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WORLD FOCUS: Easy like water

February 21, 2013
FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

Glenn Baker has done it again. Baker is a noted filmmaker with more than 40 documentaries broadcast on PBS-TV exploring global security issues, including the critically acclaimed documentary, "Stand Up: Muslim American Comics Come of Age," broadcast nationally as part of the series "America at a crossroads."

Some of his work has been reviewed previously in the Lake Placid News.

Now he has a new film documenting the effort of Mohamed Rezwan, a Bangladeshi architect who invented the "floating schools." These solar-powered classrooms are built on boats that provide year-round primary education to thousands of children in remote areas when floods prevent them from attending their local schools..

"The wooden schools travel down the rivers created by monsoon, directly to the isolated children," states the website of the project.

"I grew up in South Asia - India and Pakistan - and I first visited Bangladesh as a boy on a family vacation in 1971," Baker said in recent interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette. "I always felt the region got an undeserved reputation as a 'basket case." True, there was and still is widespread poverty, but I saw hardworking, proud pragmatic people making a go of it what they had, and in many cases living rich lives. So, I always wanted to make a film that redressed Western stereotypes about the region.".

He grew up in a foreign service family, stationed in Asia, the Middle East and he Philippines. Thus, he was familiar with the region. When he learned about the innovative project of the Bangladeshi architect, it sounded to him like and ideal story for re-framing our perception of the region.

He also learned that the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program was soliciting proposals for films about "social entrepreneurs" who use practices that address the central social challenges of our time, like using the floating schools against the backdrop of Bangladesh's increasingly dire struggle with global climate change.

Bangladesh is the most densely populated country on Earth, with, 60 million people squeezed into an area of the size of Wisconsin, Baker said.. It is estimated that by 2050, twenty million people there will be displaced from land that is washed away by rising waters.

By coincidence, Baker's producer and cameraman, Steve Sapienza, was doing a story on water scarcity in India, the opposite of the problems caused by floods in Bangladesh. He contacted architect Rezwan, the boat school designer, establishing an ongoing relationship.

As with any major documentary project, fundraising was a challenge. But Baker's credentials apparently made a difference. He received funding from a consortium that included the MacArthur Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and others.

"When it comes to water," Baker said, "the problems are 'too much, too little, wrong type, wrong timing,' often all in the same place. We needed to develop a dramatic story that placed the design solutions offered by the floating schools against the backdrop of Bangladesh's problems caused by the floods."

Baker's documentary, called "Easy Like Water," demonstrates that with international support the floating school project could work on a much bigger scale not only in Bangladesh, but in coastal and riverine communities around the world threatened by increased flooding and rising sea levels.

"The Shidhulai organization has already expanded the concept from boat schools to include floating libraries, clinics, cinemas, and climate shelters. In regions already experiencing high waters, 'design for good' visionaries see a future that floats," Baker said.

Baker and his cameraman, traveled to Bangladesh specifically during monsoon season to document the flooding, only to find many parts of the country experiencing drought. Meanwhile, nearby Pakistan was devastated by unprecedented flooding that displaced more than two million people.

"Such is the fickle and unpredictable nature of climate change, which wreaks havoc on agriculture based on annual seasons and patterns," he said.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.

 
 

 

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