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Floating Schools: In Bangladesh, Floods Don't Stop Learning and Living Anymore

June 4, 2015       Building Block
Floating Schools Work!
In Bangladesh, Floods Don't Stop
Learning and Living Anymore


Bangladesh girl studying  in school before floods
(reduced image)  Mrjohncummings  from Wikicommons  CC BY-SA 3.0


Even an indigent community ravaged by natural disasters can cope with off-grid situations by harnessing simple yet effective technologies to survive and even flourish and live well.  Bangladesh which has most of its land area at close or below sea level has experienced devastating flooding on a regular basis:

 
EasylikeWater is a documentary film about the Bangladeshis
compensating for yearly flooding with off-grid technologies like
floating schools and libraries.


video is All Rights Reserved to the
EasyLike Water You Tube account


Up to two annual floods a year leave millions of people without access to clean drinking water, grid power, cutting off medical help and local supply girds and destroying farmed land crops for entire stretches of each year.  That kind of Shit-Hits-the-Fan for decades now.


To stay sane and survive such yearly troubles, a group called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, started just as recently as 2002, provides an off-grid survival solution: Floating schools, libraries and shelters.  They already have an early warning system for identifying severe flooding situations, but the best part of their program is the flexible and adaptable simple work they do to keep people living normally despite the monsoon troubles. 

Founder Mohammed Rezwan, a local architect, the nonprofit group operates an amazing fleet of just more than 100 multi-use boats that can  function as floating schools, floating libraries, floating mobile health care facilites, and as floating information centers for providing off-grid agriculture tech as well as basic financial management learning to local communities and cooperatives. 


Mohammed Rezwan at PopTech  2012  Reykjavik Iceland 
frrom Flickr  PopTech     Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0


The group received funding in 2003, getting $5,000 USD from the Global Fund For Children and then 100,000 USD from US-based Levi Foundation.

In 2005, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $1 million USD to them. These funds and the recent $20,000 USD grant from the WISE (World Innovation Summit For Education) allowed the group to create more than just a floating school project.  They now have a virtual mini ecosystem that runs itself real well even during flood season.

The Bangladeshis have learned to use the waterways as their own supply grid, for sending out communications, accessing health care, and sourcing energy with simple, adaptable survival tech; allowing good people to keep learning and adapt while growing their brave communities when there should be no hope at all.  A design idea and solution, we in the Philippines can also look at and adapt for the many flood prone communities that get cut off during typhoon disasters.

Each of these school boats is solar powered and equipped with laptop computers, Internet access, and a small library.  Each library boat carries a treasure hoard of 15,000 learning books for the kids.  Twenty-two boats are designed to be floating schools for children while the rest of the fleet are used as livelihood learning centers for adults, extra libraries, and floating health clinics and emergency supply depots that provide medicine and other survival supplies to areas cut off by floods the monsoons.


 A feature on the solar powered floating schools in Bangladesh.  Feature
is from  the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), an
initiative of Qatar Foundation which supports innovation in
education around the world


video is All Rights Reserved to the
Wise Channel You Tube account


When the Rains are Killer Life Goes On

When the monsoon shuts down the terrain and whatever is left of the normal landlocked supply grids are cut off, the groups' many floating schools go into the isolated communities and gather up students  like a school bus and school all in one.  The boats
pick up their students from docks and riversides, then dock somewhere so that class can begin. After the lessons are through, the boat schools return the students to their homes and another group of students are gathered for the next class.

All sensitive equipment onboard the floating facilities are protected from the elements, and each school boat even has internet access, at least one laptop and a small library.   Most of the survival gear in the boats are custom manufactured by the group's own team of techs and engineers: from solar panel rigs to bicycle powered pumps, and up to 3 types of solar powered off-grid lamps and rechargeable batteries for emergencies.  Simple ideas for survival just like that survival movie, The Mosquito Coast.


To compensate for extended periods of monsoon flooding that isolates most local communities from the supply grid, the team has developed water farming, off-grid solutions that do not require access to dry land or fertilizer. 

The organization has even set up a pilot farm boat, which supplies up to ten families at a time with assorted produce.  Farmers grow vegetables on water hyacinths strung together as a bed for keeping cow manure and a thin layer of garden soil.  They teach people are taught to use floating beds made of water hyacinth to grow vegetables, and custom fish pen enclosures using a fishing net and bamboo strips (to raise fish). 

The locals even managed to put together floating duck coops powered by solar lamps with the help of Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, allowing plenty of meat to be available to the displaced community via a simple and smart choice for growing adaptable livestock. 

More than half of the group's fleet are now being converted into emergency climate shelters for displaced families. The new homes allow people cut off by the floods, with little chance of survival by any other means, to continue their lives productively and safely despite impossible circumstances. 


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