FINAL REFLECTIVE BLOG
Cole N., Blake School
Thanks to World Savvy and the State Department, I had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh and learn about the culture and climate challenges that characterize that region of Asia.
On the surface, that sentence may sum up the basics of my interaction with the AYLP program. But in reality, the experience I have had is so much more multi-dimensional and far-reaching than those thirty words would ever make it seem. It began far before I got on any plane, even prior to the moment I decided to apply for this exchange at all. The first thing that AYLP gave me was a friend in Leah Norman, a participant whose Knowledge to Action project involved a presentation to my youth environmental group. Without this program, specifically the K2A aspect, we would have never met—and I would have never tasted buttery parata, scaled holy Hindu mountains, looked into the eyes of a wild boar, learned to dance the Wobble, spent hours comparing American and Bangladeshi politics, or listened to the sound of the azan echo through early morning darkness on the banks of the Rupsha River. Not only these things, but I would have never explored a new part of my own city, discovered my favorite book, or found many of the musical artists that now populate my iPod; I would have never boarded a bus headed for an unprecedented protest in Washington DC, I would have never dared to make an attempt at documentary filmmaking, and most importantly, I would have never met the people I now consider to be my best friends, both across town and across the Pacific. The people who inspire me, motivate me, make me come alive. I honestly could not imagine my life without AYLP, and for that I am boundlessly grateful.
The fact that Leah’s K2A was the thing that opened up this entire world to me speaks to its import as a vital part of the AYLP experience. With this in mind, I’ve grown to look at this third and final step in the process as a major opportunity to educate, connect, and put into motion all that I’ve learned in the past 9 months with the goal of doing some small amount of good for the world. At first, I was thinking small—I would help people in my community find greener cleaning alternatives for their homes. This was something that had been done before and did not capture my imagination in the least. I thought only of practicality and ease of implementation when brainstorming on my way back from Bangladesh. But something changed when Sofia Logan, Sam Schirvar and I joined the 50,000 other citizens who congregated around the White House to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline on President’s Day last February. If there were this many people out there who cared enough about the climate to put their lives on hold and take to the streets, then there was really no limit to what I could try and accomplish with my K2A. I shifted gears and consolidated my plans with the open-ended Senior Program project my school assigns to its seniors for the three weeks leading up to graduation. And suddenly, I found myself making a documentary.
I am definitely not a professional filmmaker. But looking back on my experiences with film, documentaries have always managed to have a significant impact on me. So what better way to maximize the impact of my K2A than make a documentary of my own, focusing on a rapidly emerging environmental issue that faces my community? I wanted to make sure whatever I made was easily accessible and relatable to multiple audiences, so I chose to focus on sand mining—which, despite your political persuasion, is a contentious subject in Minnesota and our neighbors to the south and west. Sand mining is only our piece of the puzzle that is American domestic energy policy, a landscape that is quite literally being changed by the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing operations drilling for oil and natural gas. As of right now, I’m in the thick of this project, having just completed the bulk of my filming and now beginning to engage in the video editing and publicity process that will lead up to the screening event I am hosting on Thursday May 30th. I’ve travelled through western Wisconsin interviewing families about their views on the sand mining happening in their backyards; learned about the geological background of this issue from a representative of the Minnesota DNR who specializes in sand and aggregate mine management; attended a tense press conference summing up the economic impact of sand mining on rural communities in Auburn, Wisconsin; and have conducted two out of five student interviews that will add a distinctly youth-oriented perspective to the whole project. The interest and enthusiasm I have received in response has been greatly encouraging, making me confident that this will be worth it if I work hard over the next two weeks.
Many people have asked what this has to do with Bangladesh. I agree that the connection may not be obvious, but it is definitely substantial. Sand mining, besides its initial environmental impact, enables the domestic oil and natural gas industry to continue growing, which in turn supplies us with more and more readily available fossil fuels to burn at our convenience. As long as this supply avoids disruption, a swelling global population will find new ways to use it, and the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will only accumulate further. This of course is the primary driving force behind violent climate change that disproportionately affects geographically vulnerable nations like Bangladesh, which often lack the resources needed for protection. By finding my own frontline, I am standing in solidarity with Bangladesh, and everyone else around the world who is working tirelessly to bring about the change we need. We all have a frontline, and while some may not be as sexy as others, we must commit ourselves to them in order to be as effective as an individual can be. I might not be able to do much in terms of alleviating poverty in Rayer Bazar, but I can do lot when it comes to educating fellow students about sand mining. There’s actually a chance that this documentary could play a role in shaping the conversation happening around sand mining in Minnesota.
AYLP gave me the courage to do this. AYLP gave me the relationships necessary to make it happen. And AYLP will continue to inform and motivate my action as I go forward. THANK YOU AYLP
There was a point after I got back from Bangladesh when I got tired of responding to, “so how was your trip?” No one really cared, they were just being polite. At first this didn’t faze me – I flooded everyone who asked with my thirty seconds on everything I did and why it was important. Eventually it dimmed down to, “oh, it was really eye opening.” The thrill of being gone had passed, and no one seemed interested. In a way, I felt like I had no power to do anything with what I learned, and I began slipping into old habits because everything seemed unchanged. It wasn’t until I was looking back at photographs that I remembered everything I had felt.
For my photography class I had to submit photos I had taken in Bangladesh as part of an assignment, and combing through the 5,000 pictures I took while in Bangladesh was emotionally exhausting. Seeing them again made me remember why I was excited to come back home, why the experience I had was valuable; the people and things I saw were real, not just a recount of events I had rehearsed or vague memories of something passed. Unfortunately, just like the way people can distance themselves from stories, it’s easy to become detached from images. The people and places in my pictures are real though, and it’s my responsibility to share the things I’ve experienced as both an artist and a contributing human being.
We are taught our actions impact others, but we hardly ever think about people we cannot immediately relate to, and we tend to make a “special” category in the back of our minds for people we just pity. During my experience in Bangladesh, I learned that our actions impact more people than we can imagine, and that pity is not an effective way of helping people. It’s not enough to just “feel bad.” Meeting people affected by climate change and participating in the workshops provided made me realize I have the ability to change things around me, and I have the responsibility to speak out on things that affect me. ABYLP taught me no one is powerless, but we all need support. Throwing money at a problem, or ignoring it, are not options that “solve” a problem, but working with disadvantaged people to create a sustainable plan is a solution.
This is a global world; we impact people we’ll never know, and vise versa. The issues that affect us may be the same issues other people are fighting against, and as technology continues to improve our role as a global citizen becomes more important. We can no longer turn a blind eye to other people’s struggles because the information is posted everywhere around us. This also makes it possible to reach outside of our comfort zone to make connections and find inspiration. Before traveling to Bangladesh with AYLP I was positive I wanted to go to college for just pre-med, but now I’m more interested being an econ major with a global health focus. I’m still interested in some sort of a career in health, but I’m more passionate about how the world connects and what I can do to be a part of that. The images I took in Bangladesh and the experiences I connect with them are eye opening. They are proof that the experiences I had and the people I met were real, and that what I experienced is not lost or insignificant. I have the tools and the ability to impact people, and I want to make a difference for the better.
Six million people live in the slums of Rayer Bazar, of which hundreds or thousands share two squat toilets. Their dwellings stand 15 by 15 feet with corrugated tin sheets for walls and roof, and beds are raised due to yearly knee-high flooding. Many of them are forced to the slums as climate refugees, as floods ravaged their homes in their coastal villages. After sleeping on the floor of the Jaago school for 4 nights, I come back to my lower middle class home in Santa Clara, California and lay down on my soft, warm bed and wonder why I can live in this luxury, while the world struggles to live on a few dollars a day. I somehow thought that I appreciated my life before Bangladesh, but my appreciation has become all the more sincere. I find that, where I live, poverty is so shrouded and veiled from our daily lives that we don’t fully understand the human experience. Looking out from the rooftop of my home in Bangladesh, poverty is so open and visible, with the same tin houses I found in Rayer Bazar occupying a plot of land across the dirt road. Going forward, this experience of poverty first hand has really inspired me to apply myself in areas of human struggle and poverty in the United States, which exists behind dark curtains.
However, we also need to delve into the root causes of poverty among the people of Rayer Bazar. Although flooding is a common event in the coast, the floods have intensified with sea level rise while other climate factors leave the people more vulnerable. I ask myself constantly, why are the people of third world countries suffering from our own decisions? I drive my car to school every day, there are lights turned on in rooms in my house that no one occupies, we crank up our heater in weather we could very well bear. If I epitomize a regular student at my school, multiply my carbon footprint by 2,000 then realize how one person as a collective body contribute to disasters on a worldly scale. I don’t want to sit around anymore, I’m committed to take action so that not another person is forced to live in Rayer Bazar.
Bangladesh was the most unique and special experience I could have ever asked for. Not only did I explore an amazing culture but I also came back to America as a whole different person. This trip has changed my point of view and I am now ready to make some changes based on what I learned in Bangladesh. I became familiar with the word solidarity, which I learned about on my service project (the chars).
This trip has also changed the way I think. For example, while developing relationships and asking questions to the people who suffer from floods (which cause difficulties when planting crops) made me think of how difficult it must be to live there. These people are suffering because of climate change. I witnessed it in the chars and saw that these people are really affected. As I traveled there and experienced a little bit of their lives I realized that it is time for me to take action here in America.
While I was in the chars I also learned that these people appreciate what they have and are happy with their lives. I realized that food and shelter were very important for them, which made me realize that I have to appreciate some things that I didn’t appreciate before. But this experience of actually seeing it with my own eyes made me become a better person. I believe that as a part of this program I learned to face the reality. People on this earth are suffering from climate change and I feel now after this trip that it is apart of my responsibility to take some action and try to change the way people think here in America.
This exchange changed my world. It was an experience I will always remember, and one that I will be able to draw from and connect to my life back home. It has been an amazing opportunity to explore another culture I may never have explored otherwise, and it has allowed me to meet new people from different cities, backgrounds and cultures I would have never met otherwise. And best of all, it has officially given me the travel bug. I had an amazing time in Bangladesh, and I expanded my horizons so much. Being in a foreign country is sometimes hard, because you are displaced from everything you know and are familiar with. But it was great to be able to get away from my culture and learn about another one. I was able to experience and enjoy the differences, such as traffic and food, while finding a new appreciation for things I missed from home. I have learned a lot about climate change, how our cultures shape us, and even a little bit of Bengali. I have also learned what it means to help people, and how much of an impact a small group of people can make. Being able to learn about and meet people such as Korvi Rakshand of Jaago, and Mohammed Yunus of Grameen was so inspiring, because they believed in the young people: our future generation. They believed that we could change the world, and after this trip, I am going to have to agree with them. I have learned to look at problems from many different points of view, and I will continue to keep these lessons in mind moving forward. I will continue to travel and learn, and I will continue to bring all that I learned back home.
I’ve traveled elsewhere but my trips lacked the opportunity to interact with the people of a culture. I looked out the window in Argentina or in Poland and took it in like one would hastily read through an eighteenth century poem. I was thrilled by its solely enigmatic unfamiliarity; this trip taught me to observe, to interpret, and to discuss what I saw out the window.
Going into this exchange, I thought my primary challenge would be maintaining graciousness and a sunny disposition and no doubt there were moments where that I struggled, but I felt the most struggle internally. During those multiple hour traffic jams home, the race against the imminent hartal, or those mornings where I would arrive to a workshop thirty minutes late, I experienced a new personal challenge: the act of letting go in moments that are beyond my control.
As an avid marching band participant, I knew that a group can create a cohesiveness that is fascinating even beautiful to an audience. I’ve been lectured about the immense power of the collective, but this was the first time I could stand back and watch. I could observe the reflective and articulate minds of my fellow cohorts and marvel at the brilliance created when their minds were culminated. I felt the sheer power of the group and the potency it possessed in combating the issues of climate change and beyond.
This exchange illuminated the whole of my imprint, positive and negative, on my immediate and broad environment. I’m much more cognizant of my impact, and that has definitely bitten me in this month of being home, but I’m determined to make use of this jolt of awareness. I learned that my Achilles’ heel in solving a problem is producing the initial idea. My mind seizes the chance to weigh the pros and cons and the logistics of a solution; it struggles to be the visionary. Once I get that thread of an idea however, I make it happen. Discerning this exchange’s impact on me is still a work-in-progress, but this elongated digestion of what I’ve experienced is definitely an indication to me that Bangladesh, the nation irrefutably dear to me, altered my course forward.
This educational adventure has meant a lot to me. This adventure made me aware of the issues going on not only in our neighborhood, but also on the other side of the world. Going on this journey, I was able to learn a few lessons. One of the lessons that I learned was that I don’t have to do something big in order to make a change. Even the smallest changes that you make have a huge impact. Another lesson that I learned was that when traveling, it’s a good idea to have an open mind. Things will be different in another country, and you have to be cautious to make sure what you’re saying isn’t hurting anyone. You also have to remember that things you do might be things that others consider strange.
I think that I have grown a lot because of this trip. I have become a lot more environmentally cautious with things going on that I wouldn’t really notice before. In the beginning of the trip, I did have to challenge myself to be social. I didn’t know anyone that was going on this trip, being that I was the only one from my school chosen. I did have to make myself be more social and open to new people. I feel like my behavior will change quite a bit moving forward. Like I said before, I have become a lot more environmentally cautious, so this will make me a lot more environmentally friendly. Becoming more environmentally friendly will make me want to make others environmentally friendly also. I have also changed because I feel like I’m able to step up a lot more than I did before, because of the opportunities that I decided to step up in during my journey.
When listing the things that this trip meant to me I went down and started listing all the things that I thought were meaningful: the trip itself, studying climate change, etc. There is a much deeper meaning that this trip has had on my life, and at this point in time, a month has passed since I have come to appreciate the trip as a whole so much more rather than when it finished. The time since the trip has been long enough to let me take a step back and become both introspective and retrospective to dig deep into myself and truly understand what this all really means.
Coming onto this trip, I was prepared to be involved in large group activities and have a very interpersonal aura. More opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with people arose that made my trip worthwhile. This ranged from the US and Bangladeshi participants on the trip to the people whom I interviewed in the slums to the security guard I met on the last day. Everyone has a story, and it is these stories that create the world. By engaging with people on a one-on-one basis it has allowed me to see an even larger sliver of the created world around us all. The best way I learned to get to know someone is by listening to their story; you get to know a thing or two.
Being in Bangladesh, I saw a very different environment/culture/aura than the US’s, which alone was a challenge. The change of everything was a complete 180 that pushed me to become more adaptable to situations. It is a life skill in which I am always willing to keep building.
Overall, there is much learned from the trip that has already affected thus far. There has been a lot of patience that built up from those two hour long horn-honking-filled traffic car rides that has taught me great patience in such chaotic-like situations. I came back home with even a bigger drive and passion to put in more effort into hearing people’s story and to have a better sense of solidarity and understanding amongst all.
Julia, Melanie and others blogged for the nonprofit organization Reach the World during and after our adventure to Bangladesh. Check out our blog there. Right now it’s featured on the front page of the Reach the World home page! Nice work ABYLEPers!