We said goodbye to India… we’re on to Bangladesh! I’ve already learned a ton about this place. For one, Dhaka is one of the densest cities in the world. Two, for a pretty small country, Bangladesh has a ton of different climates. Climate change is hitting the country hard; entire cities have washed out or become drought-prone in the last 10 years. We ended up seeing this first-hand later as we ventured south with one of our current partners, but first, we followed Water Aid through slums in Dhaka and then up country to take a look at some of their programs.
Pora Bosti — which means “Burned Slum” — was our first stop, where I met Poppy and the toilet she helped design (I shared her story on the blog here). Then, we stopped into Baisteki Slum to see an urban community project. Baisteki told us that for generations, the Bangladeshi government has been trying to exercise eminent domain over their land (they say so that it will be sold to a company or factory). Every time they issue a demand for the people to move, though, the entire area protests. So far, the people have won every time. They showed us a book of news clippings over the years, photos of Baisteki residents picketing and sitting in the streets in resistance. Towards the end of our meeting, a man appealed to Jonna and I for help, saying, “As foreigners, you can help us. You can go to the government. You will have influence.” A man we were with responded, “No, you should use your local officials to have influence… it’s the Bangladeshi people that will make a difference for Bangladesh.” The man scoffed: “But it’s the officials who are taking the land from us in the first place!”
When we left Baisteki, we saw the sign on the border of the slum, peeking out above zinc rooftops and tarpaulin – it proudly proclaims that this land has been spoken for by the people and will remain that way.