Author: Saad Shahriar - Villagers in Bangladesh’s waterlogged Satkhira region were bowled over when their national team cricket captain, Mashrafe Mortaza flew in with his team mates to take part in a special edition of Amrai Pari (Together We Can Do It), a TV show helping communities adapt to extreme weather.
As we drove to our filming location in the early hours of the morning, I watched the fog getting thicker. By the time we reached the village, the bamboo bridge that the community had begun building the day before was completely obscured. Dense fog covered the pond and clung to the coconut and date trees. The only flashes of colour were the bright garments of village women as they expectantly gathered around our cameras.
We all looked at our watches. Our star guests, the Bangladesh cricket team captain Mashrafe Mortaza and three of his team mates, were due to take off from Dhaka in a seaplane in the next couple of hours. They’d agreed to take part in a special episode of Amrai Pari. This episode would tell the story of Narayanpur of Tala Upazilla, a village in the waterlogged Satkhira district of Bangladesh.
For up to nine months of the year, this village – and much of the surrounding area - is completely waterlogged. It’s the dry season now, but when I first visited the area last October I watched women wade through waist-high water to carry their children to school. One woman was paddling a make-shift boat made of polystyrene and wood.
“Because of the water, we can’t grow anything and there’s no work here for most of the year. Sometimes children drown in the water and, because you can’t earn anything, most households have problems with loans because that’s the only way to survive”, said Sufia Begum, a mother.
The waterlogging has got worse since the area was first flooded in 2011, bursting the banks of the Kopotakkho River. A lack of fertile land is a major problem and many of the men in the community have been forced to urban areas to find work. The women who remain behind make a little money from cultivating fish and rearing ducks but now - with the help of Amrai Pari experts - nine families have decided to try something new by working together.
“We have a pond to farm fish but the pond was creating a lot of problems, because when the water rises it used to seep out and flood the whole area. Now we’re working to reinforce the banks of the pond and use the four corners to grow vegetables in raised platforms. We are also making a duck house and a 70-foot long bamboo bridge to help us cross the water”, said Jhorna Begum, a community member and outspoken advocate for sustainable farming.
Finally the fog began to lift and we heard that the cricketers had been able to land nearby. As they arrived, excited and eager to help, they were met by children whose jaws dropped in disbelief as they ran to greet them.
“I’ve heard about these things, but this is the first time I’ve seen it with my very own eyes.” Mashrafe told us as he picked up some bamboo and started to help members of the community build their bridge.
“It’s evident how tough the nine months of waterlogging is for these people. It’s good that we’ve come out here, but I’d feel better if we could do something longer-term.”
His teammate Soumya Sarkar is from Satkhira and stopped to say hello to his grandparents on the way to the filming. “Its wonderful to see how they’re working together, their attitude is really inspiring. I’m sure they will achieve something great,” he said.
They were also joined by two members of the Bangladesh women’s cricket team, ODI (One Day International) Captain Salma Khatun and T20 (Twenty20) Captain Jahanara Alam.
“It’s wonderful to be able to work with the nine families that are here and I’m really happy that we were able to do this”, said Salma at the end of the day.
Their visit helped to inspire the whole of the community to carry on and make their new project a success.
“These four are our best cricketers and they represent our country everywhere. We never believed we’d have the opportunity to see them face-to-face.” One man told me as he waved the cricketers goodbye.
“They came out here and worked with us. I couldn’t feel any more proud that they came out and actually worked with us.”
The special episode [was] air[ed] 7 February 2016 on ATN Bangla.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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