“Inspiration – it’s a matter of time, as long as you are persistent with your purpose. You cannot get it from anyone else unless you have it within you, unless you want to change something,” he said.
I am sitting at a Dhanmondi cafe with Muntasir Mamun, recipient of the World Bank backed Connect4Climate prize.
He is a man of myriad identities: researcher, climber, hiker, and photographer. Professionally, he currently works for the flight department at the Korean organisation Young One in Dhaka.
But his most interesting identity is that of the biker who crossed the United States to raise awareness about climate change.
Over a cup of coffee, he delves into the details of his trip.
Muntasir and his biking partner Mohammad Ujjal began their trip to the US in May 2012. They set out on a 66 day trip that would cover 3,446 miles across 12 states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, and ending in Washington, DC.
Upon completion of their tour, Muntasir and Ujjal received the Connect4Climate Special Prize in the Voices4Climate competition, and Muntasir was declared an International Climate Leader by The Climate Reality Project.
Launched by the World Bank, the Italian Ministry of Environment, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in collaboration with more than 140 global partners in September 2011, C4C is now a global partnership programme dedicated to climate change communications.
Muntasir had years of experience in both research and biking, and decided to use it to raise awareness in the US – and in turn, to benefit Bangladesh.
“The first question here is: ‘Why the United States?’ It is because they have the highest per capita plastic consumption in the world, and that effects us all the way over here in Bangladesh. Why? Because plastic-based products require a lot of water and energy,” he said.
Muntasir developed a phone application called Trash Maniac. If anyone sees recyclable material that has been discarded, he or she can “check it in” on the app, which notes the location where the material was found. This allows local collectors to track the location of recyclable goods and increase the efficiency of their system, Muntasir said. He used this app during his American cross-country journey.
Muntasir had been planning this trip since 2008, but faced difficulties with his visa.
“The first time I was denied the visa, I went to biking in Brazil instead,” he said. “Then I went to Mexico for two months, and Australia for two months.” He also spent time in Egypt and Europe biking.
In 2011, he was invited for a conference in Hawaii to present his paper on marine debris – a research he had been in involved with for eight years, but was denied a visa for the third time.
“Nothing is the end of the world for me. When I got rejected, I went to Kashmir, for a winter trek on the Chadar river.” While it was frozen over.
Upon his return from Kashmir, he was notified that his US visa was ready to be picked up. At last he embarked for the trip that helped make history. He and his partner were the first Muslims and South Asians to complete a cross-country biking tour.
“Before I went, I had posted on a lot of blogs regarding my travel plans. Many would respond by saying: ‘If you are going all the way to the US, why work with waste?’” He laughed. “But I always maintained that I am doing this thing, and it shouldn’t only be about me and for me. It should be for a greater purpose.”
During his time in the US, he – along with the cause he was working for – was welcomed warmly and much appreciated. The people were also very hospitable, with few families even offering the duo shelters. They did not have reservations about accepting offers from strangers. “Of course we went! We had nothing to lose!”
Reflecting on the Bangladeshi population’s lack of interest in curbing our basic problem of littering, he said: “This problem will continue. But you go forward in your own way. The way I did. I didn’t need an army for what I did, I just went ahead and did it.”
Syeda Samira Sadeque