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2013 Summer Interns Arrive!

Posted by on June 5th, 2013

This is the fifth year that Panigram Resort has hosted summer interns. This year the interns are helping to introduce organic farming into the area and are assisting Nazmeen with the English and hospitality lessons in the village.

Clark Austin

Clark Austin

I am a self described nerd and Biologist that comes from San Diego, California. I have been studying biology for the last nine years. In my schooling I have specialized in botany, ecology, and entomology. While working at Panigram this summer I am concluding two multi-year studies on two separate endangered plant species endemic to Southern California.

I am very excited to start working on an organic farming program in the local village that Panigram is located in. While organic farming is big in America, it has a limited market here in Bangladesh and the possibilities are endless.  I am hoping to utilize my knowledge of plants and insects to facilitate a successful program that will not only benefit the local farmers with higher market prices for their crops, but also increase the health of the ecosystem at large.

I grew up on the east coast of the United States and have traveled extensively. I like to cook very much and as a result wherever I travel I always make it a priority to try the local foods. Having never been to Asia, I am very excited to see a whole new side of humanity, and new forms of food I have never encountered.

Jordan Gascon

Jordan Gascon

Hello my name is Jordan Gascon and I am from San Diego, CA. I studied international security and conflict resolution and specialized in conflict, conflict resolution and cooperation at San Diego State University. I continued my studies at Norwich University in Vermont and received my Master’s in Diplomacy and specialized in international conflict management. I have always been a problem solver and a people person. Throughout my studies I have had the opportunity to visit many different countries including Estonia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Russia.

In each country I realized that I was inherently interested in the people’s culture and religions. I found myself trying to learn their language and teach them a little bit of English in order to facilitate better communication. I hope to be able to help the English program and the Panigram Apprenticeship program in developing stronger staff at the resort. In addition to my studies, I have worked as a biology research assistant in the Ecology Department at San Diego State for  four years. This experience has helped me develop a love of plants and sustainable agriculture. It will be a great honor to help the other interns bring sustainable organic farming to the villages of Bangladesh.

My goals for this internship are to develop lasting relationships with the local population, learn conversational Bangla, improve the English abilities of each English class, learn a little hotel/ resort management skills, and take away a better understanding of the lives of people living in poverty.

Savaila

Savaila

Greetings! I am Savaila, Pakistani native, pursuing a B.S. in Development Studies and Economics from the Asian University of Women Bangladesh. My policy interests are poverty and inequality, community and international development and social entrepreneurship. I love learning, sharing my knowledge, experiencing cultures different from my own, travelling, adventure, music, and surfing the net. This last interest led me to the internship at Panigram Resort. Various projects of Panigram resort are giving back to the community to empower those from disadvantaged communities in Panigram.  I am currently working on the organic farming project at Panigram. We had a meeting last week with some of the local farmers, and I was excited by how interested they are to work with us. So far, we have planned to do research on the prices of the vegetables and fruits in the different steps of the chain of selling vegetables and fruits. I am excited to be an intern and looking forward to work on the project.

Syeda Jeena

Syeda Jeena

Assalamu Alaikum! This is Syeda Jeena from Chittagong, Bangladesh, studying BSS in Economics and Mathematics, in an international university named Asian University for Women. By being fortunate of living with multicultural people and by learning about their culture and countries, I have always been excited to visit their places. However, before visiting the neighboring countries, I have always thought of visiting at least the 7 divisions of my mother country, Bangladesh. I have been living in Chittagong, the 2nd largest division of Bangladesh. Beside the capital Dhaka, this city is called the 2nd capital of Bangladesh. I visited Dhaka, Comilla, Chittagong Hill tracts, Coxs’ Bazaar, Sylhet, and Khulna. Just a few days before, I arrived in Jessore in order to do my Summer Internship this year here at Panigram.

When I first saw the webpage of Panigram, I was totally amazed by its mission and vision. I could guess to learn more about this project alongside the underprivileged people’s lifestyle by working with the people in Panigram. Panigram is truly an amazing place to stay. The people here and their hospitality, the food and the environment are excellent. I was truly stunned to see the innovative ideas and design of the cottages and the inside furniture and other materials that were used in the construction of the resort. All the materials are Bangladeshi which makes me really proud.

I am working now with my group mates to build the organic farming initiative here at Panigram in order to promote healthy crop production. We have been working with the farmers and villagers. The field work is very exciting, enjoyable, and knowledgeable.  I hope to learn many more new things from this summer work and come back here again after the resort is open.

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Goading for Ghur

Posted by on February 5th, 2013

Student Ikram climbs the date palm tree to show us how they collect the sap called "rosh". This sap can either be drunk straight from the tree or boiled into a sticky sweet syrup called "ghur".

I love our students for many reasons, but one in particular is their helpfulness. No matter what Angela and I are doing, someone will offer to assist us.

We decided to go for a walk in the village last week to buy a cold drink. Barely a hundred meters from the classroom door, we met Bashir. After a dozen questions, we managed to convince him that we didn’t need any help going for a walk. A little further down the road, we passed Zia’s laundry shop, where we once again explained that we were just fine. We made it to the intersection to be greeted by Rasedul, Hashib and Abhijan. As Abhijan has a small store, we decided to buy our drinks from him.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have the exact thing we were looking for and, without hesitation, Rasedul ran up the road to another shop to get it. In the meantime, we were instructed to sit and wait. We argued that we were out for a walk, not a rest, but our protests went unheeded. It was unthinkable for our students to let us stand in the street, where we may get tired or uncomfortable. Finally, we got our drinks and returned to class.

Angela and I decided to put our student’s hospitality to the test last week at Ikram’s birthday party. Angela told Ikram (another one of our students) that she wanted to drive a cow-cart and asked who could show her how. To our host’s dismay, his cousin told us that Ikram knew how to do it. So, on the way back after lunch, a passing cow-cart was flagged down and Ikram gave us a demonstration. Angela didn’t get to drive it herself, but at least we have seen how it’s done.

Our next desire was to see how the delicious local drink rosh is collected. Once again, Rasedul and Ikram came to our aid, arranging for another villager to climb the date-palm and give us a show. Up he went, with his billhook and clay pot, cut a channel in the tree trunk, wedged in a peg to direct the flow of the sap, and affixed the pot.

Of course, that wasn’t enough of a show for the demanding English teachers.

“Ikram, can you climb a tree like that?” I asked.

“No, mam.” he replied, with terror in his eyes.

“Yes, he can!” interjected Rasedul, the troublesome cousin.

“Please, climb the tree for us.” we pleaded. How could they resist?

Rasedul tried and made it a couple of meters up before losing his nerve. Ikram, the alledged professional, tied a knot in his lungi, strapped on the billhook and, looking the part at least, set off up the palm. He didn’t make it much higher than Rasedul before posing for photos and sliding back down.

We decided that we should give the students a weekly challenge like this. We are justifying it by saying it will prepare them for dealing with the needs of Panigram guests. Seriously, though, it’s all in good fun! We think that our students are as amused by our curiosity as we are by their generosity!

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The Gift of Teaching

Posted by on December 10th, 2012

If I had to describe our students in one word, I’d choose “unique.”

Most adult ESL students live in urban areas where they’re exposed–whether a lot or a little–to cultures other than their own. They pass hotels and Western-style restaurants. They see tourists. They may even work for international companies.

Not our students.

Before they started our English class, many of them had never met or spoken to a native English speaker and their exposure to anything tourism related was almost non-existent. Simple things that most travelers take for granted are completely foreign to these students, and foreigners are exotic creatures. At the same time, their simple lifestyle and age-old practices are utterly fascinating to travelers like me.

Trying my hand, er foot, at the rice mill near one of our student's homes.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Astonishing Dedication: Villagers Make Panigram Training Their Top Priority

Posted by on December 1st, 2012

As part of Panigram’s philosophy of responsible tourism, we have set ourselves a number of targets regarding the demographic of our workforce. Our primary aim is to take as much of the workforce as possible from the local community in order to boost the economy of the area. We also pride ourselves in employing a relatively large proportion of women: our current male-female ratio stands at approximately 140:80.

Looking to the future service staff of the resort, we are constantly recruiting potential employees. We have frequent recruitment drives, including a speed interviewing process. Successful applicants are invited to attend our training program, through which they learn both hospitality skills and English communication. The scheme will continue until such time as the resort opens its doors, when participants will be offered appropriate positions according to the standards they have achieved.

While we try to include as many people as possible in the training program, there are some applicants who are unable to attend due to a variety of factors. A few of these factors are explained in the following insight into the background of our trainees.

Education
All participants of the training scheme have gained their S.S.C (Secondary School Certificate) at the age of 16. Most continued on to complete the H.S.C at 18 and some have passed (or are currently studying towards) a bachelor’s degree. A few even have master’s degrees and some experience working in the hospitality field.

Home Life
In Bangladesh, and particularly in rural areas like Jessore, it is normal for people to marry quite young, often between the ages of 18 and 25. Once married, couples tend to start families straight away. Therefore, many of the trainees have young families and the commitments that come along with them. Trainees who are not yet married generally live in a joint family system, with many siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. all living in a single compound.

As Panigram is being built in a small village, the homes of our trainees can be anything up to 10km from the classroom. Our participants usually walk or ride bicycles to class, as many of them have no other mode of transport. This takes some students upwards of 30 minutes.

Employment
Another aspect that should be considered is that while participating in the program, the trainees are not yet employed by Panigram. Most of them earn their modest income through agriculture and take time from their farming work to attend our classes.

When all of these factors of distance, transport, education, work and family commitments are taken into consideration, the dedication that we see in the trainees each day is outstanding. It is very rare that someone is absent from class and, if they are, they usually try to come to a makeup class later in the day. After a 15 minute walk in the rain, there is still an enthusiastic smile on each face.

The positive attitudes I observe in my students each day makes teaching them a real pleasure!

Most students walk or ride bicycles to class from the neighbouring villages.

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“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!”

Posted by on November 11th, 2012

As a teacher, when you’re with your students, experiencing their growth as it happens, sometimes it’s difficult to realize how far they’ve come. Sometimes you need a little perspective.

Well that’s exactly what happened when our new students arrived.

As I sat giving the new students their preliminary speaking evaluations, I was reminded of the original students (whom we have lovingly named our “Pioneers”). Back in June, the Pioneers were awkward and confused. They either quickly blurted out whatever English they had memorized or sat looking at me blankly, answering every question with, “Yes.”

“Ma’am. Panigram Resort is very, very wonderful. I love Panigram Resort.”

“Oh, thank you. That’s nice. Now, what do you see in the picture?”

“Yes.”

“What is the boy doing?”

“Yes.”

“How is the weather?”

Silence.

Over the past few months, I’ve been so focused on our goal ahead and all the work required to reach it that I had forgotten where we started.

Meeting the new students, I was reminded. Reminded of my first few lessons back in June, when I was still figuring out how much English skill the students really had. Reminded of the patience and repetition required to explain seemingly simple tasks. Reminded how overwhelming it all seemed.

Now, when I teach a class to the Pioneer students, they’re no longer awkward. It’s no longer laborious to give instructions. They no longer stare at me blankly and answer every question with, “Yes.” They do still tell me how much they love Panigram Resort, though. (Smile.)

So, as we begin again with the new students, who are still in their awkward phase, I am able to appreciate the progress we’ve made so far and feel even more excited about the progress I know we’ll continue to make.

We still have a long way to go, but there’s no doubt we’re getting there, one English class at a time.

Nazmeen (far left) and Angela (far right) with one of their "Pioneer" classes. (We are still working on breaking them of the Bangladeshi habit of frowning in photos!)

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British Invasion! Our Second English Trainer Arrives

Posted by on November 9th, 2012

We are really gearing up our village training programs now. About 100 new students joined our classes on November 1st, so we had to import another native speaker to help train them in English. Nazmeen Green is the latest addition to the Panigram team. She will be working with Angela to develop our English curriculum. Nazmeen and Angela are also teaming up with our hospitality experts to teach our students how to book spa treatments, make beds, and properly clean rooms. Most of our village staff will have had one year of training (6 classes a week) by the time Panigram opens its doors.

Nazmeen Green

Nazmeen Green Headshot

Nazmeen Green

Assalam alaikum! I’m Nazmeen Green and I have been working alongside Angela as an English trainer at Panigram for the last month.

I was born and raised in England, where I decided at quite a young age that I wanted to teach English in either France or Germany. However, after graduating with a degree in languages from the University of Wales, Swansea, I realized that I needed a short break from studying in which to travel.

I set off for a one-year teaching contract in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I eventually stayed for eight years. While visiting some friends in Dhaka earlier this year, I was struck with a feeling of belonging. The warmth of the local people and their acceptance of me made me feel instantly at home, especially when they heard that I was a recent convert to Islam.

I started looking for work in Bangladesh and struck gold with Panigram. I am really excited to be part of such an interesting project and to be working with some wonderful people. I have been delighted to see the eagerness of the students and the way Panigram is contributing in a positive way to the local community. I look forward to seeing both the students and the resort develop over the next year.

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Hospitality 101

Posted by on August 8th, 2012

Students practicing their English

It’s my last opportunity to visit the English classes before I have to leave Bangladesh. I feel both sad and excited when Angela, Yohana, and I arrive at the Union Council building where the classes are held.  It will be the last time that I will see these students, and I’m disappointed that I won’t be around to see them finish their training. But today is also exciting because I know there is something special in store for the students.

Today’s lesson will be taught by Yohana Tsegai, the hotel intern. Angela, the instructor from the U.S., usually teaches the class but will have an assisting role this time. It’s the first time where the roles are reversed for Yohana and Angela.  I’m just as curious and interested as the students to see what the lesson will be like. Read the rest of this entry »

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