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Testing Water Across the Globe

I will never forget November, 2008. Not only was it the culmination of an exciting and historical election year, but it was my time for a remarkable and unforgettable experience. I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to work with teachers and students on a special project called Four Rivers, One World. This project was developed by International Education and Research Network (iEARN), a global non-profit educational resource started in 1988 that now involves about 20,000 schools and youth-based organizations in more than 115 countries. iEARN's mission is to "empower teachers and young people to work together online using the Internet and other new communications technologies."

The iEARN network enables hundreds of thousands of students and teachers to collaborate via the Internet world-wide every day. Four Rivers, One World (FROW) is just one of the many projects and programs provided by iEARN.

FROW is a project that was designed for teachers and students to study four rivers in four different countries in partnership with the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and Water- Keeper Alliance in NYC. The four rivers are the Mula River in Pune, India, the Bhagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the Hudson River in New York City, NY. The project encourages and teaches students and teachers how to become active and responsible citizens by means of international collaboration in each of the four countries. Through support from the US Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, groups of participating teachers from the four countries participated in expeditions on the rivers where they performed water quality tests, community and service learning projects and professional development workshops. FROW is also an exchange program for teachers in those countries. In February 2008, teachers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh traveled to New York City to participate in the YouthCAN conference at The American Museum of Natural History. This past fall, two to three US teachers were selected to travel to one of the participating Asian countries to learn about their education system, water testing techniques and projects taking place in their classrooms.

I was selected to travel to Bangladesh with another teacher, Kim Baker, Coordinator of Urban Ecology at The Center for the Urban Environment. This was the first visit to Bangladesh for both of us so we were glad to be traveling together. Our hosts were a group of remarkable teachers from Dhaka, which is the capital city. Mr. Rajib Lochan Das, the coordinator for iEARN and also a teacher of Mathematics at the Agrani School, was our main contact. He organized an experience that was both fulfilling and enriching for us. Mr. Habib Bahar Galundaz and Mr. Proshanta Sarker were also wonderful hosts during our week there.

We began the ten-day stint with a three-day FROW conference which included a group of about 20 teachers who teach different subjects areas and levels. Rajib designed the conference to inspire teachers who are not already involved in iEARN Bangladesh to become involved in the network and the FROW project. The attending teachers were from various schools in Bangladesh, mostly in the Dhaka area. Early in the conference, speakers provided background information and history relevant to the conference. An excellent presentation was given by the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Education of The People's Republic of Bangladesh on the structure of the education system of Bangladesh. We also learned essential environmental information about the area including current issues and concerns, restoration proposals and projects and the indigenous people who still live in areas all over the country.

The second day, we hit the field to collect our water samples from the Buriganga River. We loaded into a couple of vans and drove across Dhaka, through thickets of very slow moving traffic…. a mishmash of cars, buses and rickshaws. We finally made our way to an area along the Buriganga, a hub where gondola-style boats were available to take us down the river at a low cost. The embankment area was also filled with children splashing in the cool water, women washing clothes and men fishing with homemade nets. All 20 of us boarded a boat and got ready to make our journey. The engine started with a loud roar and off we went. It was amazing to see the city from this river view. We passed boats of all sizes, small groups of children playing on the shore and beautiful palms swaying in the breeze. It was so exciting. Occasionally, we slowed down to take a sample of the river water. We didn't use any special equipment for this, simply our gloved hands and plastic water bottles. From what I observed, there didn't seem to be much life in the Buriganga with the exception of one species of aquatic plant that appeared to be thriving.

The following day we tested our water samples. We broke up into groups of five teachers and set to work with our LaMotte sample kits. Luckily, most of the teachers spoke English, so when Kim and I were working with our group, we didn't struggle too much with the language barrier. We tested our samples for nitrogen, phosphate, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity.

For most, it was the first time they had ever performed water quality tests. Teachers in Bangladesh are required to follow a very strict curriculum and are limited on how creative or hands-on their lessons can be. It was an experience they never had before. All teachers were eager to find out how unhealthy the river was. Much to our surprise, our results revealed that the water is "not that bad". Many of the teachers wanted to get more samples and continue testing the water. After we discussed our results, Rajib showed the teachers how to use iEARN in the classrooms.

The rest of our time in Bangladesh was spent learning about the culture, the history and the progress this country has made. We visited many schools both within Dhaka and outside the city. We were able to visit institutions such as the Teacher's Training College and the prestigious Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. This experience was one that I will hold near to my heart. Not only did I get to experience a country I knew nothing about, but I made friends and now feel as though I have a connection to them that will never be broken.