient for life. Everybody in the world has the right to food, shelter, and education, healthcare. These are the basic rights and choices.”
As I listen to Nazmul’s words, I feel so immensely lucky to work with such visionary people who are so committed to challenging the numerous injustices in our world. Practical Action is an organisation, but our good work is only possible because of people – our committed team of project workers, the people with whom we’re working who revolutionise their own lives, and of course, you – the lovely, wonderful people who support us.