In the 5 weeks of working in Dinajpur, Bangladesh in order to get things done I had to climb up and down the bureaucratic ladder multiple times, had to hash out formal letters for different people in different positions in the city, talk to many people in many ways to accomplish the tasks I did. It gave me enormous amount of experience of how to work in such environments and helped me make enormous connections that I would not have otherwise been able to make. To work through the bureaucracy in any country for development work requires a unique skill that I am slowly beginning to learn. This summer I had the crash course on it. One of the biggest challenge I faced as well as biggest lesson I got from this project was to learn to make the right connections in a community and communicate is the right way to accomplish the goal. I will also point out that gaining credibility and trust at the beginning of these kinds of projects is the most important aspect of being successful. Another very important skill I earned was to change plans at moments of crisis and not losing grip of the situation. I was able to find a good number of enthusiastic people on ground who will be continuing the work in Dinajpur. Most of my goals for this summer were met and now I have a firming footing in the area to take this project forward. Although several plans changed and many things went differently from expected, I managed to set the stage for building a waste management system.
One of the major changes in plan after going on ground was to build and provide more dustbins than planned and not constructing compartments on the waste collection truck-beds. After my first visit to Dinajpur municipal office I realized that the number of truck is just the bare minimum or even less to collect all the waste from the city. There is no way I will get a truck for an experiment. I am referring to it as an experiment because until all the components are in place the waste management system that I am envisioning will not be fully functional. So, as I realized compartmentalizing of truck beds has to wait, I decided to build compartmentalized dustbins only. The process of acquiring land in locations we want and getting permissions from different levels in government began. We could only make the dustbins in land that government owns because first of all, nobody wants to give a portion of precious land for dustbin construction and secondly, because waste is considered something to be thrown away, to be left and ran away from and hence a specific spot for waste is not welcomed around houses. We therefore had to first convince municipality of the benefit of installing more dustbins and then ask for land. The process was not too difficult as the Mayor already had locations in mind. However, it look a while for Mayor to find time to show us the different spots. Eventually 3 days before I left Dinajpur, we checked all the spots and made contract with construction workers. Five locations at different parts of the city were selected. All five spots where heavily used as informal dumping site. The team that I left the project behind with have since then been working on the constructions which recently (Sept 17, two days ago) were completed.
To make the cycle of waste complete I was looking at different options as the sink. In the last week, I met a person from the city who is interested in creating a business of converting organic waste to fertilizer. Besides helping him to formulate his plan, I will continue looking for more potential entrepreneurs and interested organizations.
With that all components that I wanted to start working on for building a waste management in Dinajpur were put in place. Process of raising awareness, process of building a culture of sorting waste and recognizing its value, process of making useful product out of waste and developing infrastructure began by the first run of Ways2Clean. The things I have to start working on for the progress of the project are:
- Finding appropriate technology for organic waste to fertilizer conversion that can be scaled up
- Running full length workshops in school about waste usage and awareness
- Through ground-team members following up on schools that we have provided dustbins to about the use of dustbins
- Helping the local entrepreneur with starting the business
Each of the points require time and effort that I will distribute over a year or two. At the beginning of my search for funds I was thinking that starting the project is the most difficult part in making the vision reality but after this summer as I have ignited this long-term project I am starting to realize that continuing with perseverance, by taking little precarious, yet essential steps are even harder than the beginning. But the hope that I have raised among the community for a cleaner and better environment will help me keep going.
I am very thankful to the organizations and people that supported me to embark on this journey. I hope this series of post will help and give some useful information to readers and benefit budding social entrepreneurs like me in some way.