It has been two years since I began my journey with the Active Citizens programme. In this bustling and crowded city, I thought of doing something fresh and adding some green to our roof to help purify the air. That idea later became a social action project which we named 'Green on the Roof'. Our concern for the environment and sustainable development led us to this initiative. We went door-to-door to encourage people to start rooftop gardening. We showcased our project in the 'Active Citizens Regional Achievers Summit-2018' under the leadership of Jahidul Islam Nahid and won the first runner-up position for the 'Best Social Action Project' category.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to join the International Study Visit (ISV) in Indonesia organised by the British Council which aims to connect youths globally. Mehjabin Hridi, another youth leader of the PRODIGY programme was also selected from Bangladesh and we travelled together to Indonesia. This was our first overseas visit, so we were really excited.
The symposium started with an introductory session with the 32 other participants coming from 11 other countries. We familiarised ourselves with the facilitators and participants and shared our experiences. Representatives of the British Council explained to us the purpose of ISV and our activity plans for the next few days. On the following day, we were assigned to create a marketplace to let others know about our country and our Social Action Projects (SAP). All of us shared our stories, the challenges, and shortfalls we faced while implementing our SAPs. We solved puzzles brought by the Ukrainians participants, tasted food from Egypt, participated in traditional games of Morocco, treated to henna-art on our palms by Pakistani participants, witnessed cultural dresses of Philippines, got to know the diversity of Sri Lanka, amazing history of Iraq and fascinating geography of Indonesia. From Bangladesh, we brought some wristbands and key rings engraved with Bangla letters for our fellow participants. They were fascinated to know about the natural beauty of Bangladesh and appreciated our social initiatives.
The next morning, we went to visit Mr Ida Bagus Rai Mantra, Mayor of Denpasar, Bali, who is recognised as an icon because of his unique ideas like banning polythene bags in his territory. He showed us reusable bamboo straws that are fast replacing plastic straws and shared how he is working to conserve the culture of Bali amidst the flourish of tourism. The day ended with a session on designing SAPs, using local contexts and ensuring a global perspective of the initiatives that we are managing in different parts of the world.
On the third day, we were distributed into five teams and began our journey to the host community with one of our hosts Yudhi Ishwari. We stopped at Rumah Intaran for lunch. Another host Gede Krishna is an architect and the whole place was designed by him. He also trains artists to make products using local resources. We were served with a three-course meal by his wife Ayu, where each ingredient was locally sourced and traditionally cooked in a stove made of fermented clay. We were mesmerized by their art of living and leading a modern yet traditional life. In fact, they prepare their own medicines and produce alcohol to treat illness. He has also written books on the traditional style of food processing, which received international recognition. His architectural models, handmade soap collection, bee harvesting, and livestock rearing were some great learning examples for us.
By the evening, we reached the host community known as the Puri Lumbung Cottage. We passed through the lake Tamblingan and a waterfall on the way. Puri Lumbung is a traditionally built tourist destination that promotes eco-tourism. Their idea of incorporating 'Lumbung'- rice granary with a tourist cottage, increased the beauty and conserved the environment. The cottages were built on the basis of 'Tri-hita-karana' which are considered as the three causes of prosperity. The locals believe, they are blessed with the Goddess Sri who helps them with cultivation and harvest. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore had once visited the Puri Lumbung Cottage and wrote a poem on the beautiful Bali which is engraved at there with a beautiful sculpture of the poet. The cottage authority had not bought the lands of local people to build it, rather, they work together to promote each other. They share the profit from tourism, as they believe they can only grow when they work together as a community. It taught us how to utilise local resources without destroying it and attract tourists which brings economic growth for the country as well. We learned the background of the hotel and the Subak irrigation system that is used to cultivate Balinese rice. The method is completely scientific and reduces the wastage of water as multiple lands share the same water. The timing of harvesting is different for each farmer to tackle any possible disaster and famine.
The next day we went to 'Taman Sari Kopi Bubuk' where a local coffee farmer produces coffee from scratch. The farmer roasted and ground the freshly picked coffee beans in front of us with a machine that is made by his father. They are very humble and served us their Robusta coffee and no wonder it tasted and smell something out of the world.
We went to 'Koperasi Wanita' in the next day, which is a cooperative founded and run by only women. It was initiated after facing hardship to get loan and reasonable price for their coffee production, but now they have more than 200 borrowing members. We visited their coffee plantation and saw the processing method. They package and sell their Arabica coffee themselves, to get a fair price. They are a shining example of women empowerment. We also met another coffee farmer who is famous worldwide for selling the highest priced coffee ever in an auction. At his restaurant Don Biyu, we listened to his success story over coffee. He believes in a common belief in the locality, "Coffee is the key to communication." He talked about the history of the rain forest, how people were cutting down large coffee and clove trees, and planting flowers for more profit, which resulted in catastrophic landslide during heavy rainfall. Back then, the market price of coffee was low and as clove could only be harvested once a year, they preferred flower over it. The owner Putu Ardana then brought the idea of harvesting regularly instead of once a year, to collect only the ripe beans and maintain the quality of the coffee. They package two different varieties, named Blue Tamblingan and Twilight Tamblingan, based on the location of the coffee trees and the sunlight they receive. They do not grind it fully to conserve the aroma of the coffee. The quality of coffee earned high market price and received export value. Mr. Ardana believed that setting an example by showing others the way rather than telling to switch from flower plantation to coffee without any future opportunities for profit would be more effective. He proved that anyone can bring a change by making the best use of natural resources around the community.
At the evening we saw traditional Balinese dance practice by young children. Later on, we witnessed performances on the depicted mythological events of their culture. We also got to listen to their traditional music orchestra called 'Gamelon'. Then a group of children created melodious sound with the harmony of traditional musical instruments. The Balinese people are very respectful towards their culture and try their best in every way to preserve and present it. We visited the 'Garuda Wishnu Kenchana National Park' and 'Uluwatu temple' in Denpasar as well. Those are considered as the symbols of their heritage.
We presented our learnings from the host community with my team members- Sam, Ingrid, Ega, Imane, Sayed and Dr Win Win. We shared our experiences of the past few days with other teams during dinner, at Puri Santrian. On the final day of the ISV, we reflected on our key learnings from this visit and reminded ourselves the entire journey from the beginning. Later, we made a draft plan of activities to share what we perceived from the ISV, along with the local Active Citizens of our own communities. We believe our society can improve by utilising the knowledge we gained from the visit. Our social action project is about encouraging and enabling people to create their own rooftop gardens. From the experience we gained at the ISV, we gave people the idea of hanging plants above the potted plants. As the water drains from the plants above, it falls on the plants underneath. We visited the 'Brikhkho Mela-2019' and bought a few demos to show our beneficiaries. They liked the idea and are currently working to implement it.
The other plans we gathered are quite ambitious. In Indonesia, office-going people do not get enough time to water their plants and apartments do not have enough space to accommodate a large number of plants. Homes in Bangladesh also have the same problem and lost valuable plants due to it. We tried different methods earlier, like putting dropper bags to ensure a steady flow of water throughout the day, but for large gardens, it did not work. I asked our facilitators of ISV, if they have any recommendation or solution to this problem. Emma Yunita, from the British Council Indonesia, shared me the idea of Hydroponic System. It is a bit costly, but the results are satisfying. In this gardening system, holes are made in PVC pipes and plants are inserted in them where a steady flow of water is maintained using a motor. Nutrients are given once in a while to ensure healthy growth. Most of the roofs in Bangladesh have a water tank on them, so it is convenient as well. We are now looking forward to regular supplies of nutrients. An organic farmer in 'Brikhkho Mela-2019' said they have what we have been looking for and can be used for tissue cultured ex-plants to grow without soil. They are planning to commercialize the production to make it available for every gardener. We were rejoiced to have such a unique solution to this scenario, and we believe it was only possible because of our visit to the International Study Visit as it showed us the path to look around. We are grateful to the British Council for giving us the chance to explore new ways to make our social action projects better.