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A plan to give Bangladesh's climate refugees a fighting chance

October 13, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Shaquib Chowdhury, a junior economics major, wants to help those in his native Bangladesh displaced by rising sea levels. He is one of 11 Mason students attending the Clinton Global Initiative University. Photo by Ron Aira.

Growing up in Bangladesh, Shaquib Chowdhury knows firsthand the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change.

Bangladesh is a low-lying country prone to flooding, and citizens from coastal towns are constantly relocating to the capital, Dhaka, already one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

“It’s chaos,” Chowdhury said. “But we can’t just throw them out.”

So the George Mason University junior decided to do something about it, and designed a plan to create what he calls a rehabilitation center that will provide shelter, schooling for children and job training for climate refugees.

Chowdhury, an economics major who became aware of George Mason while reading about James Buchanan, the late Mason economics professor and Nobel Prize winner, will present his plan at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), Oct. 13-15 at Northeastern University in Boston.

He is one of 11 George Mason students traveling to the event with the help of a $10,000 fund provided by Mason’s University Life and the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. The fund will also help support the students’ projects.

“Mason students who have attended CGIU in the past have described it as life changing,” said Alissa Karton, director of special projects at University Life. “I’ve been lucky enough to witness our students create and follow through on commitments to improve the lives of people in their local and global communities and make connections with students from around the world.”

Chowdhury’s connections include an associate in Bangladesh who will handle the logistics of setting up the center, provided Chowdhury can raise the $26,000 he believes is necessary to get things rolling for a center that can accommodate three or four families. You can visit his crowdsourcing page here.

Chowdhury calls his project Prottasha, a Bengali word that means hope.

“There are a lot of people within the city who look at refugees negatively, but that can’t happen,” he said. “They’re losing their homes, everything they own, but they’re not giving up on life. They’re starting from square one.”

With shelter and training in computer or entrepreneurial skills, perhaps the climate refugees will gain a sustainable way to move forward, said Chowdhury, who credits his time at Mason with focusing him more on critical thinking and problem resolution.

“Professors have helped me think more deeply and logically,” he said. “This is an amazing environment for education. It feels like my second home.”

Exactly what he is trying to create for Bangladesh’s climate refugees.

Other Mason students attending CGIU are Paula Alderete, global affairs; Sarai Alvarez, bioengineering; Marwa Bahr, bioengineering; Leohana Carrera, government and international politics; Robert Graham, education; Alzahra Hamidaddin, community health; David Kanos, government and international politics; Christophe Rugambwa, economics; Salman Siddiqui, marketing; and Margaret Wainaina, interdisciplinary studies.