Innovation

Floating Schools Bring Hope to Flood-Ravaged Bangladesh

A Floating School & Hospital Supports Remote Communities In Bangladesh

Mohammed Rezwan witnessed first-hand how increasingly severe flooding was destroying his country's education system. Armed with a degree in architecture and a firm resolve to make a difference, he returned to his village in 1998 with a solution to address one of Bangladesh's biggest problems.

What he's done since then has given new opportunities to thousands and thousands of kids. In Bangladesh, roughly one-third of the country, much of which sits only a meter above sea level, goes underwater during monsoon season from June to October.

In those months, roads become inaccessible, crops and schoolhouses are destroyed and commerce stalls. Millions of Bangladeshis are forced to migrate to larger cities to feed their families.

Children suffer acutely during monsoon season. As sea levels rise and seasonal rains become more frequent and intense (scientists expect that 10 to 20% of Bangladesh will be submerged by seawater by 2030), local families are often unable — or unwilling — to send their children to school. When flooding decimates the family's food supply or puts one parent out of a job, children are often asked to stay home to work or farm.

Infographic: Bangladesh Flooding

Growing up in rural Northwest Bangladesh, Mohammed Rezwan witnessed decades of increasingly violent weather events, including dozens of monsoons and a 1991 cyclone that killed 138,000 people. Though his family owned a small transportation boat that allowed him to attend some classes during rain season, Rezwan's friends and relatives weren't so lucky. During monsoon season, he says, they couldn't attend school, leaving many of them deprived of an elementary education.

“It was frustrating and difficult for me to accept this situation,” he says.

In 1998, after graduating with a degree in architecture from a university in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, Rezwan returned to the small village where he grew up and set out to devise a solution to the floods destroying Bangladesh's education.

Architects build houses or buildings for those who have the ability to construct them, but why can’t architecture do wonderful things for poorer people in their communities? I wanted to do something for the communities where I grew up.
Mohammed Rezwan

Rezwan’s idea was to flood-proof education by designing and building a fleet of floating schools that could be replicated in other developing countries ravaged by floods. The same year he graduated, Rezwan embarked on his plan, called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, with just $500 and a laptop.

0:00 / 0:00
Video Companion
Mohammed Rezwan speaks about the floating schools concept

For the next four years, he balanced building his first school boat with attracting international fundraisers and local supporters. After emailing hundreds of organizations, Rezwan received a $3,000 grant from the Global Fund for Children in 2003 that allowed him to build and demonstrate the idea to local families.

Share
Comments

Latest Stories

October 18, 2019
After a violent insurgence of illegal loggers decimated their lands, a group of 15 fearless Purhépecha women led a revolution that brought an indigenous Mexican culture—and its beloved wild mushrooms—back from the brink.
3 Min Read
October 15, 2019
The New York Public Library is bringing iconic literature into the 21st century, putting classics like "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and “The Raven” into the hands of young readers via something that’s likely in their hands already: their smartphones.
3 Min Read
October 14, 2019
Tom Szaky has a revolutionary vision to solve the world’s disposable plastics problem—but it’s not by recycling things. It’s by not creating trash in the first place.
2 Min Read