Leadership for tomorrow starts today
Shama Naz Siddiqui
The selection has been based on leadership skills, involvement in community-based activities as well as academic achievement. The theme for this years exchange was “Science and Technology.” The environmental issues were a major learning topic through out the trip. The program is called “LINC” Linking Individuals, Knowledge, and Culture. This was the part of a student exchange program to America, which is organised by Relief International and funded by the Education and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the US State Department. Students from the Bay Area have toured Bangladesh in April and we the Bangladeshi students returned the visit in May and thus completing the program successfully.
The Bangladeshi team consisted of ten youth leaders (16-18 years old) from various parts of the country. The diversity of the team was obvious due to the stark differences in everyone's background. There was Israth Naznin (Rinky), Nazmus Sayeed Sharon, Zunayeed Noor Alam, Tofael Ahmed Sony, Ashik Adnan, Fahad Haider, Samiul Hoque Chisty, Arpita Chowdhury, Prinon Turio. Lazina Sharmin was the Bangladeshi student Chaperon who accompanied us.
Apart from getting to experience the American Culture firsthand, we worked with various renowned American organisations like Google, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Bay Area Air Quality Management, New Global Citizens, Save the Bay - Wetlands Restorations Project, San Francisco Conservation Corps, UC Berkley, and Golden Gate University. Each organisation was unique in its own way and had different lessons to teach us. I immensely enjoyed participating in every activity and we all spoke up to express our ideas. I tried to absorb as much knowledge as possible on my trip and now I'm looking forward to implementing my work experience. The passion that these organizations displayed towards their work with global warming was endearing. Not only did we learn about the environment, but also we formed a Youth Action Group called RYSE. RYSE, which stands for “RAN Youth Sustaining the Earth,” is a youth branch of RAN (Rainforest Action Network). I've been elected as one of the coordinators of the group.
From the 14th to the 18th, we stayed in at a hotel. But from the 18th and onwards we had to live with American home stay families. This was to fulfil the cultural exchange and I got an in-depth idea on how American houses are managed. Ron and Laura, our host mom and dad, were very nice people and welcomed us graciously. Laura was surprised by the fluency of my English. As I was coming from Bangladesh, she expected me not to understand anything. It was a situation, which I had to face through out my entire trip. Most of the people didn't know where Bangladesh was and mistook us as Indians.
The precious few who were conscious that a country named Bangladesh existed had a very negative impression of our country. I've done my best to change the impression. But deep inside I felt a pang every time Bangladesh was referred to as a poor and helpless nation infested with natural disasters and poverty. I realized that these are bitter facts about this country, but that didn't really make me feel any better. It kindled a flame in me, the wish to make a difference in my country and bring a drastic change in the scenario.
On the 6th day of our arrival, we drove all the way from San Francisco to the University of Berkeley. The day was bright and sunny at Berkeley and the weather was comparatively warmer, which was a welcome relief to all Bangladeshi students. I was excited because we would be visiting the legendary University of Berkley. When we reached there a mass of black gowned beaming graduates were the first thing we noticed. It was the graduation day. The campus was overwhelming especially in natural beauty and architecture. We drove all the way to “Lawrence Hall of Science” which was located at such a spot that it was possible to see all of San Francisco from up there. Professor Jackson Liang greeted us and we learnt a lot about water testing including practical experiments with their latest equipment. As Bangladesh is an earthquake prone zone, we also had an intense session on earthquakes. I've learnt many new facts about earthquakes. It was all very fascinating but the session was so technical and advanced that we'd probably have to study there for 2 years before we can grasp all of what we were taught.
Another highlight of the trip, which I cannot help but mention, was the visit to Google. It would be hard to find a person who has access to the internet but has not used Google. Who knew that there was so much to this popular search engine? Our trip to Silicon Valley, one of the most high tech zones in the world, gave me the chance to see this dreamland first hand. To me it seemed like a city within a city. Over 10,000 engineers work here, but I could never imagine that an organisation could take such first-class care of their employees. They have every facility from their own free restaurants with cuisines from all over the world to their own beach! Among the innumerable attractions, one was the hall where many eminent personalities like Bill Clinton, Al Gore and many more had come to talk and exchange opinions. It was a heady feeling when I imagined that those people actually stood and spoke on the same spot I was standing on. By the end of our tour, we were all dreamy and vowed to go back there to work for them (which was mainly for all that yummy free food!)
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Besides all that hard work, we had many fun times too. Nature is amazing at San Francisco and the greenery is re-freshening. Of course, the Pacific Ocean brings along beautiful beaches and we were fortunate enough to visit a few. Moreover, we did all the must-dos of San Francisco visit to Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, The Golden Gate Park, and the Bay Bridge. Then we had sundaes at Ghirardelli Square, which was once a world-famous chocolate factory. It has been renovated to an open-air centre filled with speciality shops, international restaurants, an ice-cream parlour, and displays of original chocolate making machines. While enjoying the Cable Car ride, I caught a glimpse of Lombard Street, which is known as “the crookedest street in the world” because of its eight sharp turns on a 40-degree slope. The street zigzags around beautiful flowers and shrubs. There are stairways on either side of the street for pedestrians to walk on. In the weekend, we rode to Twin Peaks a pair of hills, which provide a fabulous view of San Francisco. I was lucky enough for the opportunity to visit the Ocean Beach because it was a 10 minute walk from where we lived with the home stay family. The Ocean Beach is a three-mile stretch of Pacific coastline. While it's not suitable for swimming, it is a great place to hang out with friends, stroll, and savour the beautiful sunset.
I've enjoyed all these remarkable attractions at San Francisco, but it did not make me forget my goal, my mission to be fulfilled after this trip. Thus after returning to Bangladesh, I held a YARC meeting. YARC stands for Youth Advisory and Recreational Council. This is an organisation, which I founded about a year ago with a group of friends. All of us were very interested in doing some social work. We have undertaken a project to educate the children who work in households, or the children of the house-assistants. The main aim is to hand them two great technologies Spoken English and Computer Literacy. Any kind of suggestions or comments for the future are welcome. We would also like to encourage any organisation or student who would like to support or join us to e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org