Countdown - only few districts to go A glance at the audience responses in Netrakona, Sherpur, Jamalpur, Tangail and Mymensingh
In the last 5 days we covered district number 53 to 58 ... 5 districts and finally 300 miles to go! (there are a lot of people who pass the bus and read a loud "three hundred miles to go“; maybe people cannot imagine how to travel 3000 miles in a small country like Bangladesh...)
Only three months ago we started with our first district and we were wondering how far we can go and how everything will work out, whether we set ourselves a task too big to comply. And now, the puzzle of the Bangladesh map in our bus is almost complete. Every district adding one piece, there is only a small part in the heart of Bangladesh left uncovered.
So let us tell you about our experiences in the past days. From Kishoreganj we moved on to Netrakona. In Netrakona, we had an average number in the audience on the Shahid Minar. It was a good show in the way that the people who stayed to the end were deeply concered about how we treat our planet.
In Sherpur, the next district, the people who listened until the end of the show really put some effort, because it was a very cold evening. One guy was shivering from cold when he was telling me how much it meant to him to stay and listen. Another man added a comment which I want to share. He was saying that we were wasting everything, food, cloth, toys etc. and that that day, I wasted my energy and my knowledge by giving a presentation with merely a hundred people attending at the end, when in fact it should be whole Sherpur attending for the information given being so crucial to our all lives. This comment was a good feedback on how meaningful people perceive the information they are given. And of course, the more people I can reach, the better. However, I am happy about every single person that wholeheartedly listens to what I say. These people who listen and who understand are given a huge responsibility, because they are empowered to act and to pass on the message.
A very emotional ending of the show we had in Jamalpur. An elderly man waited for me after the show to tell me his gratefulness for explaining him how many things are connected and affected by our lifestyle. In that very show, I also changed the focus of the presentation a bit. I focused on love. About the love and beauty we should feel for our planet. People appreciated this approach and that someone draw their attention on how precious our world is. A man from the Bangladesh Academy, an academic, told that this show put together so many thoughts and that it help him a lot putting individual knowledge into context.
Despite all the encouraging feedback on the shows, I am starting to feel some tiredness and exhaustion. The last months of travelling and moving left some traces. Yet, for each district, it is the first and only time they see the show so I ought to act accordingly. They deserve a good and inspiring show.
In Tangail, I had to concentrate a lot to get together the energy for the show. It turned out to be the longest show so far - 3h 30. The main crowd stayed, as usual, up to the second last or the last movie. After that, I talk about how important it is to think about our future and to think about the problems we are causing now and will be faced by our kids. At that point, usually about one third of the audience remains. These are the people that are really interested. In Tangail, these people just stayed and listened and asked questions and in that way, the show continued until 21.30.
The next morning we moved on from Tangail back to Mymensingh. It is the second time that we visit this district. The first time, we had to cancel the show. There was a political gathering on our venue, the Shahid Minar, in the afternoon and people were scared to return later for our show. For the few people that came, we screened the movies but without talk. This time, we came back to deliver a proper show. In the beginning I was a bit sad, because also now, no overwhleming amount of people came. Halfway through the show I noticed though, that the around 250 people that assembled in the beginning, did not move at all. They stayed and listened and I was happy to know that I still am able to catch peoples attention and that people want to know and listen.
5 Districts to go, with the last shows in Dhaka on 15th January (Teacher-Student-Centre, Dhaka University). I am excited what other surprises will happen and whether we will be able to finish the campaign without any major incidence! And then, I am also looking forward to abandoning my nomadic life – unpacking for good, getting a proper cup of ca and some rest in my own bed...
From the Hill-tracts we continued North. Again our journey leads through flat land. This time marked by rice paddies, wetlands and tea estates. The first district back in the plain was Comilla. The first thing we noticed was the people. Comilla is a big crowded city. This came a bit as a shock after the calm days in the hill-tracts. In Comilla, elections were coming up soon. Not only did this show in the whole city being covered in election advertisements – each of them protected from moist by a polythene bag – but also the people were about to reflect and discuss their situation and their future.
The district coordinator was a young theatre activist, and young people and people from the theatres were also making up a big part of the audience today – more than 1200 people. With this notion of change in their mind, the vibe was good. People understood and were eager to act.
At the end of the show some people wanted to donate some money to at least do something. I hope I made it clear enough that it is not money but people’s behaviour changes that will make a difference. Still, it was a meaningful gesture in the way that I could wake people up.
The focus of my presentation is changing. More and more it is directed at what to do and how to (re)act. At the beginning of the presentation, I always ask people about climate change, what they know about it and what they think about it. It is quite amazing how familiar everyone seems, but what marks the initial perception of climate change is not an understanding of the basic processes, but an understanding that a) We, Bangladeshis are the sufferers of climate change and b) the industrial nations are to blame for climate change.
How comes that on the one hand these two facts are so widely spread and on the other hand, useful information, like what causes climate change and how to change individual behaviour to mitigate climate change, is unknown. Why government and media focus so strongly and Bangladesh’s role as victims and not on their role to make a change?
In Comilla, I told the audience that thinking of the upcoming elections, they should also think about which of candidates cares most about the environment! Though I stress the importance of people’s behaviours so much, there is a huge responsibility with the government. If only they would take meaningful action.
In Brahmanbaria a lot of Madrasa students were in the audience. Madrasa are the Islamic schools where a lot of teaching is about Koran and this is mainly learning its content by heart. I was happy to see that even these students were asking very thoughtful questions. Yet, something I notice about schooling system in Bangladesh in general is that students know so little about climate change and other environmental issues. I think it would be in the responsibility of the schooling system to raise this topic which is likely to have a huge impact on the youth’s future. The teachers must be educated on the subject. All ready now, repeatedly teachers approach me after the show, asking for the DVD with the movies to show their students.
In Habiganj we could assemble ca. 400 people on a badminton court. Again they listened and were happy to get some information they understood. Here, it was great that it was the hometown of one Climate Champion. The climate champions are young people that were selected by the British Council based on their proposal for a climate change project. Next to this, the Climate Champions are the ones that made the short movies for played in the show. It was great to have a motivated and educated person who is ready to help the interested people from that area to understand climate change and discuss important issues. Often, I feel bad after the show. After having given just enough information to understand the big picture but leaving with even more questions unanswered. So many people, manly youth, approach me after the show and ask what they can do and how to continue now with the information. This time, it was great to be able to direct them to the climate champion who can further discuss and coordinate more inputs
Further North, the next show was in Maulvi bazar. The venue was at the shahid minar which was next to the Bijoy Mela. Accordingly, a lot of people were passing by, standing and listening for some minutes. Yet, there was also a considerable audience, 250 people, who stayed throughout the whole show.
A special show happened in Sylhet. It was the longest show so far. After I finished my part of the show in the normal about 1h 45min, the audience comments lasted for one more hour! The end of the show was so emotional that I found that there are no more words to express feelings. Instead, the remaining audience took each others hand and remained silent in that way for few moments.
Not on purpose, the extra long show in Sylhet had to be compensated in the next district in Sunamganj. Here I had to provide a shorter version of the presentation because the venue was right next to a mosque and it would not be possible to keep going during the prayer. As the presentation came in fragments, it was more demanding for the people to follow. However, also this time a lot of people made an effort to stay and listen.
Another interesting experience in Sunamganj was the shortage in gas that the town was facing due to delayed delivery. Imagine, from one day to the other, there would be no fossil fuels anymore. What would happen? Think of all the things that are run by fossil fuels. All the factories, the brick production sites, transport. Then think of all the goods that are made of fossil fuel. All the plastics, the colours etc. When we arrived in Sunamganj, there was sort of a food crisis. All the restaurants run their kitchen by gas stoves. Without gas, no cooked food! How dependent we are! Luckily, some restaurants put some effort into installing a wood-fired kitchen and we still could fill our stomach.
In a way, that shortage in cooking gas was an advantage for us, people understood perfectly well, what it means when we reach a point when gas will no more be available.
At 1st January 2012, we started early from Sunamganj. We had to travel a whole day to reach the next district, Kishorganj. The distance between the two districts is not so big, but as there are wetlands all over, there is no direct way and we took the road back to Sylhet first. After dinner, we heard a familiar noise which was very odd: rain. Winter in Bangladesh is supposed to be dry and rain is a very odd thing to occur. We started to get worried as by three o’clock the next day, the drizzle still didn’t stop and the sky was covered in white clouds. The show is supposed to start at six and with rain there is no way it can happen. The equipment gets harmed and people will not stand in the rain for two hours. At 4.30pm blue patches appeared on the sky and at 5 we could set up the screen and the show started on time. It was on the field in front of a college. A lot of students were in the audience.
Again it was encouraging how motivated the youth were at the end. Eager to know more and to act, they requested help for setting up a local action group.
From the urban divisions of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar, we took the winding roads up the Chittagong hill-tracts. The first show we had in Bandarban. On Rajar math (king’s field) we could assemble around 600 people. Bangladeshi and indigenous people watched the movies and followed show. I tried to slow down the pace of my presentation so that also the indigenous people that do not have Bangla as mother tongue would be able to follow. People listened carefully and took up all the information given. Probably not least because people are sensitized about their environment – the mindless cutting of trees being a big issue in the area. The presentation ended with a very emotional comment from the audience, that yes, we should be worried about what a world we leave for our children!
Another comment came from an academic person, to whom it was very important to make a point that there are some flaws in how I explain climate change. That, for example CFC’s (Dichlorfluorethane) is 10’000 as powerful in absorbing warmth than CO2 and yet I don’t mention it. Of course, he is completely right on that one and there are many more things that scientists found out and that add on Climate Change. Yet, the show is not a scientific presentation. It is not about graphs and numbers and a sound scientific argumentation. It is about understanding the big picture. It is about people that haven’t been to school at all, yet they have a right to know at least the rough concept about what is happening to our earth.
Finally, in the hilltracts, after each show, we have a one day break to reach the new destination. The journey to Rangamati lead through more of the beautiful hilltracts dissected by rivers. It was very good to see the landscape we are passing through at least. In contrast to all the night journeys we had so far. The whole team enjoyed the rolling hills and the glimpses we got from villages.
In Rangamati, the venue was located in the middle of the market. The shops that surrounded the place reduced their noise level and we had a good show with about 250 listening. Again, indigenous and Bangladeshi. Also families, grandparents with their grandchildren were in the audience. They surely want to keep the earth a nice place for their kids…
Khagrachhari, the venue a stage at the roadside near a roundabout, could have been a noisy one with a lot of distraction going on. Fortunatly, the audience was very helpful by keeping quiet and concentrating on the show and not on possible distractions. Also, it was exceptional how cooperative and interested the local authorities were – from the mayor to the police and press. With a small road being blocked the audience had enough space to gather. Though, everyone suggested several times that we should move the venue to the stage at the bijoy mela, there would be a good crowd and even chairs. It took us some time to explain that though it is a movie show, it is not that kind of entertainment that would fit to the crowd at a mela. People go there to have fun and forget about their problems. So our show, that expects people to think and understand a huge problem, certainly would be out of place there. Even if its movies.
Unlike the other hilltracts districts, in Khagrachhari, the vast majority of the people listening were Bangladeshi and not indigenous. Most of the audience stayed for the whole show despite the chilly temperature. This last show in the hills made it clear why it is so important to spread the message also to areas that are not usually in the scope of climate change programs. The lack of information is even bigger. Two master-students approached me after the show, asking for more information about the particular effects of climate change on this area. Actually, this exact question is the field of study of their master theses and after all, they were better informed about the local effects than I was (floods…). But this also shows how important it is to inform people.
Now, we have crossed the country.Travelling through 43 districts, from Panchagarh in the North-West of Bangladesh to Cox’s Bazar in the very South. After we have travelled across the country, still each show is unique and before each show I am a bit nervous: What kind of crowd is expecting me? How will they react? Will I be able to connect to the people?
The first feeling for the audience I get when the first movie shows. This movie gives an introduction to Climate Change. In the beginning there are interviews with Dhaka people. They are asked whether they have heard about climate change. Everyone has and is very confident about it. Yet, as soon as they are asked to give some more detail, it turns out that in fact, yes ..mmh.. well, it is mmh.. not so easy to explain that they are not so sure about it anymore, coming up with evading answers and the question whether it is possible to cut that sequence.
This is the moment when a laughter goes through the audience, and the level of the laughter is a good indication about how the audience will respond.
After the introduction and the first movie, I feel at ease. I was able to build some sort of connection. People do not just watch a movie. They do not just listen to another speech of an anonymous someone using important words to tell a simple thing. People listen to a person, a friend, who is telling them an important story in simple words. They get engaged, they are not anymore passive observers. I try to involve them in the story. Connect them with the people featured in the movies. Interestingly, for example, when talking about cyclones, it can be more difficult to convey the feeling to people from the coastal districts. These people live in cities not more than 50km away from villages that are repeatedly devastated by cyclones.
Most encouraging is, how the audience is contributing their part. How they eagerly answer the questions that I ask in between the stories. Towards the end of the show, there is time for questions, sometimes, it can get difficult to pick, amongst the many raised hands, the people whom the microphone is given.
At the end of the show, sometimes after having caught the attention of the audience for more than two hours, I introduce them to www.climate4classrooms.org. A website that provides all kind of information on climate change in general but also has a section focusing in Bangladesh. This is the time when the people take out their mobile to save the link.
In the last 6 districts in average we had an audience of 500 people per show. Sometimes there are groups that are more interested in the fact that something is happening rather than paying attention to what is happening. This can be disturbing, how can I reach people that are not yet ready?
Yet, if I triggered something in the people that want to listen, and if these people go home and tell their friends, a change can happen.
With the last show in Cox’s Bazar being one of the most challenging one. In a town where people go for fun and entertainment, we knew in advance that a special effort is needed to keep people interested in our story. The setting – right at the beach – looked promising. Yet, when the sun was going down into the Bay of Bengal, noise levels were going up. Music from nearby restaurants and the constant humming of the generator were distracting. Many people passed by in a cheerful mood. They stopped and listened for a bit, but without focusing on what was happening. So the show ended with only a hand full of people attending the last movie. No lively discussions as in the other shows.I try to see it in a different way- all the people roaming around on the beach – I’m sure some of the capturing images shown on the huge screen caught their attention.
But tomorrow is going to be a new day and we’ll be having new challenges!!! We’ll be entering the hilltracts. A whole new audience, the beautiful indigenous people. But I have to keep in mind, that there are barriers to overcome- Political, Cultural and the language.
By crossing the mighty river Padma and beautiful Jamuna we’ve finished the coastal/southern divisions Khulna and Barishal. After Barguna (our last update) we’ve travelled though Jhalkhathi, Barishal, Bhola, Madaripur and Shariatpur to reach our last ferry of this journey.
While we were travelling from Shariatpur to Chandpur, all the way including the ferry, we couldn’t have a proper lunch. Because all the restaurants all the way were selling Jatka fish (Hilsa, not fully grown). It was so sad to see everyone was caring Jatka around. And when we were asking if they know that it is illegal and unethical to catch or sale Jatka, sometime they even didn’t acknowledge that we were asking something. Felt so sad and angry inside to experience this level of ignorance and unawareness. But soon the river cooled us down with its greatness and beauty that inspired us for the next road.
Barishal was the other big city after Khulna. But the crowd was rather disappointing. May be one reason was the Ashura (A muslim event). And the Tajia procession was crossing through our venue. In the other hand the Island district Bhola was different. There were much more people than we expected and their participation was much appreciated. The audience was standing right there looking at the blank screen for minutes even after we’ve finished the show. After Bhola, Madaripur show was also nice with lots of young audience but Shariatpur was not a good show in term of making connection with the audience. Probably I was too tired by performing 12 back to back shows.
Yes, we’ve travelled through half of Bangladesh in the last 40 days and directly spoke to nearly 20 thousand people.
Starting from the north of Bangladesh on 27th October, till now we’ve done 32 districts out of 64— without any major upset. Now we’re travelling along the coast.
Almost every day we had documented interviews of common people, mostly farmers and teachers, to know more about the change as well as the evening film show and discussion.
Usually the evening session takes about hour and half. But in a number of incidents it crossed even 2 hours. People want to know. Especially, the ones who are affected by the change but could not connect their suffering to any cause.
People across the country have a built in anger about climate change. “America is responsible and they have to pay for this”, is the first reaction, in most cases without having a clue what climate change is and how will it change lives. But, almost everybody we spoke to was already aware of the change— longer and hotter summers, erratic rainfall, delayed winters.
This anger without knowing anything, isn’t it a mindset? How did they perceive this? Who did set this perception in their mind?
Because of this, people react in a violent way or comment irresponsibly when you start a discussion about it. Then again, these people do speak and think more responsibly when they get to understand a bit more about the fact.
People do want to know more about the fact; people do want to take responsibility instead of just blaming each other. They want a clue to think and discover more. And surely they feel good and inspired to be able to connect things with their everyday life.
Everywhere, people spoke about the need of this kind of campaign to go rural where the people has the right to have a better understanding on the issue, the very issue that is changing their livelihoods.
And also people do feel the importance of engaging the youth. Number of teachers from schools and colleges came to us requesting to take the show to their institutions.
The reaction from the youth was significantly different in different areas. Some where the presence of youth was phenomenal as well as their involvement in the show and the talk. But in some places the youth was ignorant and distracting.
The people who are firsthand sufferer, so far they are the best audience and more interested on knowing the fact, finding a solution to see some ray of hope. On the other hand, who are not directly affected are more into blame gaming. Probably it’s a way to avoid their responsibility to some extent. But yes, people have started questioning the credibility of NGOs and development organizations publicly.
People’s feedback about the show was very inspiring for us as it was well-lauded by the audience. Then again, we found it hard to connect the urban lower-income group with the issue. For example- our Bagerhat audience.
3000 Miles to go has, by far, devised the simplest method to the reach common people on this issue. But, still there’s need of a more simplified way.
Our ‘halfway journey’ was marked by a very vibrant show in the coastal district of Barguna. The interaction here was great and people have started to show an attitude towards acting responsibly.
Comparing to the previous show today was great. The venue was perfect; the Shahid Minar of the town and the crowd was also great. A good number of questions, comments and a bit blaming the first world.
Tanjil was seen attending queries even after the show like the previous districts. Here one interesting things was people’s attitude to innovating technology to fight the change.
Our first setback over here. But in otherhand it was an important experience that pulled us down to another level of reality. Change of venue led us to learn an important lesson today. The campaign venue had to be shifted to a sort of place which every district almost has; an adjacent open arena beside the town’s extinct rail-tracks! Well, it is indeed one of the happening places of the town as we came to know just the previous day a famous singer performed there before a bustling crowd.
But, the number of crowd was not impressive at our event; as we expected. Moreover, it’s quite common in our country to find slums of low-income group people beside rail-tracks, thus the crowd mix of today was different.
3000 Miles to go has, by far, devised the simplest method to the reach common people on this issue. But, still some level of knowledge is essential to understand the issue. And there’s no doubt that a more simplified way is much needed. A lesson indeed!
The audience here at the city’s Shahid Hadis Park was very responsive, not only that it felt they have realized how grave the matter is.
After travelling more than 25 districts, we felt that the people of rather large districts have some level of exposure to understand what climate change is and how it is changing our lives and livelihood.
Maybe, it is because the urban population is getting more globalised at this era of information technology. And they are quite aware of what’s happening around the globe.
Issues like international politics, foreign policy of the first world was tossed by the audience, although that’s not what we are here to talk about, but still it’s nice to see that people are getting more and more conscious.
After travelling more than 1000 miles in last 34 dyas we have reached the coast. Starting from the north most district of Bangladesh, Panchagarh, today was our 27th show in Shatkhira. More than 1500 people including 30-40 teachers, number of journalists from the local press club, cultural and political activists and representative from different development organizations.
After a great show in Meherpur , in last 12 days we have had our show in Chuadanga, Jhinaidah, Magura, Rajbari, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Norail and Jessore.
In Gopalganj we’ve learnt something very important. We know that one of the impact of climate change is salinity intrusion in the coastal area. So far our knowledge was- its happening in the lower part of the coastal districts like Shatkhira and Khulna. If you look at the map Gopalganj is not quite coastal area. But People from Gopalganj has clearly testifies that the salinity has already intrude in the area. In the morning we’ve got this information from 2/3 farmers and a teacher we interviewed as testimony. In the Evening, during the show I’ve asked the huge crowd about it and everyone agreed. Latter I’ve called a friend who works in the climate sector and he was clearly surprised hearing the news. So, probably things are happening faster than we thought.
Norail was special with some very enthusiastic youth who was very keen to know more about the fact and how they can act. And Jessore was lively with more than 1500 audience. From this huge audience a number of people from joined the climate conversation and spoke on different issues and aspects of climate change.
In the show, our third film and as well as the 3rd part of the talk is about the rise of sea level. Why and how the sea level rising (the 2nd film is about the glacier melting in the Himalaya region), How that is/will affect the coastal people’s life and livelihood and how difficult is to live in a situation. Here in Shatkhira I was very uncomfortable to do this part. How can I better explain them the sufferings that they are already suffering. But finally I’ve found that they are listening carefully and latter some people came to me and said that now they can connect things with their suffering.
Today in the end a team of youth eagerly showed their interest to do something. They were so keen to have some guideline, some idea.
Here is Shatkhira and also in Jessore people spoke about the social issues as well. The people who are coming to the cities have less and less work. Number of working children is increasing and also women are getting in to uncomfortable livelihood to earn basic needs.
As well as the other places the people has emphasized on the need of taking this kind of campaign to the rural areas. Till today number of people came to us and said- train us, we will take it to the people voluntarily.
It's amazing!!! when you have pin drop silence in a open ground with more than 2000 audience, standing for 2 hours. It gives an absolute unknown energy to the team to carry on. Today we had our show in Meherpur, one of the smallest districts of Bangladesh, on the east border.
This evening we had approximately 2500 audience including more than 200 students of deferent age, school and college. Also a number of cultural activists, political figures and as usual a good mumber of teachers. After the show some students came with some flower to greet us. I cloud see anxiousness and hope together in their eyes. One student took a DVD and I'm sure he will be showing it to other students like the boy from Rangpur.
At the day time one of our team members saw a farmer selling unripe paddy on the street. On the show I ask the audience if they know why the farmer is selling that paddy. We got to know that due to lake of water the crops are not growing properly for last few years.
As we have experienced before, the people in the remote districts are more asking and talking towards better understanding and towards solutions, where the big city crowd are more into the politics and international issues. Here people spoke about acting responsibly.
Here in (Chapai) Nabangnag we had our show in a huge school ground. And here we had very active teachers. So today there was more than 30 teachers. And specially one school joined us from a distant Upazila which was definitely difficult. But it was worth for both- us and them. After the show they inspired us with their thanks and good wish and we inspired them to be the first one to act.
This area is famous for Mango. The farmers was complaining about fog occurring untimely which hampering areas mango production.
Here, also in other place people shows interest for the website. I have to write www.climate4classroms.org many times after the show. And yes I like the ‘after show person to person discussion’ very much and everyday its becoming a very important part of the event.
Today we had 600+ audience including a number of teachers and students.