After a year of Skype meetings, emails and text messages, we (Laura and Frodo) finally visited Bangladesh last week. Akvo is closely involved with the Sujol social enterprise – ‘Sujol’ means good water in Bengali.

On the morning of Monday 14 May, we arrived in Dhaka and were picked up from the airport by Md Irfan from Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM). Although it was only 8km from the airport to the DAM office, it took us almost two hours to get there, since the traffic in Dhaka is crazy! However, finally we reached the office and we had a warm welcome.

Our Sujol members (Dhaka Ashania Mission, Micro Water Facility and ProPortion) already visited the project in Satkhira and officially opened the first water purification plant of the Sujol project. This plant produces 220 litres of water each hour. The water quality is within Bangladeshi standards. The plant reduces salinity by up to 97 per cent and Arsenic from 370 ppm (dangerous) to 30 ppm (safe). Sujol water tastes nearly as good as mineral water and beats the taste of water treated by comparable alternatives easily.

Collecting Sujol water. Kalaroa, Bangladesh. May 12, 2012.

Akvo’s activities were focused on workshops in Dhaka related to project updates via photo, video and text. So what makes a good photo, interesting interview and important elements of a text message? As usual we start with a short presentation, and directly afterwards we launch into the first interviews. This is really fun, and impressive to directly see it happen – in action!

People in the water and sanitation (“WASH”) sector are so passionate about the theme, and mostly dive straight into the content – although in each person there is a flavour of a real reporter and a passion to share her/his work. The great thing is you really see the difference after the second or third interview.

Amongst some interesting meetings we were fortunate to meet the president of DAM. Mr. Kazi Rafiqul Alam is a very strategic and charismatic visionary and provided us with his full support and inspiration on new directions related to energy and food.

The flexibility of the team has been enormous. Besides the continuous power-cuts (imagine someone constantly switching on and off your computer) and heat; the anti-climax hit on Wednesday afternoon. Following the jailing of key opposition leaders, there was a huge national strike. It was decided to postpone the scheduled stakeholder meeting on Thursday. Everybody worked so hard to make this a successful event. Important guests would have been present, the keynote speech was ready, workshops about community involvement, entrepreneurship/finance and technology were fully prepared.

As a group we decided, despite the national strike, to meet at DAM’s office to make sure all tools would be available for a new date. It was a strange feeling to go to the office while the streets were completely empty – our most smooth Rickshaw ride ever in the Capital City of Traffic Jams.

You can see detailed information about the project and all the latest updates at www.sujol.com.

Rikshaws in the streets of Dhaka. Bangladesh, 15 May 2012. (Frodo van Oostveen)

Dutch WASH Alliance training on Akvo RSR

The second aim of our visit to Bangladesh was to introduce Akvo Really Simple Reporting (Akvo RSR) to the local partners of the Bangladesh WASH Alliance. On Saturday the 19th of May we were lucky that participants of nine different Bangladesh WASH Alliance partners would spend their free day at a workshop. Alok Majumder, the country coordinator, was so friendly to pick us up from our hotel and brought us to ASA tower, where most participants were already waiting for us. ASA tower is located in the north-west of Dhaka, where various NGOs and the university have their office. One of the field partners, Hope for the Poorest also has their office in this building. Miss Fauzia Alam organised all the facilities we needed for a successful workshop, like a comfortable air-conditioned room with WiFi, a beamer for our presentations and a very tasteful lunch (the food in Bangladesh is absolutely one of our favorites!).

Frodo started with an introduction of the work we are doing at Akvo, since most participants had never heard about our organisation and were not aware yet that they could find their projects online. After that, Laura explained Akvo RSR to them and we practiced doing video interviews, uploaded them on YouTube and subsequently taught them how to use them for an update on their project on the Akvo RSR platform. Here you can find a playlist of some of the videos that were made by the participants during the workshop.

Practicing video interviews

It was absolutely fantastic to spend a week in Bangladesh, working on Sujol and the Bangladesh WASH Alliance.  We found out that the people in Bangladesh are very curious, hospitable and helpful towards foreigners. We also noticed that people work as a team. If a colleague did not understand something or if anybody needed help, there were always colleagues ready to assist this person. Both of us enjoyed our stay and we are already looking forward to reunite with these wonderful people.

Laura’s put some pictures online at Picasa and Frodo at Flickr, both from the Sujol project and Bangaldesh WASH Alliance.

Frodo van Oostveen and Laura Roverts work on the partnership team at Akvo, based in Amsterdam.