The year was 2007. Cyclone Sidr had just hit the country. I was headed to one of the most remote areas of Bangladesh, the south Sundarbans. The region is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest, which meant there was no road access to our destination. All travel was done by boat or a small Cessna float plane. When we finally arrived, the destruction was hard to believe.
The trees were uprooted, roads destroyed as if an angry giant had toppled everything upside down. Saline water from the mangroves had destroyed all the crops the local farmers had saved for the season. There was no water to drink and no food to sustain the hungry, worried faces.
This is the memory that’s freshest in my mind from when I first joined USAID Bangladesh as a communications specialist. I was in charge of interviewing the folks who benefited from our efforts. I’d visit the remotest areas of the country, where people, suffering from malnutrition or hit hard by a cyclone or flood, were struggling to get back on their feet. What I discovered is that the true spirit of being a Bangladeshi is hidden in its most cherished, innate quality—being resilient. As a Bangladeshi, one thing I know for sure is we are a nation famous for turning every challenge into an opportunity. Sometimes all they need is the right guidance, access to knowledge and reassurance that they are not alone.
The folks I visited, they would look around and find many people also in search of a better life, better health and a better education—USAID was there to help them navigate the road to success. Our projects ranged from nutrition and health education, to empowering young women and teaching farmers how to bring in more income for the household by producing more crops and vegetables.
Their success came in many forms—from learning how to operate a small machine which produces fertilizer balls, to how to plant an ever-sturdy, saline-resistant breed of rice, to young mothers now having more knowledge on how to feed their young children healthier meals from produce grown in a backyard garden.
A move to Minnesota
The first time I heard about Land O’Lakes International Development was when I went for a month-long assignment as a communications strategist for USAID Zimbabwe. Land O’Lakes was a name that came up often because of the company’s unique and diverse work in dairy and livestock. As luck would have it, I also met my now husband, who has been living in Minnesota for almost 17 years. When I realized Land O’Lakes, Inc. has its headquarters in Minnesota, I knew instantly that I had a home there.
I migrated to the United States in July 2014. I had the chance to choose a different path, but I chose to continue to pursue my opportunities in international development. Land O’Lakes International Development seemed like the right fit, given its history of many years of working with the underprivileged in developing countries.
Although Land O’Lakes International Development partners with USAID and USDA on many programs, the work is different for me now. Before, I would write about a farmer who earns more money thanks to his cows producing more milk. Now, I am closer to the programs, getting into the weeds of the challenges and hurdles we face every day while implementing changes. For that same farmer, I dig into issues such as why his cow is not getting enough fodder and care, which ultimately decides how much milk she produces.
Connected to home
Thanks to the dairy experts of Land O’Lakes International Development in Bangladesh, the current dairy project, funded by United States Department of Agriculture is seeing amazing results, with some farmers producing up to 500 percent more milk per cow.
We help farmers practice modern methods of dairy farming, including better animal care, which ultimately translates into more milk and happier, healthier cows. The dairy farmers can then invest the additional money they earned from the milk towards their kids’ education, or healthier, more nutritious meals for their families.
For me, my work has come full circle. I may be many thousand miles away from what I’ve always known as my home, Bangladesh, but the fact that I can serve and work for my people gives me peace of mind—and encourages me to do better at what we do. Going forward, I see myself engaging more with the development community in Bangladesh and beyond. I hope to help bring about a positive change not just for Bangladesh, but for ever-resilient, ever-hardworking people around the world.