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Remembering Cesare Tavella

The Cherokee Indians have this saying as a yard stick to measure our lives against and for Cesare this was certainly true. He passed away from a horrific tragic incident on Monday and left the rest of us crying in his wake. We lost a great deal that night – a great friend, colleague, doting father, son, brother, loving boyfriend. He was many things to many people, much-loved, respected and truly dear to all who knew him. If I had called Cesare a great man on his face, he would’ve laughed at me. But he WAS a great man to work with – kind, humble, knowledgeable, with a wicked sense of humor. He was efficient and practical about getting things done. As a professional colleague if you had a problem that you needed to get resolved, he was the person to hand it over to.

Cesare and I met earlier this year when he took over the job of leading PROOFS, our food security project. We hit it off from the very beginning and quickly developed an easy camaraderie. He was that kind of person, he had a way of putting people at ease. A man of his word, he earned trust through his actions. One of his favorite sayings was that ‘we don’t have to like each other but we must respect each other’ and that sums up the way he was with the people around him. The respect that he gave to even the bearers or drivers in his office was telling of the way he treated all people with dignity. He was not impressed by titles, status or hierarchy – he was impressed by how much people would bring to the table and could contribute to improving the lives of others. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter. He called a spade a spade but was tactful, diplomatic & always had a smile on his face.

As we became friends, I discovered that there was no BS’ing around him, none of the tedious small talks that barely scratch the surface. Our conversations jumped topics, ran deep, was heated, long & would range from our frustration with our work, how change doesn’t happen fast enough, to our weirdest travel experiences, our kooky retirement plans or wildest dreams. He was easy to talk to, to get to know, to let your guard down with. He was so positive with this ‘joie de vivre’ about him that you could not help but be utterly charmed by his enthusiasm for life and all that it had to offer. Decades down the road, Cesare hoped to buy an island to retire to and Kate & I tried our best to convince him to let us live on it as caretakers. The island dream was something that would materialize far into the future but we talked about it like it was right around the corner.

The day he passed away, we exchanged messages back and forth about the long weekend get-away (respite in nature) in which he was supposed to join our group but decided at the last moment that he couldn’t. He teased me about being a city girl for loving the comforts that civilization/technology offers us and declared that my love for air-conditioning is the reason Bangladesh is sinking from climate change and our Island would disappear before we ever get a chance to retire …. “I love to swim but to swim on a permanent basis….”.

We spoke briefly barely an hour or so before the incident, which made it that much more harder for me to wrap my head around the fact that I would not be able to pick up the phone and hear him on the other end anymore. The hours since then has been interminable. Why? How? Who? The what if’s? And in the midst of this crushing grief, this sudden loss of a great person, a friend, I am now confronted by questions from others on what was he like? how will he be remembered?

The answer to that is I want him to be known not for the tragic way his life ended but the incredibly kind, passionate way he had lived & dedicated his life to a cause, to the greater good.

I want him to be remembered as he was – warm, loving, kind, funny, intelligent, a witty gentle old soul. He’s the only Italian I knew who didn’t care for coffee at all but was very specific about how he wanted his pizza. He doted on his daughter, loved his girlfriend and was very close to his family.

I want to remember Cesare the way I had seen him – always relaxed with the creases around his eyes deepened by his smile. He smiled with his heart, it sparkled in his eyes and lighted up all those around him. A truly remarkable human being who gave selflessly of himself to the service of others.

It is incredibly sad that Cesare’s life ended so soon and I cannot put into words how much we will miss him. Cesare was a positive person and would not want us to be sad today. If he were here he would tell us to cheer up, smile and remember all of the great memories we all shared. Even though Cesare may be gone, his memory will live on in all of us forever.

Buddy, you will be sorely missed! May your soul rest in peace … much love from all of us you left behind, to follow in our time.

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(All pictures of Cesare is by Laurent from their joint visit to the PROOFS project in June 2015).

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Challenging myself to grow this year :)

Usually when I am struggling to blog, it’s not because I lack subjects but more like there’s so many going around in my head that I don’t know which one to put down first. So this one is going to be a mish mash of all the things that are going round in my head.

First off, my new year started with a bang! I am biting off more than I can chew this year. That is in other words, I am challenging myself to grow this year.

This year I am going back to University for a Masters in Development Studies. I am already working on the field and while I love the practical side of it, I have been struck by the fever to know more… the theories, the models, the past cases, what has worked and why, what didn’t work and why not. You know how you feel when you pick up a great book and just can’t put it down until you have finished the last page? That is how I feel now, it’s like an insatiable burning appetite for all that I can learn and more. So a full-time Masters degree coming right up 😀

Then, there is something else that I have applied for and am still waiting for the final result. This is what I know so far, there’s been over 600 applications and I have made it to the final round. Beyond that, there’s nothing more that I know, nor is there anything more that I can do to make sure that I am one of the 20 people who get selected. It’s a waiting game at this point in time. 

What these two things taught me is that while I have kept up my practice on how to sell my skills in the work place, I have NO idea how to sell myself to academics. Know what I mean? I am more used to putting a dollar value on activities, time and I can negotiate win-win solutions for most deals when it comes to business.  But I just don’t feel the same confidence when it comes to selling myself to an academic panel.. lol. It’s beyond my comfort zone and I LOVE the challenge!!

So all these is going to be in addition to my full-time job as a Food Security Advisor, my volunteer work as Public Relations advisor with Butthan Foundation and the Program Manager work with Radio Vubon. I still want to keep up with my blogging, my ghost-writing, my networking and connecting. I might have bitten off more than I can chew but instead of being scared, I feel freaking EXCITED! I can’t wait! The challenge of it all will be amazing! And I know for a fact that this year will be AMAZING 😀 😀

p.s. I am trying to keep my posts shorts and sweet, didn’t really work, did it? but I will be back with more updates later in the week 😉

When my problems are not really problems

I know I came home last year from a field visit to one of our projects out in the Char areas and I quit complaining about water shortage. When I don’t have water coming out of the taps, I know that it’s only because someone forgot to turn on the pump that will fill in the overhead tank.

I quit complaining when there were ‘too’ many electricity outages, at least I know that it will be back in hour.

I quit complaining when I had to travel through hot streets in the summer, I know that I will be in the office, cooled by an AC within an hour.

Every time I even thought of complaining, I thought of all the women I had met. Women who walk for miles to collect drinking water for their families. All the people who live without electricity and all the gadgets for convenience that it brings. I thought of the heat in the char, the sun on top and the sand beneath my feet. Day after day, year after year, families survive harsh conditions like these.

Me, I had first world problems, that are not problems. So I quit complaining and started doing more of what I can do to help solve these problems for the millions of people whom I may never ever meet.

Do your part – we can all make a difference.

 

Dutch Food Security program in Bangladesh

Our Food Security information is updated in the Embassy webpage. So if you are looking for information on what the Dutch do in terms of Development Cooperation in Bangladesh – check us out here:

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation

 

And if you are looking for what we do in Food Security in particular, check us out here:

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation/food-security.html

courtyard meeting with beneficiaries

courtyard meeting with beneficiaries

The page has been updated with information on our various projects, which are directly and indirectly, contributing towards Food Security in Bangladesh. It explains why we are doing what we are doing and the results that we hope to achieve with each one of our programs. We actively collaborate with various partners – donors, NGO’s, universities, research institutes and the private sector.

If you are interested in collaborating, knowledge sharing or would like to have more information on a particular project, you can email us at “dha@minbuza.nl” or “arman.khan@minbuza.nl”.

When agriculture meets social media in rural Vermont

What happens when agriculture meets social media? So far, from the all lessons learnt and stories that we have been getting, the results can be outstanding, regardless of whether we are talking about Farms using cutting edge technologies in Vermont USA or small holding farmers connecting to their markets through text messages.

Follow this link to read the full exchange between Hootsuite and Alison Kosakowski when they  connected to discuss why teaching farmers the value of using social media to promote agriculture is important and how HootSuite can help.

http://blog.hootsuite.com/mydash-agriculture-social-media/

Alison Kosakowski comes with a background on PR where she championed advertising and communications campaigns for international brands like Playtex, Hasbro, Sharp Electronics, and Maersk. She moved to Vermont and is now learning and sharing her adventures on the farm using the social media. She is currently the Marketing and Communications Director for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, managing events, PR, and all of the Agency’s media channels (print, web, social). Her job is about building a brand for Vermont Agriculture.

Excerpt from the interview is given below:

SM: Why is it important for farmers to learn how to market themselves, especially in social media?

AK: If you are selling directly to the public, you need to build awareness for what you offer. What makes you different and why should customers choose you? Social media can help farmers develop a relationship with their customer base by allowing them to tell their farm’s story, share experiences and communicate their value proposition.

On a very practical level, social media is an affordable way to reach consumers. The margins in farming are tight, so paid media is not always an option.

SM: What are you teaching them to share in social media?

AK: The first step is to communicate what’s for sale and where people can buy it. This seems basic, but if potential customers don’t know what you have to offer, and where they can get their hands on it, you won’t see any lift from social media.

Beyond that, every farm has a story. If customers wanted anonymous food, they’d go to the supermarket. I encourage farmers to talk about what makes their products special, to share information about how they farm and to allow their farm’s personality to shine through.

Many farmers are brand new to social media, so my first task is usually helping them understand and set up the basic channels, like Facebook and Twitter. I help them identify a voice for their business, create a basic “editorial calendar” for posts, and understand the ways in which they can use these channels to create customer loyalty, grow awareness for their business and drive sales.

The whole interview is practical, full of great pointers and laced with humanity. It gives you an insight into the people at these farms that she is promoting… quite an achievement in my view. Take the time to read the entire article, its well worth it 🙂 and you can follow Alison on Twitter @VTFarmGirl.

Food Security Video

A short take on the work we are doing to improve Food Security in Bangladesh. The hospital featured here is ICDDRB (more info at http://www.icddrb.org) and more information on the laboratory featured here can be found at the FAO site for Food Safety Project at http://www.bdfoodsafety.org.

Women, Food Security & Religion

Study after study has shown that while men tend to spend only about 30-40% of their income on their family, even while the overall income of the family is not enough to meet their needs, women spend over 90% of their income on the family. When women have control over their income, their families needs are met better, their children are better fed and more likely to be educated. Yet, studies have also shown that a large number of women and I am talking of a REALLY large percentage here, do not have control over their OWN income. This is specially true for women who are married but this phenomenon is not just true in the developing world, it happens even in the most developed countries.

 

In the country that I live in and in the work that I do, I see these women all the time. A significantly large portion of the population still lives below the poverty line. A significant portion of children are still malnourished. There are miles to go before we can rest easy and claim to be truly food secure. Yet yesterday’s shut-down and the 13 point demand of the religious extremists really drove home the point that religion is being used in this country to drag us back by thousands of years. If the demands of these men are to be met, then women will cover up and stay inside the four walls of their home. And I wonder do these men even realize what they are asking for? They are asking for generations of children to grow up, malnourished and uneducated?

 

Half the farm labors in this country are women. While the men are hunting for work in big cities, it is the women who are tending to the fields, raising cattle, feeding and keeping the families together. It is hard enough for these women to interact with the formal market, to impose a restriction like this… who is going to keep the agro-economy going? Where do these men think they are going to get the rice that they eat in every meal?

 

I haven’t even mentioned the ready-made garment industry yet. The big thing that brings in more money, the jewel in Bangladesh’s crown. Who works in these factories? Women. It is women and millions of them that keep these garment factories running. That provide the hard labor that goes into shipping containers of clothes to the west, earning the country foreign currency and bringing in more FDI than any other sectors yet. What will happen to these women? to the families who depend on them? To the factories? To the economy?

 

When the extremists make their demands and when I see hundreds and sometimes thousands more men sitting beside them in solidarity, I wonder… where they borne by men? Where do they get off in denying basic human rights to women? Were they brought up solely by women hating men? Are they really blind and dumb enough to think that they are going to drag half of a country’s population into hell and not go there themselves?

 

Yesterday, I was on the phone with one of my friends and her 63-year-old mother got on the phone to solemnly inform me that if these extremists ever take over the country, she’s going to run for the hills. She is a house-wife, she prays 5 times a day and ever since she came back from the Hajj, she has been covering up (just not in the black hijab thing). That conversation is when it struck me how desperate this situation is becoming. If this woman cannot feel safe in her own country, with people who are supposedly proposing to uphold religious laws that she already follows, what hope do the rest of us have? And I can’t stop thinking of the millions of women who march to the factories every morning with their tiffin carrier in hand, what will happen to them? to the families back home in the villages who depend on them?

 

And to be honest, I can’t wrap my head around the religion they are talking about. The Prophet (SAW) that I love, the Prophet (SAW) whose religion I follow, he himself was married to the most successful business woman of his time. Her business spread across several countries and he himself worked under her. He continued to show an equal amount of respect for all of his subsequent wives, whose opinions he cherished and whose counsel he sought. So where do these men get their interpretation of Islam? When the prophet himself showed respect to women and was the most vocal in ensuring them their rights, where do these men think they get the fatwas that take away women’s right, to work, to education, to an income of their own? Where?

 

No matter what goes on in the streets today or tomorrow or in the upcoming days, I cannot believe for a moment that in a country of 160 million people, these mere million or two of so-called religious people will ever reign. This half of the population and the families that depend on them is not going to take this lying down. People are already struggling with the high rates of inflations, increasing costs of living, energy costs are sky-rocketing, they simply cannot afford to have able hands sitting idle in the house or being forced to stay off the workforce. The mass population will simply starve, it’s as simple as that really, so they will fight this extremism for their own survival. In order to keep this economy running, to keep the GDP growing, the business community and the politicians can’t possibly sit idle on the side as well.

 

In a country that is bravely marching forward despite all of its draw back, these days will be but mere blips. I still trust in our people. I still trust in my country. And I still believe that no matter what, we the “Bengal Tigers” will see better days ahead.

 

 

 

Collaboration

We were sitting around the table in a meeting with 3 different INGO’s (International Non-Governmental Agency). Each one has a different focus and strength and the reason they are all sitting together is very simply – to collaborate. To bring their strengths together, to benefit each other and the community they will be working in – essentially to become the missing link in each other’s activity in order to create a complete picture.

The beauty of this collaboration for me lies in the fact that while one of these actors will look into preventing malnutrition in pregnant mothers and children, a second one will be looking into how to increase the per household income to enable these families to afford food and a third one will be looking into connecting these small-holding farmers with the formal market to ensure that they get the right price.

Each on its own does make an impact but together their work can be formidable. While projects are run with a definite starting and ending date, each one of their work on its own do not achieve the same level of impact or sustain the results quite as well, as it would together. To leave a family aware of their nutritional needs without the ability to meet that need is almost as hopeless as enabling someone to earn more money and eat more junk because they have no knowledge or awareness of the nutrition value of food. I have also been on field visits where I have seen farmers frustrated to high heaven due to over production of a particular crop which only manages to lower the selling price locally.

When all of these are done together the whole picture can and do change. As families become more aware of the nutritional value of food, they are more likely to choose to eat fresh fruits and vegetables that they can grow locally in their own gardens. Most people (even my own immediate family members) do seem to be under the misconception that imported fruits and food are somehow superior in nutritional value then fresh local seasonal fruit or processed food. But that doesn’t mean that just when people are aware of nutritional value, they make better choices. They cannot or will not if the food prices are out of their affordability range.

So in this fight to eradicate Food Insecurity, the next item in line is to make sure that food is affordable, nutritious and safe. So we encourage households to increase their income by training them and sometimes even subsidizing the cost of starting Income Generating Activities (IGAs). Even after all these, when production is intensified, additional income is generated etc, there also exist the reality that even when the small holder farmer has somehow managed to increase production, due to lack of access to market (whether it is financial or lack of physical infrastructure), the only person who really benefits from the increase in output is the middlemen who go around these remote regions buying products at cheap prices to sell in higher price in other markets.

The law of economics states that increasing demand, increases supply. Increasing prices, decreases demand. Increased availability lowers prices but may or may not have affect on demand, depending on whether or not demand is price elastic. In the farm production – a sudden increase in production in an area will temporarily depress the price of the produce unless there are enough means and ways to preserve process and dissipate the product in the market. This is where the NGO with the track record for developing markets is going to step in. They will work to connect these small holding farmers and other IGA stakeholders to formal markets by establishing channels which will ensure fair trade.

That is the soul of collaboration. It’s like an orchestra – each instrument on its own can only make so much impact, but together, they create magic. The beauty of their creation can take your breath away; can transport you to a different place. And right now I am really living the dream of enabling communities to become food secure through these collaborations.

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