A few months ago, Simon and I visited Cambodia and Bangladesh where ATEC’s teams and customers were located. Having only met the team through online Zoom calls, it was incredible to see that the people we’d been working with for over a year were, indeed “real”. And it was even more astounding to actually meet the customers whose lives we were impacting - people we’d only heard about from our ATEC colleagues. (plus to travel to countries I’ve never been before for a cause I cared about was beyond exciting!)
During our travels, we went to Dhaka - one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Dhaka was very new for us and was very exciting to explore. Meeting the ATEC team was our first objective the day we landed - and we were welcomed with open arms, getting our first taste of incredible Bangladeshi hospitality.
Meetings were our first point of call over the first 2 days, and on Day 3 of the trip, we sought out to meet ATEC’s customers. We were lucky enough to be invited to sit down with Mrs Jonaki Akhtar in her home in Bosila - a neighbourhood approximately 12km from the ATEC Bangladesh office. Mrs Jonaki and her husband were customers of ours, having gotten the ATEC Biodigester a few months back.
Mrs Jonaki was a softly spoken woman with a pleasant smile, and with the help of our colleague Momin who helped us translate, we began to learn more about her day to day life.
Women in Bangladesh are the primary cooks and spend a lot of time preparing food, cleaning and gathering fuel. Mrs Jonaki typically does the cooking and explained to us how she had previously been cooking with firewood that caused her to cough and eyes to water.
It’s hard to think that what Mrs Jonaki has experienced is common around the world. According to the WHO, around 2.4 billion people worldwide (around a third of the global population) cook using open fires or inefficient stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. This generates harmful household air pollution which was responsible for an estimated 3.2 million deaths per year in 2020. And women and children - typically responsible for household chores, bear the greatest health burden. Coming from a developed country where things like this seemed to be such foreign concepts, this was something incredibly sad to learn.
As I continued speaking to Mrs Jonaki, I asked how her experience with using the ATEC Biodigester was (The biodigester turns cow & pig manure into safe and clean cooking gas and organic fertilizer for crops) - and she immediately lit up. She exclaimed that since she started using the biodigester, she has saved time. She no longer has to collect firewood, allowing her to do other chores around the house. Reflecting on this, I realised how much her day must be spent on cooking and tending to chores around the house. Having one less chore to do could save a few hours - and make a world of difference!
She mentioned how she feels healthier as well because the air in her kitchen is much cleaner so she can breathe without coughing. I was sad to hear this, thinking of how she must have been very uncomfortable having to spend hours cooking for her family yet staying in the kitchen with watery eyes, and breathing in smoke that can’t possibly be good for her. To hear her speaking of the positive impact of the ATEC Biodigester in her life makes me feel more confident of the incredible work that we’re doing in these communities by working with ATEC.
And in line with excellent Bangladeshi hospitality which we experienced throughout our time in the country, Mrs Jonaki prepared some cut seasonal fruit for us before we left! Yummy.
To see how our work in countries like Bangladesh has positively impacted people like Mrs Jonaki’s life blows my mind. There’s a lot of work to be done but hearing the story of one person makes it all worth it. I was incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to go on such an eye opening trip and our learnings will inform the impact work we do in these countries and more.