I’ve fallen in love.
It happened right around Valentines Day.
Landing in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 10, buoyed by the excitement of a new connection I made with friends in my own community, I was open to whatever came next.
After 35 hours of travel and 1 hour of freshening up, me and my travel partners Laryl Hutchin and Ilona Niemczyk, fellow colleagues at IDE, arrived at the IDE-Bangladesh country office and greeted with open arms. Led by Rajiv Pradhan, a superstar social entrepreneur and the Country Director here, the staff there had arranged for our adventure to begin the next morning, guided by the brilliant and beautiful Raisa Chowdhury, IDE-Bangladesh’s Communication Officer. We set out to drive 6 hours to Barisal, a 200 year old Muslim city in the southern part of Bangladesh. Hanif, our driver, has been with IDE for 13 years so I knew we were in good hands. I put on some music and watched out the window as we drove at breakneck speed and skill to our destination.
The next morning we left on a speedboat to an Island named Bhola. We were going to meet IDE’s fish and vegetable farmers on this island. Since IDE works in partnership with rural poor families, we look at their entire situation for what might help them increase their income, whether its vegetables, fish, pigs or other such income generating activities.
After driving and walking through stunning vistas in this tropical place, we found a group of fish farmers first, and then through a grove of banana trees, came upon a group of women farmers.
This, my friends, is where it happened. I fell in love, and my heart cracked wide open with the possibility of the human spirit.
These women were strong, confident, and hard-working. They had been working with IDE for 4 years – and because of our partnership with them, because we work with them as customers and partners, not beneficiaries, I could see the progress.. In this remote place, the women and their families were flourishing.
They were still poor by most standards, yet the smiles on their faces belied another quiet but strong factor in their lives.
Those smiles came from the dignity of being able to feed their families, send their children to school, and expand their farms.
They asked for visits to commercial farms so they could grow theirs. They wanted better rates and terms from micro-finance institutions. They knew all of the players and they knew what they wanted.
They offered us coconut milk, tomatoes, and asked us questions about why we were there, etc.
We are here to learn from you, we said. We want to tell your story so we can reach more customers like you, to provide tools and opportunities to more farming entrepreneurs like you. We are also mothers, we said. We are just like you. We are one.
I showed pictures of my little children, Summer and Cody, on my iPhone. I had videos as well, and showed them. That’s when we all fell in love with each other. They crowded around to see my children. I played the videos and pictures over and over on their request. They let us hold one of their gorgeous babies. They invited us to come back for lunch with our children, and come live with them for a while.
Here’s a photo with the women:
The incredible thing is that this is only one story of many that occurred during this trip. After Bangladesh, we went to visit Mike Roberts and his superstar team in the IDE-Cambodia program, and went on field visits in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh – we had more adventures, connections and inspirations than I could ever write about in one blog post, but stay tuned!
Every day I was inspired, for 10 days straight. Every day, my heart broke open wider. Between connections with farming families and staff halfway around the world, and connections with new people in my community back home, I’m awestruck by the potential we have, at IDE and in our lives, to unleash the human spirit and inspire dreams and change and entrepreneurship.
This is what I live for.
To connect with and fall in love, over and over again, with the human spirit.
Thank you for this experience and this learning, IDE. You are one incredible organization!
PS. To view slide shows of my trip and our adventures, click on the below links. As a facebook friend you should be able to view them:
1. Bangladesh Album 1 – great hair, fish farms and more..
2. Bangladesh Album 2 – landing in a village where westerners have never been..
3. Cambodia – pig farms, latrine selling, and a social enterprise for water filters..