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“Sea to Source: Ganges” Dispatch: Reflections from Our Bangladeshi Team

Land, water, people, plastic. This is the story of National Geographic Society's female-led expedition team as they track & characterize plastics in the Ganges River using land-debris trackers, community surveys & water-air-sediment sampling. Written by Lillygol Sedaghat and edited by Cory Howell.

The last night we were on the boat, our team held its final site meeting. Half of us would continue on to India, but for most of our Bangladeshi colleagues, this was the end. We sat in a circle on the deck, night falling swiftly as each Bangladeshi teammate shared her thoughts about the expedition experience. 

GAWSIA
Position: Bangladesh Expedition Team Lead | Professor Zoology, University of Dhaka 

Quote: “To me, impossible is always I’m possible.”

About the Team: “My Indian friends prove that India and Bangladesh are together, that India and Bangladesh can stand together and make a difference together for the world.”

About the Expedition: “It was very hard for me to get permission from the university to get 49 days leave to do the expedition, but at the very beginning I knew I had to fight my own fight.”

About Working as a Woman in Bangladesh: “In Bangladesh, it is not common for girls to spend a long time in the field. We have families, social structures that don’t support us, so we have barriers, but I believe that if someone wants to make a difference, it is possible.”

What She Wants You to Know about Bangladesh: “Our Bangladeshi women are change-makers. After the liberation, most of our leaders were women. And we have crossed lots of barriers. Women are more hardworking than the men.”

MEHERUN
Position: Program Officer, WildTeam

Quote: “I want to make people aware that plastic is a problem. If we don’t know about this problem, how can we search for a solution?” 

About the Team: “I got the chance to work with two teams–the land team and the socioeconomic team. It was hard work, but I never felt it was impossible. All the members were so helpful and encouraging all the time.” 

About Working as a Woman in Bangladesh: “Up to some part, girls are encouraged to study and go on trips, but after some part, they are gradually discouraged to go outside, work further, work with career–to be a researcher is much harder in the Bangladeshi context. 

“For me, I have lots of support from my family, but I had to prove that first. So for Bangladeshi girls, if they stick to their career, somehow, after some point their family members will support them.” 

What She Wants You to Know about Bangladesh: “We are actually satisfied with what we have. It’s beautiful—come and visit.”

TANIA
Position: MSc Wildlife Biology, University of Dhaka | Wildlife Illustrator | WildTeam

Quote: “Waste changes as the area changes. We hardly found any water body that wasn’t surrounded by waste.” 

About Working as a Woman in Bangladesh: “In Bangladesh, girls are moving forward as fast as boys in education, and we’re becoming doctors, engineers, PhDs. But after that, we stop exploring, stop all of things we should do. We just stay at home and do other stuff designed by our social structure.” 

What She Wants You to Know about Bangladesh: “We are at the confluence of two different biological hotspots filled with biodiversity. We have resources, but we need to nurture our natural resources.” 

Takeaways: “Most of the [plastic packaging] materials in rural areas are manufactured in Bangladesh. So if we want to find a solution, we have to do it within our country.”

 SABRINA
Position: Wildlife Biologist, Isabella Foundation

Quote: “We have so many problems in my country–poverty, pollution. If we want to make a difference we have to come up with a solution.” 

About the Expedition: “This is the first time I’ve stayed this long on the river. I worked full time with land team, just two days with SE team, and I enjoyed my work because each and everyday I got to learn something new. From this expedition I want to come up with a solution.” 

About the Team: “Working with National Geographic was my dream, so I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to work with this team. Plus, it’s a full-girls team, which makes it so much more enthusiastic!” 

What She Wants You to Know about Bangladesh: “We have a beautiful, lovely people who are very helpful and hospitable. You can do anything here.” 

MISHI 

Position: Anthropologist, Isabella Foundation

Quote: “If we want to find a solution, it is from our data and observations.” 

About the Expedition: “I got an opportunity to closely interview community members, and learn that they are using plastic because they have no other alternatives and that it is very much related to their socioeconomic condition.” 

About the Team: “During this cross boundary experience, I have met lots of researchers and the SE team helped me a lot in boosting my confidence. I want to thank all for the team members for their love and support for me.”

BUSRA
Position: Water Resources Specialist, Isabella Foundation

Quote: “For a long time, people have associated us with poverty and floods. But now, we can be a model of sustainability if we try.” 

About the Team: “I brought my daughter to experience the heat and all you lovely ladies, so that she could be inspired by you.” 

About Working as a Woman in Bangladesh: “Do your own thing. As a girl, when you get really good results in school, boys will make fun of you. Sometimes you have to swallow it and go on. When something happens, you have to fight.” 

Takeaways: “I think the time is right. Our Prime Minister is convinced there’s only one way 

forward. We should start in small areas, so we can use the learnings here to convince people. 

“Bangladeshi bureaucrats are really good with policy goals–child mortality, maternal health, water supply, sanitation–we took on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and got ahead. We have a huge population and we’ve managed.”

Post written by Lillygol Sedaghat and edited by Cory Howell.

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