SAARC youth come together
The world has changed a lot and changing everyday but one fact that has stood true throughout time is the youth, the next generation in whose hands the future lies.
What's frightening is how many of the people that hold the future, how many of our youth today set to lead tomorrow don't have the tools to make them better people and the world a better place then when they entered it. Even scarier is the thought that these same youthful, inexperienced and ill-equipped hands have the fate of the generation after them. They will shape the generation after them with their mistakes, and our mistakes.
However setting aside the agenda of the conference/camp and forgetting about the future horizon and if one looks back at the past; the past is what equally makes us. It is how every new generation learns. We learn from the mistakes of our fathers and mothers and more importantly we learn from their battles. The youth have a proud heritage of standing for what's true and good. Those are the ideals that are never lost. Here in Bangladesh we have that same blood running through our youth's veins, we have the blood of the students who have fought for language, students who fought for equality and students who fought for and gave their lives for future generation's freedom.
So here we exist, in the present, because the youth before us fought for us to stand here so that we could tell everyone what we wanted to see in SAARC 2030. That's an overwhelming thought for all youths that in a funny way, we are the past, the present and future. That's how we control the past the present and future.
Now let's look back at something of the recent past, the first ever SAARC Youth Camp as promised at the 14th SAARC Summit in April this year in New Delhi. The theme 'Connecting South Asian Youths', the vision, Vision SAARC 2030! 150 Students and four Days later, mission accomplished and some.
However fast forwarding a little further back it should be said and noted by all that the SAARC Youth Camp with the exception of the warm help, support and guidance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and F2 Event Management the entire event was spearheaded by and organised by a core group of youth leaders from different youth voluntary programme and associations. This fact will be relevant and of course the magnitude of this will only be understood later on after all the fact and information have been imparted and presented.
The camp actually started before the inauguration, with the arrival and trickle into the quiet Savar, National Youth Centre, of boisterous and brimming with life students and youths from all over SAARC. I'm sure a curious sight to all the near by colony dwellers living their sedate lives.
Once the majority of the participants had arrived helmed by the Core team of youths an Ice Breaking session was held to do exactly what it says break the ice between participants and allow people to come out talk and get to know each other. Wildly successful it was instant fun with group activates and challenges such as an original song competition to tickle all the senses and get the creative juices moving.
Once this was over everyone could settle in and get to know each other. From room to room commotion of people chattering and walking the buzz of activity had started. By the time dinner was over the realisation that nothing for the following days Cultural programme had been practiced and some of it hadn't even been choreographed. So the mad rush of students singing in one room, reciting in another and furtively, tapping their feet and dancing in others. The Camp was awake till the wee hours of the morning and as the pour of youths spilled on to the courtyard in front of the main building and there they stumbled tired and stayed. Shivering on the cold and huddled together in their song, stories and jesting one wouldn't have been able to guess that these were the same people that had only met a few hours before.
In the blur from the lack of sleep, which was the entire conference I don't think anyone could tell you when they left and finally crawled into their beds. But no sooner that we slept we were awake since precious future hours later we all woke in time for our crack of dawn breakfast, between seven and eight in the morning, something soon to become second nature. Breakfast was a sight, a scene from a horror movie, sleep walkers or zombies having breakfast. Yet everyone' energy was always only a cup of tea away.
But this morning the shuffle of the feet was faster as organisers ran around dressed-up and ready right after breakfast to prepare for the Chief Guest the honourable Chief Adviser of the Bangladesh Government Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, and Special Guest, Mr. Iftekhar Chowdhury honourable Adviser Ministry of Foreign Affairs…………..
By nine in the morning I don't think anyone would except to see a sea of well dressed young men and women ready for anything but they were and streamed into the auditorium for the inauguration bumping shoulders with high officials of the Youth and Sports Ministry, Foreign Ministry and others.
However before any of the respected guest spoke two participants spoke, One from Bangladesh and one from India talking about what they hoped this camp would mean to them.
Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed then went on to inaugurate the four-day camp exhorting the participants to exchange ideas and experiences that would help push the region towards greater and faster progress. He reiterated Bangladesh's commitment to 'building partnerships in activities relevant for our (SAARC countries') progress'. He also said the youth camp was an indication of SAARC's 'determination to connect the minds and hearts of the people of the member countries, generate greater cohesion and understanding, and bridge the gap, if any, in the mindsets of regional countries'. All of which rung true when our leaders came forward and said we want to help you be the next generation of leaders.
However of all the things said that day, sitting there, one thing was true that 'young minds from Mazar-e-Sharif to Male, Quetta to Kathmandu, Colombo to Kolkata, and Thimphu to Dhaka' had congregated 'for meeting annually in institutionalised but informal settings' provided by their governments' support.
Those words would be the perfect platform to move on the next activity of the day 'Know Your Country”.
Celebrating the wide variety and changes of faces and culture often not seen by the outside world in South Asia, documentaries were shown by each country. Many of the documentaries or in the case of Bangladesh a beautiful docu-fiction, showed what it's like to be a youth today, in our country the journey we all take and the questions we ask. The Bangladesh docu-fiction, done entirely by students in three days, with no money and borrowed equipment showed the journey of a youth today in Bangladesh searching for his heritage and history.
However as beautiful as the documentaries were the day was marred with technical difficulties, as if the technology conspired not to work, but man, or youths prevailed and all was well as ended well.
From the hopeful and uplifting notes of the documentaries students scuffled quickly to do final dress rehearsals for the cultural function. And suddenly everyone was in their usual melee of confusion and hurry trying to get everything together in what seemed like an impossible time frame. The cultural function was of course better for it and everything ran well. The dances were colourful and the songs, graceful and uplifting. A taste of every culture was given, from the Pakistani showing his Peshwar roots in dance, to the Indians and varied beat in dance, the Bhutanese in their song and dance, the Sri Lankans in their remixes and cheer, and Maldives with their songs too. Bangladesh also showed its colour and variety, with folk and traditional music as well as recitations of Tagore's and Nazrul's poems. The night ended with a bang as a Bangladeshi student did this fusion dance amalgamating the cultures of the region. By the end of his fusion dance almost all the participants were on their feet in front of the stage dancing. After that number the festivity didn't end with the announcement of the performers to come onto to the stage to dance together. Before anyone could bat an eyelid most of the participants were one the stage dancing along with the performers.
The night ended on a high note that couldn't be subdued and though all were told to get an early night before tomorrow's busses out to visit a village in Manikgonj it had little affect. It's so true that you shouldn't send youngsters to sleep since they always wake up a day older. And so they did! Groggy, from having spent the entire night up in their rooms singing and carrying on the party everyone seemed in a haze through breakfast. After breakfast the scurry was on to go change into the camp T-shirts a vibrant red which made everyone as we joked “look like pizza delivery boys and girls.” With our little caps to complete the outfit we all trooped onto our busses carefully coordinated and organised by bus leaders. Once moving, it was another story. Suddenly all that sleep everyone had n their eyes disappeared and song was all they could think of. From bangla songs, to every language everyone in one constant chorus for better or worse chimed in.
Having finally reached our destination “Shrithi Shod” we all filed out of our buses and towards the monument. Right in front of it some armed force men were paying their respects with a trumpet and salute. And as we stood their in silence and awe and watched the towering 150 metre monument, it struck us, the monument was like us standing tall against oppression and everything that we too wanted to stand for.
After the salute a closer inspection of the monument created a frenzy of flashes going off. After all this was a piece of history. The first SAARC youth CAMP paying homage at the seat of liberation.
Our time there though short meant something incredible and all the students walked away feeling inspired by the standards we should all maintain. However quickly we went from this sublime monument to the poor hovels of a working village. We arrived amidst much festivity and celebration. Both sides of the entrance to the massive field and compound were lined with little children with flower petals which they gayily threw into the air to welcome us.
After a brief talk from the local Deputy District Commissioner welcoming us formally we piled out into the field. There lay a literal treasure trove of things to do bright kites to fly, football, cricket, a band and folk music to one side and stall boasting wonderful “pithas” for all to enjoy. Immediately everyone dispersed into the field to pursue what excited them. Some huddled together learning each others native games and sharing them to try and play them. From the field groups of youths went into the village which produced handloom clothes for Arrong. Many of the Bangladeshi hadn't also ever seen these kinds of sites and this kind of work. It opened eyes to the life of village children. The lives that go on out side our sophisticated metropolises and how everything we have in them, comes from a village and has a story, not so far away, of people we don't know. At the end of the day the sense of fulfilment was rich in every sense.
We came back to dinner and a campfire, more informal than previous programmes. The formal opening of the campfire came was with the 7 countries present representatives holding out torches to light the campfire. The campfire was about fluidity as performances were welcomed by the audience and the entire night moulded into a gigantic party.
It's a miracle that the next day people were wake for guest speakers and Session. Both the speakers lifted the spirits of the conference and the ideals of the session to come. The four committees on Education, Environment, Culture and Media Information and Communication all partook in lively discussion on functioning realistic solutions of problem in the vision SAARC 2030. With student moderators and resources person all the committee's resolutions were complied together by the core team as the participants were bussed off to a dinner hosted for them by Army at the Savar Golf Club. The core team members stayed back to finish the most important thing to come out of the camp, the declaration to be presented at the next SAARC Summit.
Suddenly a feeling of everything winding up started to seep in. The next day was tours of the Parliament and Novo theatre and shopping, leaving nothing but the closing ceremony. Finally everything had grinded to a halt. All that remained were presenting this declaration and the final speeches of goodbye. Speakers amongst the participants of all seven countries spoke, with a touch of wistfulness as if to say they didn't want to say goodbye. The declaration was read and everyone marvelled that their words and ideas were there in black and white. The declaration would next be read in front of their respective heads of state at the next SAARC summit, everything they did here, suddenly meant so much more.
Goodbyes, all through and night and following day reminded us that we were indeed from different places and there we were to return. It's wonderful how the difference of a region disappears when you are young and can find something that binds you. Maybe as you get older you get more fixed in your way and see less of the ties that bind us underneath, a shared history and heritage are only some of the finer points we share.
This entire camp took place in whirlwind of controversy, trials and tribulations. Something this big never comes without sweat and tears. And behind it all were us, I too was one of those in the core team, representing myself, my country and trying to bring this all together with my comrades in arms. My association, the United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh had been there with members from other associations and organisations such as Nation Pulse (formerly Beyond Boarders), from the beginning. I was there during the selection at the youth ministry and my counterparts were there during meetings at the foreign ministry but one thing I marvel at with pride; This was a major international diplomatic event for our government and they trusted me, and my comrades mere, youths, of 19 years to 22 years (approximately) to run and organise this event and represent our country. I don't know how many developed countries would hand the reins and helm of affairs of a major regional event like this to a bunch of idealist youths, but the Bangladesh government did, and for that we can thank them for paving our way to the SAARC vision 2030 right here in 2007.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007