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Mohammed Rezwan

Bangladesh has the world’s highest rural population density. The poorest segment has little choice but to relocate to inaccessible, flood prone areas such as the Chalanbeel region of northwest Bangladesh. During the annual rainy season, the area is overwhelmed by floods forcing the closure of thousands of schools and impacting resources such as libraries, health clinics and community centers. The problem is being made worse by climate change.

Mohammed Rezwan grew up in this region and witnessed friends and relatives being denied access to education during monsoons. In 1998, with $500 of savings, he founded the non-profit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha to bring education and improved livelihoods to rural communities in northwestern Bangladesh.

In particular, Rezwan created a floating school, designed with sustainable alternative technologies, but grounded in a Bangladeshi vernacular that would integrate the project into the community. With a shoestring budget, it took Rezwan four years to build his first boat. Shidhulai now operates a fleet of 111 floating schools, libraries, health clinics and floating training centers. Each have wireless internet access, serving close to 500,000 people.

Shidhulai continues to evolve to address multiple needs of the communities. For example, Rezwan developed dedicated courses on environmental awareness that have been integrated into the traditional school curriculum, allowing students to gain a broad awareness of climate change and how to live with a changing planet. Students are given solar powered lamps and laptops to continue their studies into the evening. For parents, the floating structures provide solar recharging stations for charging mobile phones.

Rezwan has also developed other floating resources that he hopes will enable people to remain in their communities, even as climate change exacerbates the flooding over time. Health clinics provide basic health care to cutoff communities during the monsoon season and have an adaptability which would be impossible for a fixed clinic. During the most severe floods, Shidhulai’s floating “farms” allow agricultural functions such as duck coops for eggs and meat to avoid being washed away. This is especially important as many of the families are landless, so such facilities help people to both feed themselves and earn money during the rainy season when crops are otherwise under water.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha provides a flexible and thoughtful solution to the ongoing challenges exacerbated by climate change. As we contemplate a changing relationship with water all over the world, Rezwan’s vision provides a leading example.

We had an opportunity to speak with Mohammed Rezwan on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to Episode 17 | Mitigating Climate-Based Disaster Before it Strikes here.