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A welcoming committee on the edge of a river island. The people here are warm, polite, funny, smart, and fantastically poor.

Bangladesh scrapbook

Most of the people in these photos are forced by poverty to live in one of the most inhospitable places in the world: the cyclone-ravaged Ganges delta and flood-prone islands of the Jumana River.

I visited as a guest of the international charity, Oxfam (Intelligent Giving profile) . The beneficiaries were brave and inspirational and the aid projects were well-managed and enormously appreciated.


The only way to travel if you're a Westerner. For everyone else, it's creaky rickshaws or foot. The paddyfields of the coastal areas are criss-crossed by these raised narrow tracks. This was the cyclone season; two weeks before, a cyclone heading in this direction veered into India 100 miles to the south and killed 20,000 people.
"Look, more sweaty Westerners with their schmalzy cameras." These people told us that if the Orissa cyclone hit here, every one of them would be dead.

If it weren't for the earsplitting beeps and black smoke belched out by the motorised rickshaws (none above), the roads in Dhaka would be a kind of three-wheel nirvana. But they're not, and they'd still be impossible to cross.
The Jumana river carves 100 metres off these islands every year, carrying away shools, clinics, fields, homes, hopes etc. Regular summer floods force locals and their cattle onto roofs for two weeks. Bad floods (1998) swallow roofs whole, crowding everyone onto an Oxfam-funded flood platform for three months.

Oxfam Bangladesh Class of '99. Left-right, Steve (supporter, in health services in London), Fared (Oxfam project co-ordinator), Nick (Oxfam UK education and marketing), Yellow shirt (me), Shelley (Oxfam project co-ordinator), Janet (Oxfam UK marketing), Charles (supporter, songwriter), Ann (supporter, primary school teacher).
Steve and Charles deny their English roots by taking cover from the midday sun while the next shift of the village school awaits class.

This piper's hypnotic tunes and hissing sidekick make unbeatable street entertainment. He got a $3/£2 appearance fee from us, which pushed him into Dhaka's top income bracket for the month.
How many eight-year-olds would be pleased to thread looms for 15c/10p a day? All labour is hard and predictably remunerated here, though recent Oxfam-supported microcredit schemes ('friendly' loans for poor people) give obvious and deserved hope.

The teacher in pink teaches the village how to read (ballot papers, medicine labels, rental agreements, government commitments, commercial contracts, dodgy loan proposals) and how to survive (preparing for floods and cyclones, protecting from and coping with pregnancy, reducing the chances of illness, balancing business accounts) and Oxfam (Intelligent Giving profile) pays her a salary of $140/£80 a year.
Dhaka. All smiles from a security guard and a teenage beggar who scuttles around on all fours because there's something grievously wrong with his hips.

The impoverished folk walking along this cyclone wall foolishly failed to take the opportunity to rob us or take us hostage for sorely-needed cash. A tidal wave is likely to breach the wall sometime in the next decade, washing away crops, cattle and homes. Education, innoculations and disaster preparedness training will help them. (None of these existed last time).

The local cyclone shelter. The only thing likely to be left standing in an Orissa-class cyclone. Oxfam helps build them. The only problem is, 15,000 villagers live here and the shelter only takes 400.

If you want to help these nice people, Oxfam's online donations page is conveniently here.






Scan the many other international aid options at the donor's website, Intelligent Giving.