So I’m jumping on the blog-bandwagon. I figured that for the next year while I’m out of the country in Bangladesh, instead of bothering people with a flood of impersonal mass emails, I would post it all in a one of these hip and trendy blog thingies, so that those interested could read about my life as they pleased. I have an affinity towards digression and half of what I write will probably be more like journal entries for myself to reread one day than anything else... but enjoy...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Allah hafez

"Allah hafez" and "khoda hafez" are common Muslim expressions of farewell in Bangladesh... thus I say farewell to a wondeful year in a wonderful country with wonderful people... Below is the what I said at my last day of work at the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in Bangladesh:

CHARM is an appropriate word for not only the work I have been involved with but also for my overall impression of this country.

The word "charm" refers to being enchanted, captivated, beguiled, mesmerized, enthralled, and enraptured… this is what Bangladesh has done to me… and it is through the lens of CEGIS that I have been able to explore my personal and professional interests and become more inspired to pursue this field of work. And for that I thank you all…

Mr. Federick Buechner, an American writer, once wrote "Vocation is where the deepest longings of the human heart meet the world's greatest needs." On a personal level, I hold a deep reverence for the environment, for the fine balance between humankind and the natural world, and for the infinite beauty in the chaotic self-organizing fractal structure of all nature around us. I also have a love of seeing the world and of breaking stereotypes by interacting with people of different cultures. On a humanitarian level, I believe in the underlying philosophy of sustainable development as a tool to alleviate the plight of the world's poor and contribute to lessening the economic and social discrepancies between the global north and south… This Fulbright experience helped to tie the bonds that unite my deepest passions and has helped me get a little closer to finding my vocation.

The objective of my one-year stay in Bangladesh on a Fulbright Scholarship was to gain an appreciation for the complexes of environmental, natural resource, and water resource management in an international development setting, and determine how the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) can aid in the planning process.

My time in Bangladesh has been split between learning about natural resources management from an academic perspective and through hands-on work/research experience. Last semester I audited two classes at the Institute for Water and Flood Management (IWFM) at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), including RS/GIS in Water Management" and "Integrated Water Resource Management." They were very beneficial classes and the professors were very supportive. This semester I audited "Hydrological Information Systems." It is quite rare to find opportunities to directly apply academic work to the real world, however these classes very much complimented my on-going work. It was also very enlightening to be exposed to Bangladesh academia as a whole, not to mention the wonderful, open, and engaging students and faculty that I had the good fortune of interacting with. I was even asked to teach a class on technical writing, which was a very good learning experience for me.

Here at CEGIS I have served as a research assistant. This organization matches well with my interests and experience. It seems to me that more developing countries need CEGIS-type institutions… in-country organizations that can perform the technical analysis needed for development planning that often the overpaid foreign consultants do instead. It has been a privilege to be part of the cutting-edge GIS/RS/IT organization in Bangladesh, which manages to link environmental and water resource management with economic development and poverty alleviation. For this forward thinking organization, the notion of taking an integrated approach to the so-called "triple-bottom line" which accounts not only for the "economic bottom line" but also the "environmental and social bottom lines," seem well accepted. This is most encouraging.

I got involved with the endearingly titled CHARM project, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Improved Natural Resources Management Project. I had an opportunity to help prepare and participate in the inception workshop; collate and analyze the outputs of the workshop to help develop the proceedings. I helped determine what the data gaps there are at CEGIS and from what organizations we need collect new data from, in order to develop an integrated geospatial information system. I helped think through the development of a decision support system for the CHARM project, thinking about which users will want to ask the system which type of questions and what forms of dissemination are possible. I aided in the development of a questionnaire for natural resources institutions, so that we can better determine what data different users may want, to help empower them in their own natural resources management. I was also involved and hope to continue to be involved in the development of the State of the Environment report, which describes the current state of the CHT climate, topography, water resources, agriculture, forests, and biodiversity. I even had a chance to develop a new proposal for an EU open call for propsals on agricultural management in cox's bazaar, who's results are still pending. Overall, I had a chance to improve my GIS skills, data analysis using excel and access, and technical writing skills.

After being in Bangladesh for a little while I began to appreciate more than ever, the importance of access to information. I took it for granted that when studying and working in the United States for an environmental consulting firm in Washington DC for the last 2 years, access to endless government databases is absolutely free. However, here, it seems there are always hurdles and stumbling blocks to acquire the data one needs to perform analysis. Often the public is not allowed access to government information, they do not know about them, or they are required to pay a fee. I was a little saddened when working on a project at BUET, I realized the students don't have access to data they need to do their work. Often they just have to make up the data. Working here at CEGIS I could help the students understand what data is available and how to go about acquiring it. But the hurdles always seem painful, and I realized more the ever the need for CEGIS to lead to way in more transparency and sharing of information between organizations working for similar causes.

While in some ways I have become even more confused as where I should place my priorities and career aspirations and how I should best apply what I have learned and want to learn and what I am good at and enjoy, to most benefit what is needed, I have at least confirmed my convictions in working in this field of environmental management in an international setting.

To me the land and environment of this country seem a mirror to its people… while on the one hand the disastrous national calamities that cause devastation to permeate deep into many people's lives seems to be reflective of the corruption and greed of an elite few whose poor decisions permeate negatively deep in to every aspect of society; on the other hand, it is the utter beauty and serenity of the land that is reflected in the people's enthusiasm to share, the willingness to open their homes, open their hearts, open their minds… the seeming eagerness to smile… the genuine kindness and curiosity… the boundless generosity… these are what I will take back and share with friends and family… this is the Bangladesh I will share with the western world…. This is why I can say with all my heart… ami Bangladesh… bhalobashi… onek dhonobad.

I need to thank lots of people that have made this experience so worthwhile… thank you to the whole fifth floor gang for being to open and accepting and making coming to work everyday something I looked forward to… and in particular I need to thank Mr. Malik Fida Khan, who first of all helped me come Bangladesh, and for whom it has been an honor and prividge to work under. He has become like a father figure and words cannot express my gratitude… thank you to all of you for helping me to become "charmed" by Bangladesh… onek dhonobad…thank you very much...

Suset over Banani Lake

The "Fire Buckets" at the gas station

Truck of bananas

Micah and I

One last view of Banani slum and Banani high rises in the background


Anonymous Rezwan Badhan said...

It was really awsome to read about the experience you had in Bangladesh. Those who by any chance go to bangladesh for some reason, they come back with bad impressions due to the poverty, corruption and other things. But, i am really amazed that you got the chance to see the people and the country from an inner view.
The article and the pictures made me miss my country too much! the banani area specially! : (

1/30/2009 2:18 AM


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