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Mission “Clean Dhaka”: A Renewed Ray of Hope

"The Japanese are coming… to clean our DU campus,” say that to anyone and you'll get nothing but blank looks and puzzled faces. And righteously so. Why would foreigners come all the way to Bangladesh and, of all things, want to clean OUR garbage? Why, really? Here's the story of how over a hundred Bangladeshi students, after working together with a hundred Japanese university students, came to discover the answer to that intriguing 'why'.

The Mission Begins
It all began in the auspicious first hour of the International Women's Day when students of the two major female dormitories of DU were gathered at the Shaheed Minar, lighting candles in celebration of the day. “Did you hear? Japanese students have just reached Dhaka. They'll be staying at our halls!” “Really? Why are they here?” “No idea. I wonder why they refused to stay in hotels. How will they manage living here?”- began the initial whispers. Then at about 2 am, groups of Japanese female students really showed up in front of the gates of Rokeya and Shamsunnahar Hall, while the male students stayed at the Gymnasium quarters. As their project leader Atsushi Miyazawa said later, the planning for the mission began way back in November of 2010. And finally, in a bright afternoon of March 8, 2011, the official inaugural function was launched at Nawab Nabab Ali Senate Bhaban, DU, addressed by the Japanese Ambassador Mr Tamotsu Shinotsuka as chief guest and presided over by Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique.
The function was also addressed, among others, by Pro Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Harun-or-Rashid, JAICA Representative Dr Takao Toda, Prof Dr Md Anwar Hossain, Prof Dr Nazma Shahin, Dr Md Rezaul Karim and Registrar Syed Rezaur Rahman.

A week full of cleaning
The mission went on from March 9 to 14. The Japanese students belonged to the IVUSA (International Volunteer University Students Association), a voluntary group consisting of students from different Japanese Universities. The Bangledeshi students belonged to the University of Dhaka and were mainly members of BNCC, Rangers, IML students and Hall representatives. Both groups were combined and divided into 12 teams supervised by two team leaders each from respective groups. The cleaning campaign covered all the female and male dormitories, Kolabhobon, Shaheed Minar, Ramna Park, Curzon Hall and Sohrawardi Uddan. The purification of the Jagannath Hall pond was carried out as a separate activity. Friday, March 11, was spared for an exclusive city tour that took the participants to the inner recesses of the Shangshad Bhaban, the Lalbagh Fort and the New Market area.

“The City of Dreams”
On the closing day, March 14, a symposium was held with the graceful presentations by Mr. Kannami Yasuo of Pacific Consultations Co. Ltd. Japan and Mr. Kanetoshi Oda, Chairman & CEO of Nippon Poly-Glu Company, both companies being the sponsors and organisers of this event along with JAICA and DU. Mr. Yasuo mainly focused on the water supply system, enlightening the audience about the precarious condition Japan was in during 1940 and how it became today's Japan. He suggested an individual-house-disposal system for Bangladesh and said, “This activity may seem insufficient but small initiatives like these will eventually help change the state of your country. And it will all depend on your combined efforts.” Mr. Oda, while describing his company's unique water purification technology, said something very valuable, “One who won't even clean some petty garbage, can never do great things in life. Only by cleaning the 'garbage' inside your heart can you hope to clean all the garbage around you.”

“Passion makes the world and the people go around”
-is what was written on many of their T-shirts, and only by working side by side with them did the Bangladeshi students come to realise the true meaning of this message. The Japanese are very passionate about working. They manually picked cigarette-butts, chocolate-wrappings, old newspapers, plastic materials and myriad other garbage under the brutal Bangladeshi sun. Many of them fell ill, many of them had trouble adjusting to our food habits and yet not a single moment passed without them working and shouting the time away in high-spirits: “E-SSA, ESSA ESSA!!!” In fact, so infectious was their enthusiasm that it inspired many people on the way and they too took part. “When we saw all the garbage, we were sad; but when we all worked together, the place became clean in an instant. The happiness we felt at that time cannot be expressed in words. We wanted to share that happiness with you and that's why we came all the way from Japan.”- said the Japanese students. They say heartfelt notions succeed in touching others. Shamima Ahsan Shanta, a DU participant and Rokeya Hall representative said, “We would like to continue this mission even after they're gone. Because these students have kindled a ray of hope in our hearts that together, we can. People who make fun of activities like these do so because they are frustrated and don't believe in change. We, however, have happiness in our hearts because we have started to believe.”

All's Well That Ends Well
On 14th March, the evening ended with a grand cultural function with participations from both sides, followed by a sumptuous dinner where cuisines from both cultures were served. The readers should bear in mind that the devastating earthquake and tsunami took place in Japan during their stay here. These students had enough strength of mind to set aside their personal grief and keep working hard in a foreign land. Only when the students of DU lighted candles in memory of the departed souls under the 'Oporajeyo Bangla' did they show signs of being overwhelmed with emotions. “You people have honoured us as your friends,” said Atsushi Miyazawa in his farewell speech, “but to us you have become more than family members,” with that the strong leader burst into tears and with him, everyone gathered around.

The last message from the Japanese came from Mr. Kanetoshi Oda. He mentioned the Japanese word 'konki' which means “To never surrender”. When this writer asked a Japanese participant during work, “There's just too much garbage, how can you possibly think of cleaning all of it?”- He smiled and said, “That doesn't mean we can't keep trying.” Even if one gets frustrated, there's always a ray of hope. Even the worst of things can take a turn for the better, we just have to keep believing in ourselves- is what our Japanese friends tried to tell us through this symbolic cleaning mission.

By Raisa Rafique

A Little Magic Called Poly-Glu

March 14, 2011. A symposium is being held at the Nawab Nabab Ali Senate Bhaban, University of Dhaka. Here, before the flabbergasted eyes of over 200 Bangladeshi and Japanese students, a miracle is taking place.

A magician places a glass filled with filthy water taken from the Jagannath Hall pond before him. He then adds a mysterious powder to the water and starts stirring it. He tells different stories of the magic powder, all the while keeping at the stirring. A few moments pass before he stops and Voila! The water in the glass is crystal clear! Collective gasps ensue from all corners of the auditorium. The magician then filters out the filth gathered at the bottom of the glass and swallows the water in one gulp; amidst deafening claps and cheers.

The magician of this story is Dr. Kanetoshi Oda, Chairman and CEO of Nippon Poly-Glu Company of Osaka, Japan, an organisation specialising in the production of inexpensive easy-to-use water purification materials. The 'magic' powder his company uses is a water-purification agent developed from polyglutamic acid, the sticky, viscous constituent of 'Natto' or fermented soybeans. The acid can be mass-produced by using microorganisms. The main mechanism, as Dr. Oda explained at the symposium, is to neutralise the minus function of the germs in the water with the acid's plus function so that the particles bind to each other and form an aggregated mass visible to the naked eye. This mass is then removed through filtration, leaving the water clean and safe for drinking.

In a conversation with freelance writer Miho Kawasaki, Dr. Oda reminisces about the great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, “It was 1995 and I was a resident of Kobe. We didn't have enough drinking water. There was a pond right before my eyes and I thought, if only the water in it were usable, what benefits there would be!” Inspired by such thoughts, he then developed the Poly-Glu technology and founded his company in 2002. The Sumatra undersea earthquake and the great tsunami that followed first brought his technology to global attention and his company's been exporting Poly-Glu cheap especially to developing countries ever since.

The company opened a local subsidiary to market its product in Bangladesh, which came into the limelight mostly after the devastating cyclone SIDR around 2007. Poly-Glu powder was distributed among the sufferers of Borguna through voluntary activities mostly for free and it gained enough popularity to be featured in Shaikh Shiraj's 'Maati O Manush' later. Saleswomen bearing titles of Poly-Glu Ladies were appointed to go from door to door and sell/publicise the product. The medicinal powder capable of purifying 10 litres of water costs 1 taka only!

Nippon Poly-Glu Company took part in the purification of the Jagannath Hall pond using their fascinating technology. This activity was a part of Mission 'Clean Dhaka' (March 8-14) carried out by the combined participation of DU students and IVUSA (International Volunteers University Students Association), Japan, an organisation which happens to have Dr. Oda as an advisor. In his seventies, yet still young at heart, this kind-hearted genius has admitted that even though he had started his company at first for purely commercial reasons, these days watching people's smiling faces, not to mention their amazement and admiration for his technology has somewhat got him addicted to selfless hard-work!

By Raisa Rafique
( Info Source: 'Just Add Poly Glu by Miho Kawasaki)


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With a perfect match which is bright and new
It isn't too late, so let's create
A life together and make our dreams come true.

By Tasmeena Crorie (Labbonno)



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