School on Water
The remote Chalanbeel region of Bangladesh is home to some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in Bangladesh. Road access is extremely limited with boats being the only dependable means of transport, especially in the wet season where much of the area becomes flooded from monsoon rains. There are almost no telephone lines, though there are a few mobile phones in use, Although all children are meant to get free education, it is difficult to find teachers who will stay in the region as transport is limited, and schools get flooded in the monsoon.
Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha was founded by Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan in 1998 with a mission to assist the communities in Chalanbeel to develop sustainable livelihoods through access to education and training. Shidhulai has achieved this by building up a fleet of flat-bottomed boats, all made with locally available materials, that make their way through the shallow rivers and canals of the Chalanbeel to bring a range of educational services and renewable energy supplies to water-side families.
The boats use solar PV modules to generate all the electricity they need to provide a range of services including almost daily classes in primary education for children, libraries, training in sustainable agriculture, health advice, mobile phone and Internet access and battery charging facilities for solar home systems and solar lanterns. On some boats the PV supply is used mainly for lights, computers, DVD/CD players and video projector whilst on others the PV energy supply is used mainly to charge batteries for the solar home systems and solar lanterns distributed by Shidhulai.
Unsurprisingly Shidhulai’s efforts have transformed the lives of the communities it serves providing access to information which was previously unattainable. For 72 year-old Abdul Ghassem, it has provided him with an opportunity to keep learning: “I come here with my grandson. I like reading books on farming and biographies on great people. I am still learning. I have learnt about bicycle pumps, and now I want to have on of my own”