On our last week we drove past the sea. There were currents and waves and people standing on the edge, waist deep in water. Then I found out that I had been that way before, but hadn't recognized it because it wasn't actually the sea. It was fields and land and this was a flood.
This summer I spent two and a half months in Bangladesh. I had never thought much about climate change before, but I was introduced to the shocking effects on the lives of everyone we met. The example above is just one incident of flooding that we saw and we heard countless stories of earthquakes, flash flooding and houses being destroyed. Bangladesh is the country most effected by climate change - it is widely thought that by 2040, half of the country of 160 million people will be under water.
I went to Bangladesh for a lot of reasons, but partly because I wanted to learn from a group of people from another culture. I was expecting to experience the differences, however I wasn't expecting to learn so much about our similarities.
While we were there, I realized that teenagers in Bangladesh struggle with many of the same things as in the UK. In both, many young people have low confidence and low self-esteem, especially girls. I discovered that it is common in Bangladesh for people to want to have lighter skin and this is seen as beautiful. On TV all of the actors were very pale and the mannequins in shops in Dhaka all had white skin and blue eyes.
Quite a few times, I explained that in the UK we often want our skin to be more tanned. This was greeted with huge hilarity and surprise, but it made me realise that all over the world people are unhappy with what they have. Cross-cultural relationships are so important, therefore, because we can get closer to understanding the world and our value within it, without our culture clouding our eyes.
We also need to remember that all people globally do have a very significant value, wherever they are from.
We went to Bangladesh during monsoon season, so it was usually hot and humid for a few days and then followed by thunderstorms. To put it in perspective, one day it was only 27ºC and we all felt cold in comparison to the rest of the time.
There was one week, however, where it was hot for six days and the rain hadn't come. We found that it was too dangerous for us to go out and one of my team developed a nasty heat rash. It often felt as though we were praying for the rain to come, waiting for any relief from the humidity.
Finally, at the end of the week, it stormed. We were all so happy that we ran outside and danced around in the rain, getting soaked. There was much laughter and it felt good to be back to a normal, manageable situation.
But... We found out later that it was raining for us because there was a cyclone happening in the South. We were joyful and had been celebrating, but at the same time this meant that people were dying or hiding in shelters whilst their homes were being destroyed.
This seems to illustrate how we often act in the UK. Sometimes we are happy with the normal that we have, so it seems easy to switch off the consequences of us enjoying it. Maybe we forget that by being a bit more extravagant, we might be adding to the problems in another country.
And sometimes I think that we forget the value of the rest of the people around the world. We forget that they are often very similar to ourselves and have many of the same personal struggles.
Except that they also sometimes have very unstable lives. In Bangladesh, people don't know when there might be a flash flood, when people or belongings might be swept away or when the river might burst its banks.
Bangladesh is already very densely populated. In an area smaller than the UK, live almost three times the number of people. In the next 25 years, these people are going to have to go somewhere. What happens when the whole country is underwater? I think that the current refugee crisis is only the beginning, with people from Bangladesh needing to leave eventually.
When that happens, I would like us to be remembered as a generation that valued people all over the world. That might mean directly taking people into our country or maybe trying to solve the problems that are happening in theirs. Or, in the case of Bangladesh, it might mean trying to stop the climate damage before it's too late.
This Friday, the Development Goals are being decided for the next 15 years. One of these aims is to take climate action and we are all being called to work together to achieve change. Are you willing to be part of it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8gt5OhiPFo