Any passerby walking near the Dacope Union Council office on the afternoon of 7 June would have been surprised by a loud cheer of ‘Sundarban Mayer Moton’ (Mother-like Sundarbans) in female voices. The location was hosting a ‘Baghbondhu ’ (TigerAmbassador) workshop organized by WildTeam.
It had been many months since I had an opportunity to participate in campaign activities in the field. When you plan a campaign, you keep hoping that people will be touched, that they will welcome the messages you send their way; but nothing can really equal the feeling of seeing plans and designs actually come alive in the field.
In the first phase of the campaign, all the activities focused on strengthening the relationship of communities near the Sundarbans with the forest. Through sharing messages of love, the focus was on increasing ownership of the forest among the people. There were market based audio visual campaigns, school events for children, gatherings of women in ‘Bibir mela’- vibrant events for people of all ages. The second phase urges small commitments from them based on the information and inspiration they received earlier. ‘Baghbondhu’ workshops are conducted in the four Sundarbans ranges with focused audience groups, women, political leaders, religious leaders, journalists and teachers.
I had an opportunity to visit a workshop with women in Dacope, Khulna Range. After crossing two rivers and a very jumpy bumpy ride on ‘Nosimon’ (the local vans) me, Lita and Lipi apu, along with two videographers covering the event arrived at the location on the morning of 7 June. So far no two villages near Sundarbans has ever looked the same, the landscape, the vegetation, everything has varied. This time, in Banishanta Union I saw more domestic animals (including adorable swans and lambs!), and more thriving vegetable gardens than most other villages. We were greeted by women in colourful sarees already gathering at the venue, documentaries by the magnificent David Attenborough was playing before the workshop- which everyone seemed to be enjoying.
The workshop was one of the friendliest I’ve ever attended, the participants were immediately put at ease by the ice breaking session where they were paired and asked to introduce their ‘Bandhobi’ (friend). The women were from diverse backrounds, there were college students, local NGO workers, housewives, mothers, community organization members – a balanced mix of the women in the area. In the morning there were sessions giving out basic information on the Sundarbans and tigers, explanation of the concept of ‘Baghbondhu’, the various roles women have in protecting the Sundarbans and an inspiration session where works of Nobel winning green activist Ms. Wangari Mathai and the women patrolling group in Chunati wildlife reserve was highlighted. Most of the women asked questions, expressed their opinions and the workshop went on in lively conversational manner.
After lunch, the women were divided in groups and given tasks of writing down Sundarbans economic, ecological and aesthetic importance. It was fascinating to watch the people who are closest to Sundarbans voicing their opinions on the issue. The presentation session was even more interesting. There was Honufa, a young student who gave a thorough list of Sundarbans economic importance (she even mentioned NGOs working in the area!), and great observations on the many ways Sundarbans protects the environment, even including issues like climate change! The biggest surprise came when Ms Sharmila came up to discuss Sundarbans’ aesthetic importance. She gave the whole presentation in rhymes and verses – finishing with a rousing Jari song on Sundarbans that she had composed herself. We learnt that she was one of the most popular cultural activists in the area and used her skills to promote awareness about the Sundarbans! Everyone joined in clapping their hands in time to the music and singing the chorus – it was a fantastic moment I’ll remember forever as one of the highlights of my time in WildTeam.
The day ended with taking a group photo of the women in mother-like Sundarbans Tshirts. Everyone was immediately excited about the photo and put the Tshirts over their Sarees. Everyone joined and raised their hands and screamed at the top of their lungs - ‘সুন্দরবন মায়ের মতন’ (Mother-like Sundarbans). To some, words might just be words, but when words are spoken from the heart, they become promises that have the power to change the world. Standing infront of those women, many of them mothers themselves – it seemed the words had really taken on real meaning. It gave me renewed hope for the days ahead, with mothers sheltering the forest with joined hands – surely the future could only hold beautiful things for the Sundarbans.