The radio is on full blast as we drive down the winding roads of north-eastern Bangladesh. News, music, discussions. As we come closer to Moulvibazar city, the young people we are travelling with turn up the volume even more. The dialect changes. Everything is suddenly in their local tongue - Sylheti.
Standing on a distant piece of land in the middle of the haor (wetlands) of Sunamganj in northwestern Bangladesh, a sea surrounds the school. The water stretches as far as the eyes can see, with a few patches of croplands peeking through the horizon. It is the only school in an area of eight square kilometers.
This little indoor playground looks like utter colourful chaos. Blank pages smeared with rainbows and imperceptible shapes. The air resounds of age-old songs and simple poetry. There is a grown-up here, but she too is immersed in the madness. But there is a method to this madness.
Chinta Didi just got a new, two-storied house. It costs less than USD 1,500 - and her neighbours built it for her. She has been partially blind since birth, and relies on the little income that her husband earns from working at a welding shop.
Jhuma’s home, a small mud house, stands alone on a little raised piece of land in the middle of a vast inland sea. She lives in the haor, a seemingly endless stretch of wetlands in Sunamganj in northern Bangladesh. Everything around her is covered by water. She cannot see land, as far as she looks, for more than half of the year. More children drop out from schools in these areas than anywhere else in the country. 20 million people live in the haor region that spreads across seven districts. Less than 1% finish high school.
From the congested, waterlogged streets of Dhaka to flooded farmlands across the country, Bangladesh has enough problems right here. What is the point in looking to the sky when all it brings is rain? Why on earth are we trying to get to space?
It is a weekday afternoon in Moulvibazar, Rangpur, and the melody of children chanting times tables is wafting through the trees. School is over, but students are gathered under shady trees in the village courtyards for another round of lessons.
But as soon as night falls, she replaces her sari with a colourful salwar kameez and swaps the bucket on her arm for a row of shiny bangles, ready to take the stage. Alpina acts in a popular theatre group that regularly travels across the northern villages of Bangladesh.
Peeking from behind the tin door is Ibrahim’s two-year-old daughter, Amena, in a blue polka dot dress, and a kitten in her arms. Another kitten appears and darts across the courtyard. Ducklings scatter about in panic.
It is difficult to monetise how livestock impacts a household's income, but it certainly increases resilience in vulnerable households. Growing rice or vegetables, especially in time of unpredictable weather and natural disasters, is often a risky venture. However, livestock is easier to take care of. For example, sheep and goats are adaptable assets that are not vulnerable to seasonal changes.