Project Khale Hobe: How the power of one aided by social media can better lives

Ramchandrapur Canal in Mohammadpur has undergone a transformation. Photo by Rishi Kabbo and used with permission.

The Ramchandrapur Canal in Mohammadpur, Dhaka has undergone a transformation. Photo by Rishi Kabbo and used with permission.

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was once home to over forty operational canals that interconnected with the Buriganga, Shitalakshya, Turag, and Balu rivers crisscrossing the city. These waterways facilitated the storm sewer management and movement of boats during rainy seasons when the canals were full to the brim. Unfortunately, the majority of these canals have been lost over time, and the surviving 26 canals and sections are being encroached upon by urban development. Extreme pollution and urbanization have severed their connection to the rivers. Consequently, flooding is a huge concern throughout Dhaka during the monsoon season.

While the responsibility for canal cleaning, sewage and drainage management in Dhaka lies with the city corporations, they have failed to fix the cloggings before the monsoon season. Nevertheless, a group of young volunteers, led by a cartoonist, came forward to clean a polluted canal coursing through the Mohammadpur Housing Society area of Dhaka, earning appreciation and praise from the entire nation.

Over the past few years, Dhaka city has grappled with recurring water logging issues triggered by heavy rainfall. A 2023 study revealed that rapid urbanization, high population density, and obstruction of existing storm sewer systems are the root causes of this water logging issue. The existing stormwater drainage system does not cover all areas and is ill-equipped to effectively manage and disperse the surplus water generated by recurrent floods and storms.

Social media

In late September, a tragic incident claimed four lives due to electrocution resulting from contact with an exposed electric wire on a waterlogged street in Dhaka.

The incident moved cartoonist Morshed Mishu, who recently led a volunteer effort titled #flash_mop to clean up and paint some city walls. The idea of cleaning the canals running through the heart of Dhaka came to his mind. He thought if citizens could get some relief from flooding, these kinds of accidental deaths would stop. Meanwhile, one of his friends posted a video on Facebook of a canal located inside the Mohammadpur Housing Limited area. In the video, one can see that so much garbage had accumulated in the canal, that the water wasn't even visible.

On September 22, 2023, Morshed Mishu shared the video on his Facebook, expressing his aspiration to clean the canal. He wrote:

পরবর্তী দেয়াল পরিষ্কারের উদ্যোগ নেয়ার আগে এই খাল/নালা পরিষ্কারের উদ্যোগ নিবো মনস্থির করছি…
মোহাম্মদপুরে আমার বন্ধু, বড় ভাই, ছোট ভাইদের দৃষ্টি আকর্ষণ করতেছি… ইউল্যাবে আমার প্রিয় ছোটভাইদেরও দৃষ্টি আকর্ষণ করতেছি… আপনাদের সকলের সহযোগিতা কাম্য…
ব্যাক্তি বা প্রতিষ্ঠান আগ্রহ দেখাইলে অবশ্যই ওয়েলকাম… তবে অতিমাত্রায় ব্র্যান্ডিং আশা কইরেন না আর কি…
আর যদি সহযোগিতা না ও পাই, তবুও চেষ্টা করমু… ফেইল মারলে ফেইল… কিন্তু, চেষ্টা না কইরা হাল ছাড়া যাইবো না…

I have decided to initiate the cleaning of this canal/drain before embarking on the next wall clean up event…

I'm reaching out to my friends, elder brothers, and younger brothers in Mohammadpur… I'm also extending this call to my beloved younger brothers in ULAB… Your support is greatly desired…

Individuals or organizations are, of course, welcome if they're interested, but please don't anticipate excessive branding or similar matters…

Even if we don’t get any help, we will still try… If we fail, that's okay… But if you don't attempt, you'll never know.

Morshed Mishu named this canal cleaning initiative the “Khale Hobe” (which translates to “It will happen in the canal”). His call attracted numerous volunteers from various age groups. Others stepped forward to extend financial support for the entire operation. Recognizing this spontaneous outpouring of support on Facebook, Morshed Mishu referred to it as the power of social media.

খালে হবে’ প্রজেক্টায় আপনাদের স্বতঃস্ফূর্ত অংশগ্রহণ করার আগ্রহ দেখে যে কি সাহস পাইতেছি বলে বোঝানো সম্ভব না…

It's truly indescribable how your spontaneous eagerness to participate in the Khale Hobe project fills me with inspiration and courage…

Cartoonist Morshed Mishu was actively involved in the cleaning process. Photo by Rishi Kabbo, used with permission.

Cartoonist Morshed Mishu was actively involved in the cleaning process. Photo by Rishi Kabbo, used with permission.

Morshed Mishu and his team of volunteers undertook the formidable task of cleaning the Ramchandrapur Canal in Mohammadpur, completing the entire operation in just two days on September 28 and 29. They also repainted three bridges along the canal.

Rishi Kabbo, a member of the team, reflected on their experience on Facebook:

… দুইদিনে পুরো টিম যা শিখলো মানবজাতি / বাঙালিজাতি ড্রেনে শুধু নিজে ঝাঁপ দেন না এবং টাকা ফেলে দেন না । এই ছাড়া যাবতীয় যা আছে সব ড্রেনে ফেলে । কি উঠানো হয় নাই? বালিশ, কোলবালিশ, কম্বল, কাঠের ফার্নিচার, খেলনা পুতুল , ডেইলি ওয়েস্ট ….

যাই হোক হয়তো এক সপ্তাহ এই খাল এমন পরিষ্কার থাকবে কিংবা কিছুদিন বেশি? কিন্তু এই যে এতো গুলা মানুষ দেখলো জানলো যে আমরা চাইলেই দুইদিনে একটা এলাকার চেহারা বদলায় ফেলতে পারি? এরা কি কিছু শিখে নাই? আশা করি শিখেছে….. এবং পরের বার নিজের এলাকা পরিষ্কার হয়তো নিজেরাই করবেন…..

… What the entire team discovered in those two days is that apart from money and themselves, people/Bengalis throw away nearly anything into the canals or drains. What treasure trove did we pick up from the canal? Pillows, cushions, blankets, wooden furniture, toy dolls, household waste ….

Pity, maybe this canal might remain clean for just a week or more (only to be refilled with garbage). However, the undeniable fact remains that many people witnessed our work and have now realized that we can transform the appearance of an area in just two days.

Haven't they learned anything from this experience? Hopefully, they have… and perhaps, in the future, they'll take the initiative to clean their own surroundings.

A comparison of Ramchandrapur canal before and after the cleanup. Photos courtesy of Rishi Kabbo, used with permission.

A comparison of Ramchandrapur canal before and after the cleanup. Photos courtesy of Rishi Kabbo, used with permission.

This is not the first successful volunteer initiative of Morshed Mishu. Before this, he has cleaned and painted a road in Dhaka's Mirpur area using an array of vibrant colors. During an interview with Bangla daily Prothom Alo, he made a commitment to initiating the cleanup and beautification of 200 walls, rivers, and canals within the coming two years.

Praising Morshed Mishu for doing the work that is the responsibility of the government, Ishtiaq Ahmed, a Facebook user from Naraynganj posted:

নিজের ব্যক্তিগত সম্পদ, সম্পত্তির বাইরে এসে কেউ যদি সামগ্রিক মানুষের জন্য সরকারি সম্পদকে রঙিন করতে নিজের সময় এবং শক্তিকে ব্যায় করে তাকে সাধারণ মানুষ ধরার কোনও কারণ নেই।
সে আলাদা।
সে অসাধারণ।

There is no reason to label someone an ordinary individual if he spends his time, money and energy to enhance the collective assets for the common people, especially when it remains unfulfilled by the state.

He is different.

He is awesome.

Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam shared a video of Project Khale Hobe on his Facebook page and wrote — “Like this, we are all changing Dhaka collectively, bit by bit.”

It's worth mentioning that the local ward commissioner and the city corporation's cleaning staff have wholeheartedly supported this endeavor.

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