"Why should we speak?" - update from Bangladesh
So we find ourselves in the last leg of the campaign… As you guys get into election frenzy, we are too. Only our election is this friday and all you need is a mobile phone!
We have presented this campaign to such a wide range of people here in Bangladesh, Students, Professors, Slums dwellers, Climate migrants, politicians, Economists, Scientists, something its amazing, others are suspicious but for most the campaign strikes a cord.
It’s funny if, I have had any criticism for this campaign, its been from foreigners or overseas NGO workers. Many have told me it is naive to take the campaign to places like Kutubdia and the Slums, assuming that people there will a) want to participate or b) even know or care about UK government – let alone know where the UK is.
But we have been surprised, at least the people I have conversed with are not ignorant of things that go beyond their everyday existence. In the Slums for instance people knew about the Iraq war and Blair and knew that millions had marched through the streets against it, and yet Blair had invaded Iraq.
It is events like this, that stick in peoples minds and upon which opinions are formed. It is therefore ironic that we are suggesting they vote for the next PM to make or unmake some of these global decisions.
Never before have I been so aware of the butterfly effect. It really is true that decisions taken in the UK and USA have repercussions all over the world.
Though I found them really interesting, the experience in the Slums has been the hardest. We had a good crowd at the workshops and I believe people understood the idea of the campaign They were really really angry. It was not like in the Slums in the south where there was a sense that people were grateful to have the chance to raise their voices, here the tone was completely different.
Many, especially the women looked like they might spit in my face. When asked whether they had any questions to pose to the UK government here were some of their responses.
Name: Parul (f), Age:40, Climate migrant
"I have been evicted many times over 40years. The UK lies. The UK lives in luxury. Look at you in your nice clothes. We are poor. We do not want to speak to the UK. We hate the UK. We need clothes, shelter, food. Why should we speak? Help us with these things, otherwise we will not speak again. No conversation"
Name: Saliha (f), Age 50+
"I do not want to speak to the UK. They all are talk. They talk and they do nothing for us. Many show commitment, but nothing has changed for us. Are you going to give us permanent shelter and jobs? We live in temporary conditions"
Name: Jalal, Age: 70
"I appeal for permanent settlement. The UK must control its carbon emissions. The UK people must sacrifice something. We have nothing. They have the power to preserve the earth, for a better life. Developed countries must control their luxury, it will help us keep are lives. Are the UK going to do this ?"
Name; Abdul Manan Shapooz, Age: 37
"The UK and the USA must be accountable as Developed countries to helping those that are suffering. You mention democracy? They should show real Democracy first, before trying to take it to other countries.. Stop this war in the name of Democracy. The UK has to stop collaborating with the USA. They must compensate what they are doing with helping us with technical knowledge. Each family that is made victim of Climate Change should be given a VISA to the USA or UK, so they have a chance of survival. Will you do this?"
The discussions here were raw and honest. They wanted to know whether we would be back with answers. It was a big wake up call for me to the reality of a situation. I did not take it personally, but my beige skin and my white trousers were enough to evoke a response that goes back for generations.
I am interested to know from those who read this blog and people who have been following the campaign whether collecting testimonies/voices/ peoples is of any interest and if so in what form…?
We have a done a fair bit of press interviews here. Here is Lisa doing an interview for Radio 4′s The World Tonight. It is great to engage the media in this and help even further to take peoples voices from Bangladesh to the UK citizens and the UK politicians.
But sometimes I wonder if these messages have been heard/seen/read too many times.
I later learnt that Slums in Dhaka are some of the most visited and monitored, by development and NGO workers in Bangladesh – no wonder they were suspicious of us. We are going back there tomorrow with the proposed polices the UK political parties have for Development and for Climate Change.
The students have really taken this campaign and run with it, making posters and handing out flyers with the difference in the three major parties and how to vote.
Last night we had an amazing Give Your Vote event at Dhaka University campus where we had an outdoor screening of the UK leaders Debate on foreign Policy. It was a really exciting event, and we showed clips of UK participants explaining why they wanted to give away their votes and we had this amazing professor of Peace and Conflict giving this speech about world equality. It felt really surreal as the air was thick with humidity to see hundreds of people looking up to David Cameron’s waxy face hung between Mango trees explaining his proposed policy on tightening UK borders.!
(photos of this are to follow)
Many of these students would like the chance to study in the UK. Many of their questions are about students visas. It seems that often after years of applying they are given places and when they arrive in the UK there are no places for them and it was all fiddled by corrupt Visa officials.
A large amount of the Students I have conversed with would rather the UK concentrated on reducing its carbon emissions and setting a leading example in Renewable energy to the world, than giving them hand outs in aid. The main reason for this popular belief is : Corruption. At every level a little is swiped off.
Corruption is the big white elephant in the room when you play the game of ‘saving the world from injustice’ – its gets increasingly hard to see round the white elephants big fat arse!
The UK is the biggest donor of aid to Bangladesh, and yet rather than giving it straight to the country the UK gives it to the IMF. Which takes a 12% cut. Then after much anticipation in how the money for Climate Change focused development is spent it is decided that cleaning and polishing up the streets of Gulshan and Banani (the two richest areas of Dhaka). This is like saying that instead of making the whole of London sustainable on Wind Energy it is going to spend the same amount making Kensington and Chelsea not only litter free but also paved in gold.!
Many of the NGO workers and academics I have met out here have really differing stories about Climate Change effects in Bangladesh. Firstly they all have different facts. Some say it is 3000 people a day coming into the city because of Climate related migrants, others say 1000 and then others say 10’000. I am finding this at times slightly frustrating.
People have migrated for centuries, and its important to keep this in mind when we think of why people are moving places -
CC is not a single issue. We can not use it to mask all the other problems that exist in this world already. Like, water scarcity, diarrhea, cholera, disease, natural disasters, malnutrition, migration, poverty, war..
At Global summits we talk about what we are going to do with all the Climate mirgrants. But what are we going deal humanly right now with the Iraqi’s, the Sudanese, the Congalese, the Afghani’s that are knocking on our doors asking for amnesty.
Luckily for most we have no sense of this ‘knocking’ because our government cleverly contains these people like animals in depots like large aircraft shelters and every single day in coaches with blacked out windows hundreds and hundreds of these illegal people are deported in airplanes destined for the countries they have so just escaped form.
I worry that we sometimes see Climate Change like a fruit basket and we stop looking at what fruit is actually in the basket. CC is the like the wind to a fire. We have the fire already and it is paramount we find a wind block.
My job has been to collect messages from people here, for the UK and also to engage people in the idea of a democracy that goes beyond boarders and encourage them to take part in Give Your Vote and take a vote donated by a UK citizen to have a voice in political process they are usually ignored in.
Give Your Vote has excited people here because they feel they can express these truths and with the help of supporters in the UK bring awareness to some of these issues.
Who knows what this campaign will be bring. It has most certainly caused a stir here and created a new sense of hope and a certain amount of excitement, and many of us a talking about the next step.. what ever that will be.. the American elections, Global Referendums, Global Democracy…
I really really do not have answers. My head feels like it is about to explode everyday with juxtaposition of all the ways we can experiance a ‘life’ on this earth.
On the Saturday of the Volcano, my family were having a big family Ceilidh in Edinburgh. I was really surprised to hear however that half the people did not turn up from london because they had all been booked on flights…..
It seems the short drive did not seem an option, and a rare family gathering not worth the effort. I wander if we have forgotten somewhere our priorities, when it comes to this fast way of life.
All i know is that having a great deal more respect and understanding of the powers of this earth would not go a miss, because I have a feeling that over the next few years it is going to remind us of this power.
None of this would be possible with out an amazing activist and friend Feroz Bhai – he is a youth leader and a great supporter of Give Your Vote, working with him has been an honour!