** Important **

For more information on passports, visas, travel insurance, and other general travel logistics, don’t forget to consult your handy dandy Welcome Package!


Welcome to what is sure to be a unique, unexpected, and whirlwind adventure! Up ahead lies a journey jam-packed with immersive insight, beautiful spaces, busy places, and wonderful people (not least yourself!) in a country that is a mystery to most, a misconception to some, and an incredibly welcoming surprise to those brave enough to venture off the beaten path.

Even more exciting is the fact that we’ll be treading new ground with you. You’re about to embark on OG’s first ever program in Bangladesh to explore an issue that, in a very simple but powerful way, links everyone across the globe: the clothes we’re wearing right now.

This is particularly exciting for the program design nerds at OGHQ like myself, as we’re able to use all the experience we’ve gained over 10 years of running programs in 7 diverse regions around this beautiful planet to create a relevant program that takes people to a country that most people wouldn’t even think of visiting.

In short, hats off to you for pushing the envelope of expectation and understanding by deciding to take the plunge and join us on this journey! You are now on the precipice of an experience which has the potential to shape the way you see the world, and the way you see your own path.

Of course, I’d love to rewrite that last sentence and skip out the word ‘potential’, but actually, we can only provide potential. That last bit – turning potential into reality – is ultimately down to you. It’s in how you approach this experience, the humility you bring, the preconceptions you leave behind, the positivity that will fuel you, the empathy needed to support another person. Are you ready to truly open your senses and mind to all that Bangladesh has to teach you?

If that seems like a lot, take a little heart knowing that for the many backpacktivists who’ve come before you, I’ve yet to meet one who didn’t succeed.

Get ready for one heck of a ride!

Bon voyage!
South Asia Regional Director


What’s in this Section?

* Click to jump to each section *

Your Itinerary
Find Your Way
A Critical Look

Your Itinerary

The trip of your life is about to begin and these are just a few of the amazing things you can expect!

*Click on each day to get the full details on the day’s excursions*

Orientation in Dhaka
We dive deep into our adventure as soon as we arrive in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka. Prepare your senses as we get to know this intensely bustling city! During our in-country orientation, we’ll learn about the history of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, hop on one of many colorful rickshaws, boat and float along the Buriganga river, practice our bartering skills, and sample the many sights, smells, and delicious tastes Dhaka has to offer.

We’ll also kick start our explorations of the garment industry by speaking with partners who have a deep understanding of the space. We’ll speak with Anusheh from Jatra and, via Skype, Andrew Morgan, the director of True Cost.

Traipsing to Thanapara Village
We hit the road with a journey to Thanapara Village in the northwest of Bangladesh on the riverbank of Padma. An 8-hour bus ride from Dhaka, we’ll take this time to take in the roadside views of Bangladesh while preparing to meet our first partner – the Thanapara Swallows Development Society.

Dying, Weaving, and Embroidery with Swallows

Welcome to Bangladesh’s first fair trade collective! Founded 20 years ago, the Thanapara Swallows Development Society (or Swallows) is a women’s cooperative involved in every stage of the fair trade garment production process. Their handicraft program consists of dying, bobbin, design, weaving, sewing, and embroidery. The artisans here make a wider range of products – from handloom fabrics to men and women’s clothing – using only local materials. Profits and proceeds from their products are then used to build the community’s school and medical centre.

We’ll spend a chunk of our time living and learning side by side with these women to gain a better understanding of what it takes to create an ethical fashion and garment industry. We’ll take part in a deep knowledge exchange as we get our hands dirty in dying and weaving workshops while also helping out in the local school!

Fun tidbit: People Tree, featured in the critically acclaimed documentary, True Cost, sources their products from Swallows!

Journey to Cox’s Bazar

We’re off to another journey by bus! From Thanapara, we make our way south-east to Cox’s Bazar! We’ll make a quick pit-stop back in Dhaka to stretch our legs and then we forge ahead!


We’ll cap our whirlwind adventure for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. We’ll settle in at Cox’s Bazar, home to the longest continual natural beach in the world. It’s the place where both locals and tourists come to play and relax, away from the general hustle and bustle of the country. With a stunning beach backdrop and the breezy freshness of the Bay of Bengal, we’ll relive memories of the program, reminisce about our wild and wonderful experiences, discuss how to stay connected, and brainstorm project collaborations for the future.

Then off to the airport for some tearful goodbyes!

Find Your Way

In the age of Google, we decided that an interactive map is the only way to roll. Feel free to play around with it, make it your browser’s homepage, and share it with your friends and family. Soon enough we’ll be on the ground doing that route for real.

A Critical Look

The global fashion industry is a complex beast; it’s hard to imagine where to even begin. But we’re here to peel back the layers in the very place that produces such a huge bulk of our clothing. Employing about 4 million people – mostly women – the fast fashion industry is now worth $19 billion annually. It is a huge force that has massive repercussions for both consumers and producers.

Over these two weeks, we will explore the hidden complexity behind fast fashion — an industry inextricably linked to both devastating exploitation and hopeful progress, as it lifts millions of young women out of abject poverty through employment. We will uncover the garment industry’s environmental effects and discover how it is inextricably linked to women’s rights and empowerment.

As we meet with experts and industry insiders, we’ll learn how we as individuals can trigger change by wearing our values.

A Crash Course on Bangladesh

What’s in this Section?

* Click to jump to each section *

Quick Facts
Country Profile
Staying Healthy on the Ground

Quick Facts

Population: 170 million
Capital City: Dhaka
Major Languages: Bangla
Major Religions: Islam, Hinduism
Monetary Unit: Taka BDT
Time Zone: UTC + 6:00

Country Profile

Bangladesh, or the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, is the 8th most-populous country in the world, bordered by India, Myanmar, and the Indian Ocean. The word Bangladesh means “The Nation of Bangla”. referring to both the people who have lived and the language spoken in this region since long before the British colonized the region.

Bangladesh is home to 700 rivers, and is the delta for three of Asia’s largest: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghana. This huge river delta creates an incredibly fertile and biodiverse landscape throughout most of Bangladesh. In fact, the country is home to the largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sunderbans, as well as one of the longest uninterrupted beaches in the world, Cox’s Bazaar. This incredible natural environment is one of Bangladesh’s biggest assets, and directly supports 65% of the population who still live in a rural setting and who live off the land.

When the British left the subcontinent in 1947, “British India” was partitioned into India and the Dominion of Pakistan, which consisted of modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was not until December 1971, at the end of the bloody armed conflict now known as the Bangladesh Liberation War, that Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan and gained its independence. In 1972, it was recognized as an independent state by almost all members of UN.

British colonization, conflicts with Pakistan, and years of political instability has left a legacy of wartime devastation and poverty. As a result, Bangladesh received large amounts of International aid at the time in its early days as a young independent nation. But since reverting to a parliamentary democracy in 1991, Bangladesh has fast become a world leader in development. In 1990, 57% of the country lived in poverty, but that number was halved by 2014. More than that, Bangladesh has seen development in health, education, gender equality, and food production that is far greater than seen in other countries with comparable circumstances. Now considered a major developing country, Bangladesh is listed as one of the “Next Eleven”, one of eleven counties with the high potential of becoming among the world’s largest economies in the 21st century.

Modern Bangladesh is a rapidly changing place, where the echoes of war and empire are within living memory, but where incredible potential and optimism is just within reach. It’s an incredible time to explore this country seldom traveled!

Staying Healthy on the Ground

As a well-established and experienced international travel operator, Operation Groundswell takes active precautions to help keep you safe and secure while overseas on your program. We take travel safety very seriously. To learn more about our Risk Management System, click here.

One major precautionary action you can take as a traveler in Bangladesh is to make sure to pack that insect repellent! It’ll come super handy as the primary defense against mosquito-borne diseases and illnesses in country.

You should also be sure to refer to our Welcome Package for essential information on vaccinations, travel medical insurance, and our medical history form. Click here to read through it!

** Important **

If you haven’t already, be sure to refer to our Welcome Package for essential information on vaccinations, travel medical insurance, and our medical history form. Click here to read through it!

Getting In & Out of Bangladesh

What’s in this Section?

* Click to jump to each section *

Flight Information
Visa Details
Where Will We Be Sleeping?

When it comes to sleeping, eating, and getting around, we take our cues from locals to see what life is really like in Bangladesh! For more information on passports, visas, travel insurance, and other general travel logistics, don’t forget to consult your handy dandy Welcome Package!

** Important **

For more information on passports, visas, travel insurance, and other general travel logistics, don’t forget to consult your handy dandy Welcome Package!

Flight Information

Once we confirm program enrolment numbers, we’ll e-mail you with the go ahead to book those flights (if we haven’t already!) We’ve provided a bit of information on booking flights below so that you can start checking things out, but don’t book anything until you get the go ahead.

Arrivals & Departures
When it’s time to book those flights, be sure to choose one that arrives into Dhaka, Bangladesh at the Shah Jalal International Airport any time on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at any time. You will depart from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Shah Jalal International Airport any time after 5 a.m. on Saturday, January 21st, 2017.

We suggest checking Kayak, Orbitz, Cheapoair, Google Flights, and other flight sites to get the cheapest rate.

** Important **

If you want to arrive in the country early or leave for home later, this is your call and you can book flights that meet your needs. However, if you arrive before the program begins, you will not be under the auspices of Operation Groundswell. We cannot guarantee that anyone will meet you at the airport or arrange your accommodations. You will be entirely responsible for yourself until the first day of the program.

You will receive an email (if you haven’t already) with a link to fill out your flight information. You can fill this out once you’ve booked your flight closer to the program date. This information is crucial for us to arrange your airport pick-ups and drop-offs so be sure to fill it out once it’s time!

Visa Details

Citizens of Canada and the USA are both eligible for a visa upon arrival at the airport in Bangladesh, valid for up to 30 days. Please ensure you have the required documents and information to apply for one:

  • Visa fee in cash ($52 USD is the cost, regardless of the currency you use.)
  • Proof of an outgoing flight. A printed copy of the e-ticket will suffice, just make sure it has the date, flight number, and your name on it!
  • The address where you’re staying in Dhaka. We’ll send you this via e-mail a few days before you fly!
  • A copy of your itinerary for the trip.

Remember, you are personally responsible for obtaining a visa and confirming your visa requirements. Resources such as www.visahq.com may be helpful, but it is always best to consult your destination’s embassy directly.

While your program fee does not cover visa costs, we are here to answer any questions you might have if a pre-trip application is necessary. If there are any special documents required to receive a visa for your destination, let us know! While we can’t guarantee your approval, we will help out in any way we can. The sooner you let us know what you need from us, the sooner we can get back to you.

Where Will We Be Sleeping?

This is not a vagabond’s adventure nor is it a five-star jetsetter’s cruise. We will be sleeping and eating as a team in basic hostel accommodation that reflect a backpacker’s ethos. Expect at least two people to a room, possibly sharing double beds when necessary. Creepy crawlies are common, hot water can’t always be guaranteed, and there may be the occasional squat toilet – so come prepared! Living as Bengalis do sometimes means living without some of the comforts to which we’re accustomed, but you can be sure that we’ll be sharing in the wonderful simplicity of life in this part of the world.

Packing List

Backpack & Daypack

Remember, the rule of thumb is always to pack as lightly as possible! So pack your bag and then remove half of it. You won’t need most of it…we promise!

Because we’re not wheelie-baggers, we’re backpackers! We recommend going to an outdoor adventure store and getting a pack fitted to you.

  • Most people should only need a 45-65L pack. Try a bunch on and compare prices to find one that is right. You could also borrow from a friend!
  • It’s also essential that you bring a smaller daypack for short trips and daily use.

Important Documents

  • Passport (valid beyond 6 months from the start date of the program)
  • Extra passport photos (if you have them)
  • Copies of passport/tickets/credit cards (you want extras in case you lose a document)
  • Customer service numbers for credit cards/insurance
  • Proof of vaccinations
  • Student card/ ISIC card (even if they are expired and only if you have ’em)


  • Sleeping bag
  • 1 bath towel (quick-dry adventure towels are the lightest)
  • Flashlight (headlamps are popular and recommended)
  • Min. 1L reusable water bottle
  • A pocket knife (If you’ve got one – but don’t pack this in your carry-on luggage!)
  • Medication/EpiPen if you need it



  • 1 pair of sturdy hiking boots/trail shoes (for work and trekking around)
  • 1 pair of shoes you don’t mind getting wet. So think sandals, or flip flops.

General Clothing

  • 6-7 pairs of underwear
  • 5-7 pairs of socks
  • 3-4 pairs of pant/jeans/sweats
  • 4-6 t-shirts/tank-tops (revealing clothing isn’t your best bet, but we also know that it can get damn hot during the day. Just try to keep a balance.)
  • 1-2 pairs of comfortable pants or shorts for hiking, treks, or other physical activity
  • 1 pair of jeans or khakis and a nice shirt/polo for when we meet community leaders/important folk
  • 2 longer sleeve shirts as it can get cold at night and it’s good to layer
  • 2 sweaters – A good quality fleece is great because it is warm but light.
  • 1 waterproof jacket (a shell that you can layer a sweater underneath is probably the best!)
  • A hat to protect you from the sun
  • A bathing suit (modesty is your friend)

** Important **

Though we won’t be hiking most of our days, we will be doing lots of walking and exploring every day! And remember, we’ll be taking long bus rides, working with established organizations, and did we mention it can get pretty warm in Bangladesh? The biggest thing is to pack for comfort. Try not to bring anything too restrictive, but also bear in mind that when hiding from the sun, less is definitely NOT more. Lightweight layers will actually keep you cooler.

And don’t be fooled, it’s not all heat! The evenings and nights can get quite cool so layers will definitely be your friend.

Personal Hygiene & Toiletries

  • Regular hygiene items like soap, shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream, etc. (These are all readily available in smaller quantities and at a cheaper price if you would rather buy them down there.)
  • Vitamins, painkillers, cold medicines, etc.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • 1 extra pair of prescription glasses or contacts/contact solution (if required)
  • Tampons and pads (it is always a good idea to bring more than enough tampons as they can be hard to find in more rural areas)
  • Bug spray and after bite
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Immodium/Pepto Bismol (you will want this!)
  • One round of prescription medicine (i.e. diarrhea meds – ask your doctor)
  • If you have asthma and you need a puffer, bring it even if you rarely use it. Same goes for allergies and EpiPens
  • Any prescriptions that you need (refrigeration may not always be possible, so check in with your program leaders)

** Important **

All program leaders are equipped with First Aid Kits, so though it is useful to have basics like Advil or Tylenol, you don’t need to pack a pharmacy. There will be a medical form sent out closer to the program start date so you can outline any specific mental or physical health issues we should be aware of before the program. This completed medical history form signed by a physician is mandatory for participation in all OG programs. Click here to learn more. 

Optional Items

  • Journal & Pen
  • iPod/MP3 player if you have one
  • Camera
  • Ear plugs
  • Eye mask

No need for a computer, iPhone, iPad, or anything similar as we will have access to a computer when we have access to the internet!

Money Matters

It’s easy to get around relatively inexpensively on an OG program. What you spend is really up to you! The program fee covers the costs of accommodations, three meals a day, transport, and excursions. It does NOT cover any personal expenses such as souvenirs, or laundry. For these cases, you will want to bring some spending money.

We recommend that you bring $200-300 USD, which you can conveniently change into regional currency at an in-country currency exchange. While one of the easiest options tends to be withdrawing local currently from an ATM using your debit card, it’s always good to have some exchangeable cash on hand in case of emergencies.

Money Tips

  • Leave any traveler’s checks and Canadian money at home. They are problematic to cash or exchange.
  • Visa is the most widely accepted credit card. Do your best to have a chip card that is pin enabled to have it work in ATMs. Make sure that the PLUS sign is on the back of your card so that it works in international ATM locations.
  • Debit is also an effective option. ATM/ABMs are widespread and can dispense up to $200 USD equivalent. There is a transaction charge of approx. $2.50-$5.00 USD, but they are the most convenient and safest option. It is advisable to communicate with your bank before departure to determine their level of accessibility.
  • Call your bank and inform them of your travel plans so they don’t place a hold on your account when they see money being withdrawn in a foreign country (you do NOT want this to happen!)
  • Money in large amounts, Interac/credit cards, etc. should NOT be carried in any one location and we recommend using money belts/discreet wallets.


What’s in this Section?

* Click to jump to each section *

Our Approach
Thanapara Swallows Development Society

Our Approach

At Operation Groundswell, we forge partnerships with local NGOs and charities to work with them on community-requested projects. This means that the communities we work with decide what kind of partnership they are looking for, how we as volunteers can be best put to use, and how our community contribution can most effectively help them achieve their goals. It also means we don’t always know in advance what will be needed in our partner communities or how we can best serve. Seasonal weather patterns, a changing political climate, and organizational needs may change so get ready to adapt like a true backpacktivist!

Though we spend solid days on the ground getting our hands dirty and volunteering, a larger chunk of our time is spent learning from our partners to better understand the underlying issues and challenges that they face. We’re not going to “save Bangladesh” in our short time together, but we will be making deep connections with and learning immensely from the real change makers on the ground!

Thanapara Swallows Development Society

Ever since its creation in 1973, the Thanapara Swallows Development Society (TSDS) has been working to improve the lives and opportunities of their community. Their mission is to empower the poor and underprivileged population by eradicating illiteracy, creating health awareness and self-employment, raising awareness among the landless for the rights of land, and empowering women by creating economic and social awareness. The scope of their work covers vocational training, human rights education, agricultural support, and, of course, fair trade production. TDSD was the first ever fair trade cooperative in Bangladesh. Learn more.

Bengali for Dummies

We might struggle and look silly searching for words in a new language, but the very attempt connects them to locals on a different level. Trust us on this one.

Living in the Language

Salam alai kum.

Good morning
Good morning

How are you?
Kemon acho?

What’s up/what’s the news?
Ki khobor?


Thank you
Dhonno bad

Sorry (forgive me)
Khoma korben



How much?

Nice to meet you
Apneke cheenay ami khushi holam

Khoda hafez

Cultural Do’s and Don’ts

Be a cultural chameleon and do what you can to show as much courtesy and interest in the local culture as possible. Do as the locals do and try to follow these basic rules while in Bangladesh! Being aware and sensitive to your surroundings is crucial to being a backpacktivist!


  • The most common form of greeting and showing respect is “Salam alai kum”.
  • Ask permission before taking someone’s photograph. If you’re allowed, most people would love to see the photo after!
  • Spitting and urinating in public is prevalent and accepted practice. You may have to follow the custom in an emergency – i.e. when there is no toilet or if the toilet is utterly unusable. Carry toilet paper with you.
  • Food should only be touched with the right hand. Cutlery is usually available, but if you want to do as the locals do, eat with your bare hand.
  • Girls: Dress modestly to avoid unnecessary attention. Shoulders must be covered when entering religious sites. Glaring is common a lot of the time, staring is not as impolite here as it is at home.
  • Guys: Avoid walking around without a shirt.
  • Attempt to speak the local language whenever you can. It will come in handy in a situation when no one speaks English. Locals may enjoy teaching you a word or two and appreciate you making efforts to learn their language.


  • Do not give money to street kids. Give food (not packed) if you must. Avoid giving money or attention to any beggars in tourist areas. You can become surrounded and put yourself at risk. Giving money isn’t inherently bad, but it doesn’t solve the root problems of poverty. We’ll talk more about this on program!
  • Do not point your feet towards a person or towards the direction of sacred items like a statue, picture of a guru, etc. If your feet accidentally touch someone, do apologize.
  • Remove your shoes when entering a temple.
  • Do not touch people on the head, even a child’s head.
  • Try not to talk about issues like Hindu/Muslim conflicts, the partition, racial issues, etc. These are highly charged and emotional topics.
  • Avoid any kind of kissing. Public displays of affection are acceptable in certain places, as long as they are not sexual in nature.
  • Be aware that running, dancing, or joking around is not acceptable inside sacred sites.
  • Be conscientious about noise levels as a group, especially in shared or public spaces.


What’s in this Section?

* Click to jump to each section *


This section is meant to provide further information on the region that simply can’t be covered in this program package. These are extra resources that’ll help you learn more about the places that you will be travelling to and the relevant issues in these places. This will help paint a cultural picture even before your plane takes off!


  • The Unfinished Revolution by Lawrence Lipshulz
  • Slaves to Fashion Poverty and Abuse in the New Sweatshops by Robert J. S. Ross
  • The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
  • Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline
  • The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade by Pietra Rivoli
  • Threads: Gender, Labor, and Power in the Global Apparel Industry by Jane L. Collins

Get in Touch

So you wanna get in touch with us but don’t know who to reach out to? All of our staff are ready to help you in your journey in any way we can!

Get in Touch with Us

Our main phone line is 1-888-422-0164. Our office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

In case of emergency while you’re on program, please ask your family or next of kin to call OG’s main line at 1-888-422-0164 and follow the prompt. On-call coordinators are available 24 hours a day for emergencies related to current programs or participants.

To reach us via email for all matters, contact [email protected].

If you have any financial inquiries, contact Will at [email protected].

As you prepare for your journey, OG will periodically contact you with important information about logistics, payments, safety, and more. Please check your spam folder regularly! Consider adding [email protected] and [email protected] to your contacts or approved sender list to make sure that our emails are delivered.

Final Checklist

You’ve just begun the most epic adventure of your life (so far!) and we’ll be here for you every step of the way. Just use this handy dandy checklist to see if you’ve got everything you need before you hop on that plane.