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Degrees on Wheels

The young people of One Degree Initiative hit the streets to show clean air, clean living and fun can all be summed up in one word: Cycling

Cycling may not seem like a worthwhile activity to most of the teenagers of Dhaka, what with their hectic daily cycles (excuse the pun) mostly revolving around studying, coaching, and school, with air conditioned cars ferrying them about. Well, One Degree Initiative is here to change your mind about cycling.

Degrees on Wheels, a cycling campaign initiated by One Degree Initiative in 2010, is taking place again in Dhaka this year, on November 20, 2011. This campaign promotes cycling by raising awareness on the benefits of cycling. Selected bicyclists will ride around selective areas, targeting schools, colleges, universities and bystanders and informing them about the campaign and encouraging them to consider taking this alternative method of transportation.

On 10th October, 2010, 40 volunteers from 1° Initiative started cycling around 10 am at Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Dhaka University and Uttara. They stopped in front of schools and colleges and encouraged the students to start riding bicycles and discussed other climate solutions. They talked to pedestrians and encouraged them to start cycling instead of using motorised transportation, especially for short journeys. Not only do the emissions of the vehicles have an adverse impact on the climate, but also because cycling would prevent the suffering of countless others due to traffic jams. Cars that drop off students at schools and come back empty would then be deemed unnecessary, and remove much traffic from the road. They also replaced the incandescent bulbs of some roadside shops with CFL bulbs for a direct impact on the climate.

Cycles are cleaner, more efficient; simply, they are a time-saving mode of transport allowing independence and flexibility - simultaneously taking a few hundred thousand cars off the streets during peak traffic hours. The energy used would be one's own, providing easy exercise; the energy saved would be fuel that has numerous strains placed on it as is. This leads to cleaner emissions and that is always a good thing.

This year, One Degree Initiative also introduced a free cycling training program, Training on Wheels, to provide a platform for anyone of any age to learn and practice bicycling. Currently, there are regular training sessions in Baridhara DOHS, Dhanmondi, Gulshan and Uttara. It's a gym that helps clean up the environment while keeping you fit and healthy. If for some reason you've never gotten around to learning how to balance a bike, sign up for the training sessions and be on your way to a cleaner, healthier future.

One Degree Initiative is a non-profit youth organisation that was founded in 2006 in Bangladesh and is currently operating globally. They specialise in providing mentorship to youth and children to take ownership of their ideas, thus translating ideas to actions and creating change-makers for a better world. They are registered under The Societies Registration Act, 1860 in Bangladesh.

If you're interested to join One Degree Initiative or participate in a particular event, you are welcome to contact One Degree Initiative through Facebook. To know more about Degrees on Wheels and Training on Wheels, visit the One Degree Initiative page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/1difb.

By Shaer Reaz

Suddenly feel the need to hit the streets on a bicycle? Head on to page 7 for our slightly out of whack tips on the what, where, how and why of bicycling.

Bidesh-e Interview of an alien in Singapore

We spot them among the Singaporean eyes and Indian pierced ears, two small men in striped shirts. Their bhuris give them away.

“Apnara ki Bangali?” Cautious nods, suspicious eyes. One is carrying Gillette shaving foam for the graying stubble on his cheeks. His face holds a quiet sort of sorrow, and later we learn of the three daughters he left behind in Munshigonj for the pay of a construction worker in Singapore. The other's gappy smile is more carefree he is yet to be married. Shonkor and Mohammed came to the island five years previously, on contracts, newly trained to create buildings that touch the sky. Do they like it? It's not home, they say, and they're alone, but the air is clean, the streets are clean. They buy food from a special caterer dahl-bhaat that falls just short of right, their eyes tell me because their quarters have facilities only for sleeping. They shop, of course, in the teeming mass of brown skins at Mustafa Centre, where we found them.

In the course of two year contracts they return to Bangladesh once in a while and find it has changed in little ways. Where it used to take Mohammed a day to get to Comilla, now he can do it in two hours. On the other hand, the traffic jams and power cuts, no doubt particularly after Singapore's well-ordered, eternally lit streets, are striking.

The younger one wants to know about me. Where do you live? Which school do you go to? Are are you Muslim?

The confirmation makes his smile widen. It's so nice, he says, to talk to another Bangali over here, particularly a Muslim. They say their prayers, but it's difficult to fast with all the work they have to do. Their fellow workers are mainly other Bangalis and Tamils, but it's difficult to pick up the faster-flowing language.

Nearing the end of our conversation, a quiet descends. They all have a target, they tell me, that's why they're here. Once the target has been met, they will go back. Mohammed had spotted a piece of land that he planned to buy. When he first saw it, it was beautiful, but on one visit, he found a Grameen tower casting a shadow over his dream. The next time he returned, an Aktel tower had sprung into being as well. What he will do now he doesn't reveal, but the philosophy of the subcontinent rises to his lips: what happens happens.

Shonkor suggests we return the next day, Sunday, when the workers all appear at Mustafa's to shop, and then afterwards sit down together for tea and a chat. I can just picture it, the steam and the stories, but we have to refuse, for we are going tomorrow where their contracts do not permit them to follow. Back home.

By Safieh Kabir

The Central Problem

A few months ago, I went by car to my cousin's wedding in Comilla. The journey took roughly six hours. The return trip the same. Why on earth would a distance of about 110 km take so long to travel? Traffic. So much traffic. And that really gets you thinking about how much Bangladesh needs a modern superhighway, with which a trip to Comilla should take no more than an hour and a half. And that's where the problem begins, as a superhighway will be difficult to build as Bangladesh is, after all, a low lying deltaic region. Secondly, it's expensive and time consuming. Having the degree of overpopulation we have, there are villages and people everywhere. This means local life will soon encroach onto the highway, taking up space. And besides, with the road building skills that we show when fixing the streets in Mohammadpur every year (because we just can't do it properly once so that it won't disintegrate in ten months time), the super highway will require complete re-building every two months.

Everything and everyone located in Dhaka cannot be a good thing. We are losing our precious days to simply getting around the capital.

Dhaka being so centrally located in the country, a high speed train network could work quite easily. Nowhere in Bangladesh is more than 400km from Dhaka and one end to another is around 750km. The total size of Bangladesh is about the size of a province or state in countries like China and the US. It should be relatively easy to connect all the major regions in Bangladesh to each other. Hell, it doesn't even have to be high speed, just fast enough so that people don't grow old getting from Dhaka to Chittagong.

And this is something we desperately need. Many of Dhaka's problems can be whittled down to over-centralisation. This over-centralisation has successfully deteriorated Dhaka into a cluttered, unplanned, crowded, polluted urban disaster. If Bangladesh is going to go forward, it needs to decentralise immediately or else we should probably all pack up and move.

There's no reason why the garments industry needs to be in Dhaka and its surrounding environment. In fact, there's no reason why the lion's share of industry needs to be in Dhaka. The only reason that one in ten Bangladeshis end up in Dhaka is because everything is located in Dhaka. Why don't some of these things move elsewhere, like Chittagong, the commercial capital of Bangladesh? Why do we have the Navy Headquarters in Dhaka when there isn't a water body that a Navy tanker could traverse anywhere near here?

To sum up, if Dhaka is going to be inhabitable in 10 years time (three hours from Gulshan to Dhanmondi does not count as inhabitable), educational institutions, industries, government offices, the Navy and eventually, people have to start leaving Dhaka and reinvigorating our smaller towns. It won't matter how much of a middle-income country we become unless we reverse this Dhaka-centric line of thought. The good thing is that the government is getting a Chinese company to make the aforementioned decent rail system, because God knows the Chinese like building railroads.

By Bareesh



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