By Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra
"GLOBAL projects customized to meet local needs” was the motto behind the recently initiated projects of the British Council in Bangladesh. British Council, an UK based organization, which traditionally works on enhancing cultural relations between UK and other countries, has undertaken a number of projects in the last couple of years based on the development needs of Bangladesh. These projects mainly focus on young people and are implemented in partnership with various ministries along with other various Non government organizations such as the Hunger Project.
One such project involving today's youth to make the future better is Active Citizens. Active Citizens' central theme is to involve young Bangladeshis globally and to act as a motivating agent to make them work for their community. It aims to act as a pathway for the young generation to overcome traditional barriers, access decision makers and influence the lives of others in their community. In addition, it allows interested individuals and volunteers of the community to share ideas and experiences with different groups within and outside the community through intercultural dialogues and global citizenship programmes. These participants come from all walks of life, beginning with youth workers with different educational backgrounds, women's groups, educators, community development professionals, voluntary sector representatives and faith leaders.
Active Citizens is dedicated mainly to work with young people or interested individuals within the age group of 15-25 through social learning, joint social action projects, and international exchanges with other Active Citizens' communities.
Active Citizens has been operating in affiliation with the Hunger Project Bangladesh. The programme is divided into two segments: Developed locally and Share globally. The segment, 'Developed locally' bears two parts - training sessions and social action projects.
In the training session part, 6 UK trainers trained 65 local facilitators who were volunteers of the Hunger Project. Later, these facilitators conducted 80 training sessions in 20 communities all over Bangladesh producing 2500 young leaders. These trainings were based on a module developed globally but customized locally in order to ensure that it reflects the local needs. After the training, the young leaders developed Social Action Projects (SAP) based on their own community and there will be more than 80 such projects. These mainly highlighted the problems faced by the people of a particular community.
Issues such as adult literacy rate and sanitary problems were of significance in most communities. However, some SAPs suggested encouraging debates and tackling climate change as well. Some of these projects have already been completed and they were developed with the help and assistance provided by influential characters and mentors within the community. Despite the support, there were obstacles and adversities that the young people faced but it did not halt their work. Rather it motivated them to work harder. In the end, the fruit of their success was evident.
In Baniazuri village of Manikganj, illiteracy was a major problem. So, the young people involved in the Active Citizens programme decided to demolish illiteracy by opening a literacy centre. This literacy centre would help 300 people to overcome illiteracy; it focused on providing education to adult women. The women can read and write now.
Lastly, the 'Share globally' segment focuses on exchanges with international communities and international conferences. The intercultural dialogue aims to approach and provide solutions to overcome the problems of the people in various communities of UK and Bangladesh. It also encourages promoting global citizenship. In February 15 young Bangladeshi volunteers went to Scotland and 12 Scottish youths visited Bangladesh in March and they shared their experience and learning on different problems faced by the people of the different communities in Scotland and Bangladesh.
The effectiveness of the cross cultural exchange was portrayed by Nazmul Haque, Project Manager of Active Citizens as “means that bring new techniques to young Bangladeshis in citizenship training used internationally -- for example, encouraging the development of critical thinking and working through new approaches to problem-solving.” He added “Bangladesh's future lies in how it will tap its 'youth dividend' to effect change in its communities -- and from our first year workshops and social action projects so far, it's evident young volunteers are highly enthusiastic about building up their skills to take an effective role to change society for the better. Active Citizens is giving them a window on the world of volunteering as it takes place globally”.
Active Citizens is an ongoing project and it is opening new doors of opportunity for more than 4000 Bangladeshis to take part in the programme each year - bringing them under the roof of a global network with countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and the UK.