Empowering indigenous youth for building community resilience
Driving change through unity and innovation
Rangamati, a picturesque town located amidst lush hills, rivers and lakes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is known as the Lake City of Bangladesh. This idyllic town is grappling with a significant problem – the rampant growth of water hyacinths.
The water hyacinth issue in Rangamati is a multidimensional challenge. The invasive plant's overgrowth not only clogs waterways, and creates obstacles for transportation, but casts a shadow over the local fishermen’s livelihood. This plant has led to reduced fishing output due to blocked sunlight and polluted water. When the water level in Kaptai Lake rises, these water hyacinths gather around the town's lakeside market locations. As a result, fishermen and farmers struggle to reach the market on time to sell their produce.
The situation becomes particularly dire for students, as their daily commute time across the lakes increases to several hours, hindering their access to education and other opportunities.
A journey of passion and purpose
“The rapid growth of water hyacinths has turned our daily commutes into hour-long struggles and has also threatened the livelihoods of the majority of our community,” says Mariyan Tanchangya, a young entrepreneur from the indigenous community of Rangamati.
Mariyan grew up in Rangamati district of Chittagong Hill Tracts region, witnessing the challenges faced by her community, particularly girls. “Low confidence and the lack of guidance always held me back. But when I got to know about the GenU imaGen Ventures Youth Challenge, I really wanted to step out of those limitations and contribute to my community's welfare,” says Mariyan, while participating in the Challenge, representing her community.
Mariyan's teammate Assad Khan Ifat also shares her passion for change. “The lack of representation for indigenous communities often leads to the neglect of our innovations and ideas at the national level. It’s a matter of pride for us to be here representing Rangamati,” says Assad.
Aimed at empowering young minds to devise solutions for climate and environmental issues in Bangladesh, the GenU imaGen Ventures Youth Challenge 2022 came as a driving force for Mariyan and Assad. Their innovation addresses the problem plaguing Rangamati's lakes and many rivers across the country.
Addressing the challenge
As transportation, fishing, and daily life gets severely affected, determined to tackle these issues, Mariyan and Assad hatched a transformative plan of turning water hyacinth into sustainable fertilizer, curbing the need for chemical alternatives in agriculture. This initiative not only addresses the environmental impact but also offers employment opportunities to the local community.
“We decided to participate in this challenge as we believed we would be able to better implement our idea. Participating in this challenge has given us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people of Rangamati," Assad affirmed, highlighting their commitment to the cause.
Working closely with Assad, Mariyan is striving to ensure that the project brings positive changes in her community and restore the lakes’ health. Moreover, the team is also crafting biodegradable baskets from water hyacinths, providing an eco-friendly alternative to plastic and paper baskets while reducing pollution and fostering a healthier environment.
Strength in unity
Mariyan and Assad's collaboration proved to be a powerful force. While Mariyan's family could not accompany her to Dhaka for the final selection event, their support and Assad's encouragement propelled her forward.
"Being able to present our idea to a distinguished panel of judges and exchanging knowledge with hundreds of like-minded individuals from all across the country have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I can now help others from my community with their ideas and encourage them to pursue their aspirations," Mariyan reflected, embodying the newfound strength derived from her participation.
By providing platforms for talented individuals to showcase their potential and address local challenges, UNICEF is committed to nurturing innovative solutions that lead to impactful changes.
With the right support, young individuals like Mariyan can spearhead initiatives that not only address environmental issues but also lay the foundation for a more sustainable and inclusive future for indigenous communities.