For A Better World
Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
It started with a simple deal. "I said to them, you help us conserve the animals and your environment, that are facing endangerment and we will help you earn back your loss," says Shahriar Caeser Rahman, Founder and Manager of Mro Tortoise Guardian Programme, Principle Researcher, Manager and Founder of The Bangladesh Python Project, and a passionate animal welfare activist.
With this simple deal, not only was Shahriar successful in starting up the conservation of animals and the environment in a remote tribal area in Chittagong, but also highlight a cultural heritage of ours that may sometimes have gone unnoticed. Through this initiative, Shahriar gave back to the Mro community by enabling them to make and sell their own designed jewellery and other accessories. After striking up another deal with well-known local brand Jatra, Shahriar has managed to already make these valuable pieces of our own culture a big hit for customers.
"Hunting animals and cutting up trees were their main source of income and food. Not only was that affecting our environment gravely, it was also endangering some very precious species, for example the rare tortoises in their area. I had to promise them an alternate income if I needed their help to conserve the very animals they hunt and eat. I thought this was a great opportunity to promote a part of our own culture," says Shahriar.
According to Shahriar, wildlife is a vast area of interest. It's has only 10% to do with animals, and 90% to do with social sciences. "If you want to save wildlife, you have to work in every sector collectively. There's economics, law, earth science, environmental science, botanical science, everything involved. You have to understand all of it. And when they would hunt these animals and cut the trees, they did it without understanding the adverse effects. I had to explain all of these thoroughly to them before they would agree to help," says Shahriar. After explaining to them that they were, in fact, killing the very environment they are living in, they agreed to conserve and help in any way they can. "The crafts that they are making are also becoming extinct. People, apart for themselves, don't know about theses different forms of arts and crafts and they are now dying out," he says. With this initiative itself, Shahriar and his team are being able to save two separate things from going into extinction.
When the first order was made for 1,600 necklaces, baskets and bracelets, the products were very haphazardly made. "They didn't believe us at first. They didn't think it would work. So they didn't really pay much attention to the things they were making. When the products were sold and we got the money, I went to them myself and handed them what they earned. And then they finally chose to believe me. They are a very good people, not complicated at all, and they live simply too. They just have a very hard time trusting others, but I finally managed to win them over," smiles Shahriar.
Jaatra's own designers also add some of their own flair to the designs. "We leave the jewellery exactly as they are. But we add some innovation to other products. For example, the women wear a particular kind of belt-like skirt, which we transform into a bag, keeping their design and handiwork intact," says Atti, a designer for Jatra. "They also have a water pitcher made of dried gourd skin, which we have transformed into a lamp, keeping the initial design as traditional as possible. These products are so well in demand that we're planning on making some more products with their designs- like using the bead necklaces as bag handles or belts."
Thoilok Mro, father of one of the girls who work in manufacturing these products, is very happy with the arrangement. "We're making good profit. We have formed a committee, to whom we collect and give the money. We keep some of it for our own families, and the rest we use together to develop our area and committee further." Some of the money that they save for themselves also goes into buying raw material for the products, and manufacturing each product takes around a whole day. "Only 7-8 girls here are manufacturing the products, and as they have many other things to do throughout the day, they take a while to get these done. But they do, and it is helping us tremendously," says Thoilok.
This one simple deal struck by Shahriar is not only helping a people, but is helping the animals and all-together, our environment. For a safer future, a healthier life, and the secure world we have all been eagerly waiting for, this initiative is more than just ideal, it's necessary.