Return to sender – address unknown

Return to Sender – address unknown

As the Elvis Presley song goes.   Despite email, for most of us the idea of not having a physical address to give someone is unthinkable and it would be almost impossible to function – how would you get a passport, how would you open a bank account?

I’m a bit of a serial house mover, probably around eight houses in the last 30 years, not counting friends’ spare rooms, rented accommodation, etc. I love the whole process of house hunting, moving in, planning the decoration, spending contemplative evenings with the radio and paint brush, and then just when it’s all tickety boo, I find myself cruising the estate agents’ websites, checking out what ‘doer uppers’ are out there. This all comes at a price of course, letting people know that you’ve moved and then the irritation when an important piece of correspondence goes awry. But I have to remind myself, at least I have an address. 

A completed cluster village

Back in 2009, I visited Bangladesh, to see Practical Action’s ‘Disappearing Lands’ project in Gaibandha, where we were working with communities forced by their poverty to live on  land at the edge of the rivers, land not wanted by anyone else because of the increasingly regular and severe flooding following monsoon which shifted the soil.  As a result, each monsoon left them vulnerable to loss of crops, livestock, homes, and sometimes their lives. With Practical Action’s support, cluster villages were constructed on soil platforms built by the communities, raising their homes above the flood line. These cluster villages provide housing, gardens, schools, clinics and emergency shelters for livestock for when the monsoon season arrives. One of the cluster villages I visited had just been completed, but already gardens were fenced, crops planted, and people were busy setting up craft businesses to earn additional income. Amongst this busy, thriving community, I met a grandmother, standing in the doorway of her new house. She wanted to share with me her delight in her new home. That I completely understood! But what surprised me was her great excitement and immense pride in having an address. I just hadn’t thought about it before. For her, having an address meant that she existed, she lived somewhere permanently, she could tell someone exactly where she lived that day, where she would be next year, and hopefully for the rest of her life. Having an address gave her kudos.

I’m visiting Bangladesh again in a couple of weeks with a great Foundation, Z Zurich Foundation, which has supported our project, ‘Vulnerability to Resilience (V2R)’, for almost five years, continuing our work with communities in flood prone areas.  I’m looking forward to seeing many of the ideas from our Gaibandha project helping others to finally have an address.

One response to “Return to sender – address unknown”

  1. Nazmul Says:

    Dear Liz,
    I have read it now after 5 years later of your posting. What a thoughtful post? Its really excellent and of course will knock many hearts. THank you so much. All the best.

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