Regional Youth Leadership Conference 2007
On 15th April 2007, ten young Bangladeshis departed from the Zia International Airport to attend the Regional Youth Leadership Conference held in New Delhi and Faridabad, India. Some two hours later, they arrived at the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi, where the local temperature was a soaring 43 degrees Celsius!
The ten young leaders, each in different stages of their academic lives, were selected by the American Centre in Dhaka to attend the conference which was organized by the Embassy of the United States of America (in New Delhi, India) and the US Educational Foundation in India. Vidya Sanskar School, Faridabad and American Field Service (AFS) were the conference partners. It was going to be a four-day conference emphasizing primarily on developing and further enriching the leadership skills of potential young leaders. Sixty participants from six countries attended this US event, which was sponsored by the US State Department. The participating countries were Bangladesh, India and Pakistan from South Asia and Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan from Central Asia. The Bangladeshi team constituted of me, Mahdin Mahboob from BRAC University, Maheen Mahjabeen, Radia Abdul Wahab, S. M. Fahad Bin Kamal, Mashukur Rahman and Wara Karim (alumnus) from North South University, Rubaiyat Kamal from American International University Bangladesh, Punny Kabir from Dhaka University, A.K.M. Tauhidul Islam James (BUET alumnus) and Masaba Adneen (doing A' Levels in Private).
All of us had previously gone to the USA on different U.S. State Department sponsored exchange programs and were chosen from the participants of two programmes: YES (Youth Exchange Service) and SAUSLI (South Asian Undergraduate Student Leaders Institute).
On the first day, after we checked into our respective rooms in the Vidya Sanskar school dormitories, which would be our home for the next four days, we had a tour round the picturesque campus. The boarding school, which follows the University of Cambridge Syllabus, is one of the best in India, building up students to be all-round human beings. The academic environment is magnificent and together with all the beautiful buildings, sports and other facilities for extra curricular activities, it indeed emphasizes on its motto of providing holistic learning for the students.
We spent most of the second day in New Delhi. After arriving at the American Centre, we were greeted by Adnan Siddiqi, the U.S. Counselor for Cultural Affairs. A video welcome from the State Department in Washington DC was then shown. After that, a panel discussion on “Youth and Leadership” started. The panelists included Mr. Nalin Kohli (Director, Vidya Sanskar School), Ms. Tamara Jazbec (YES Program Specialist, AFS-USA) and Mr. Richard Boyum (Regional English Language Officer, U.S. Embassy, New Delhi). Mr. Larry Schwartz and Peter Kaestner from the US Embassy also spoke on the occasion.
A Student Session on “Importance of Youth Exchange Programs” followed, and one student from each of the participating counties spoke on their experiences on the exchange programmes that they had attended. Tejaswini Madabhushi (India), Sarah Alam (Pakistan), Albert Kuramshin (Kazakhstan), Bahrom Ismailov (Tajikistan), Mirwais Hadel (Afghanistan), Punny Kabir (Bangladesh) and Nabil Siddiqi (USA) spoke on behalf of their countries.
A grand lunch at the USEFI office followed and after the Group Photo and TV interviews, we returned to Vidya Sanskar. Two more workshops on Leadership Skills were held later, entitled 'Awareness, Adaptation, Communication and Ethics' and 'Power and Authority' conducted by David Crespo and Lucas Welter. `
At night, an interesting question-answer session was held between the participants and Mr. Nalin Kohli who, apart from being the director of the school, is also the Joint Convenor, National Media Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of the major political parties in India. Issues like the Gujarat riots, demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodh, and secularism in India were raised.
Mr. Kohli seemed to have answers for all the questions. He explained that, contrary to popular belief, the BJP does not have a Hindu Vote bank. Rather they earn their votes in the same way as other political parties in India.
We spent the entire day on the 17th at Faridabad, and were kept busy for the entire day. The first seminar of the morning was based on Mahatma Gandhi's saying: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. After that we had a workshop on 'Building citizenship through diversity'. The skills and values gained after participation in a US exchange program were recapitulated in a very interactive form. Tamara Jazbec and Nancy Levine (AFS USA) conducted the programme. To start off the workshop in a light mood, we were divided into four groups. One volunteer from each group was then asked to mimic some animal, which the group-mates had to identify. When these four people were taken to another room, we were instructed to say intentionally give wrong answers, and thus make them do even funnier things to imitate the animal. The whole room roared into laughter with the performances of the monkey, the rabbit, the elephant and the alligator. Afterwards, they were told that they'd been fooled by all of us.
After the tea break, we were divided into country groups for project planning Community Service endeavors to change the reality of our localities. There were a total of eight proposed projects (one each from all the guest countries), and the Indian group was divided into three city-based subgroups. We proposed a 'Free Friday Clinic in Dhaka' and divided responsibilities amongst the ten of us so that we can start working on it soon after returning to our country. Magdy Atwan (AFS Egypt) Daniel Viso, (AFS India) and Sara Vanhoyland(AFS Belgium) led this session.
A cricket match was held in the afternoon, with participants from almost all countries. Any match involving Indians and Pakistanis never lacks excitement and this was no exception. To add to that, Bangladeshis were playing too, and after what happened in the World Cup, the Indians had a sudden surge of interest about Bangladesh and its cricketers. So, when James Bhai and I were bowling or batting, there seemed to be a lot of interest from the Indian crowd!
The match ended in a happy note for us when Muzammil (from Pakistan) and I exchanged places for the winning run off the last ball of the match! After a recapitulation and evaluation session by David Crespo (AFS, India), it was time for the much anticipated cultural presentations by each of the participating countries. Everyone donned their national dresses, and performed local songs and dances. It was a sight to behold. The guys in Punjabis and the girls in Saris gave a true essence of Bangladesh. We started with a chorus of our national anthem, holding a huge national flag: the red-green we are all proud of.
The Certificate awarding ceremony followed and Ms. AnnMarie Everitt (U.S. Embassy) and Mr. Nalin Kohli gave away the certificates to all the participants amidst huge applause. Group photo sessions followed and after the dinner, the proceedings for the day came to an end.
On the morning of 18th April, we were taken to 'Arya Kanya Sadan', an orphanage for girls in Faridabad, for some community service experience. The authorities of the orphanage, which houses more than 200 girls, gave us a warm welcome and a traditional Indian reception by sprinkling flowers and giving sweets. Once seated, we had a question-and-answer session with the headmistress of the school housed inside the orphanage. Some teachers also took part in the session. We came to know how underprivileged orphan girls are taken care from a very young age (irrespective of their religion or caste) and brought up and educated properly as would have happened if their parents were alive. The orphanage runs on funds raised by a trust called the 'Sarswati Vedic Sangstha'. Four of the six participating groups (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan) had gone to the place, and we raised some funds on the spot and handed it to authorities to buy the girls some fruits and chocolates. Afterwards, we spent some time with the young angels, playing, singing and dancing with them. The girls performed prayer songs and popular dance numbers for us much to the applause of everyone.
From there we went to the Amber Restaurant in New Delhi for lunch, and after that went shopping for some souvenirs. We were then taken for some sightseeing, and of course the first thing that comes to mind in New Delhi is the famous India Gate, which is where we went. Just as soon as the bus reached the place, everyone started taking hundreds of pictures in front of the historical monument. After all, no trip to Delhi would ever be complete without a picture in front of the India Gate! Visits to the Parliament Building, the Prime Minister's Office and Residence, and the President's Office and Residence followed. Then it was time to return to Faridabad to pack our bags for our return to Dhaka that night. At 1 am in the morning, when most of the school was sleeping, we, the Bangladeshi group left the premises and bid farewell to India. Even before we realized it, it was time for us to return home.
This article would be incomplete without appreciating all the hard work that the organizers and volunteers put in to make this huge event a success. Special thanks to Mandeep Kaur (American Centre), chief coordinator of the event, Sara, Sakshi , David and Abida (AFS), all Vidya Sanskar teachers, students and staff and everyone at AFS, USEFI and the American Centre at New Delhi.
One of the best things about such trips is making new friends, from different cultures and countries. A lot can be gained from traveling, and broadening our horizons is certainly one of them. All in all, it was a very good learning experience for all of us and we do hope that we can implement what we have learnt there for improving the different aspects of our living standards in each of our respective communities.
(The author is a student of ECE at BRAC University)
(R) thedailystar.net 2007