Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha is a Bangladeshi NGO founded by Mohammed Rezwan in 1998, with the mission to bring education and improved livelihoods to rural communities in northwestern Bangladesh. Most of northwestern Bangladesh is a delta, and as climate change advances, rural communities are increasingly threatened by rising waters. During monsoon season, whole communities are cut off. Critically, this also means that children can’t go to school, thus stunting their opportunities for a lifetime. The problem is global; it is estimated that 1.2 billion people worldwide are currently threatened by the seasonal effects of advanced climate change.
To address this problem, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha took their design to the water. Rezwan was inspired to create a floating school, designed with sustainable alternative technologies, but grounded in a Bangladeshi vernacular tradition that would make the floating schools seem part of the community. With a shoestring budget, it took Rezwan four years to build his first boat. Shidhulai now operates a fleet of 54 floating schools, libraries, health clinics and floating training centers. Each with wireless internet access, serving close to 500,000 people.
Shidhulai has continued to evolve to address multiple needs of the communities in which they float. Rezwan has developed dedicated courses on environmental awareness, which have been integrated into a more traditional school curriculum, so that students take away from their education a broad awareness of climate change and how to live with a changing planet.
Students are given solar powered lamps so that they can continue their studies into the evening. For the parents, the floating structures provide solar recharging stations for charging mobile phones.
Rezwan’s most recent expansion has been to develop floating health clinics and floating agriculture. Health clinics provide basic health care to cutoff communities during the monsoon season and have an adaptability which would be impossible for a fixed clinic. During the most severe floods, Shidhulai’s floating agricultural projects allow certain agricultural functions (like duck coops for eggs and meat) to avoid being washed away.
Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha provides a flexible and thoughtful solution to the ongoing challenges exacerbated by climate change. As we contemplate a changing relationship with the water all over the world, Rezwan’s vision provides a leading example.