There was a time when the young made it a point to voice their social and political views. There were local community-service clubs. There were processions and demonstrations. University campuses harboured fiery intellectuals, fervid debaters. Young amateurs painted portraits of liberation, the halls resonated with songs of hope, rookie dancers made use of their expressive limbs, poets felt and poets wrote. The word “youth” had a meaning.
Then, somewhere along the line something must have gone missing. During the 80s and the 90s, youngsters fell short of their potential. Their energy, their enthusiasm flagged. The flames burned out, and in came the time when the youth made little sense. It defined itself by studying hard and staying afloat amidst vicious academic competition. Life was a cycle of school, coaching centres and school again. Breaking the monotony was out of the question- music, debate, poetry, political demonstrations had to go.
With the turn of the millennium, history is repeating itself. The flare and flamboyance of youth has shown itself yet again. The Bangladeshi culture now prides itself on a sub-culture: the youth culture.
These are a few groups that promote the zest of the young generation. Many of the organisations are well named and well famed, providing volunteer and internship opportunities. Others are initiated and run by the young people themselves.
For three and a half years and in spite of the usual hurdles of establishing something new, this organisation has been working with street children, researching on them, interacting with them and trying to educate and prepare them for the future. It was started by Hiroki Watanabe, a Japanese researcher and a student of Dhaka University's Language Institute in collaboration with some students from the Department of International Relations. Watanabe who had been touched by the social and economic divisions in societies and the plights of the poor came to Bangladesh and decided to take an initiative to work with street children. In the beginning the group held 'open sky classes' at the Osmani Uddyan three days a week where through various performances of songs and poetry, they imparted basic cultural and social knowledge to the street children who gathered there. These sessions grew over time and are now also held at the High Court Mazaar and Dhaka Medical College area with over 60 children.
From these first sessions, the group took in about ten children off the streets and formed a rehabilitation centre where they were taught lessons in cleanliness, healthy living and other basics, and given food and clothing. They currently have about 14 children in their custody. Their next initiative will be to try and develop certain skills such as computer education and English speaking skills which will prepare the children for a brighter future, to earn a living working for the many sectors where these skills are essential. They are planning to establish a Skill Development Center outside Dhaka by 2008 and are starting a fund raising campaign in July where they will be showing an 80 minute documentary film.
Ek Matra gets all its funds from individual sources within the country. They have about 200 members and concerned guardians who sponsor the education and welfare of the children. About Tk-1800 is spent on each child every month and it is Ek Matra's vision to keep the funds coming from local sources in order to prove that this can all be done without any foreign funds. They believe that it is not enough to merely help these children but that the society that breeds them also needs to be educated and made aware of their responsibilities towards these children. They have already made two documentary films shown in various English medium schools in collaboration with Lexmark and also in certain universities. They are trying to diffuse the differences in our society through building awareness and understanding in a way that is truly exemplary.
This group which is relatively new and was established by a handful of students from the Finance, Accounting and Information Systems and Marketing Departments of Dhaka University has made a lasting impression in a short time span of only a few months. On realising how badly certain poverty stricken parts of the country are affected by winter, they started their programme by distributing warm clothes and blankets to families in remote parts, especially Muktijoddha (freedom fighter) families who are not so well of. So far they have helped about 117 such families in Kurigram. In Anantapur, a village in the Hatia Union of Kurigram, where the erosion of the river bank displaces a large population everyday, overcrowding the safer zones and adding to the already catastrophic effects of a cruel winter, Jatric helped 550 families with warm clothes last December.
Soon after this, an article was published in the local daily, Janakantha, where the plights of certain Hindu families in the Amoyeer village in Dinajpur were brought to light. Within three days of its publication on January 9 this year, members of the group went to the area where they found that in spite of the article nobody had arrived yet to help the poor families whose houses were razed to the ground and even their lives threatened by the fire. Jatric members helped about 50 families there with clothes (saris and lungis) and by giving each family Tk-500 from their funds.
Jatric gets their funds from their members' contributions and from other individual local sources- in short anybody who wants to help. Their next initiative is to organise a film festival in March in the DU campus where films on the Liberation War of 1971 such as 'Nine Months To Freedom' and 'Shankhanil Karagar' will be shown. During this time, they are hoping that more people will get to know about them and come forward to join with a minimal membership fee but with a colossal supply of hope and vision for a brighter and better future.
Chetona is a student organisation that focuses on social welfare and charity. Its primary aim is to raise funds for various social causes (such as the elevation of poverty) as well as to induce awareness among the young people themselves.
Amongst its previous achievements, Chetona boasts selling T-shirts to raise funds for 820 poverty-stricken families in Kurigram last year. Moreover, it has worked to raise awareness regarding waterlogging in Jessore, with the program titled “Vobodoho”. Other notable activities of the organisation include the hosting of a free medical camp for 600 patients, and distributing education material to 3500 primary students in Monirampur.
Project Bangladesh instills in us the need to feel Bangladeshi to stand up amidst global powers proud of our identity and D’Juice gives the youth a platform to do just that. Therefore any collaboration between the two looked set to be a match made in heaven. The target is to create or mould a generation who will be self confident and smart and also care for their community.
While this is, strictly speaking, not an organisation, the Apprentice-esque program does go the distance to highlight the youth potential. There are rounds where the participating groups are given assignments (such as creating advertisements and corporate proposals), and elimination takes place after specialist adjudication. For more information log on to their website: www.projectdyouth.com.
Take Back Bangladesh
The message displayed on their website promises of great things. “A democratic and enlightened country free from confrontational and corrupt politics led by men and women intent on taking back Bangladesh with forward looking economic and social strategies to transform the country.” On the 2nd of December 2006 TBB (Take Back Bangladesh) organised a concert in Rabindra Sarovar, Dhanmondi. The day might be remembered as quite a landmark and the dawn of a new beginning.
Working under the banner of 'If you (the young generation) do nothing, then you don't have the right to complain about your country,' TBB's concert drew a 15,000 strong crowd and was easily one of the biggest ever awareness programs of the like arranged in the country. The cause is indeed a noble one. TBB feels that it is the duty of the new generation to shake of the cobwebs of failure and take the figurative bull by the horns. There has been enough talk, now is the time for action. And rightly so. As Sherlock Holmes might have said, 'The game's afoot.' Best of luck to them.
AIESEC is a well-heard of name for all the private university students. It is a global network that facilitates the international exchange of students and graduates. It plays an important role in “youth development through structured learning process” and leadership development conferences that address current social and global issues. AIESEC also offers an International Traineeship Exchange Program, where students are sent abroad and gain practical work experience in a global platform.
The executive members (for the National and Local Committee) are elected rather than selected. AISEC's objective is to promote economic development by increasing the quality of human capital. Unfortunately, though, membership to AIESEC, Bangladesh is restricted to students of only four universities- Brac, North South, IUB and AIUB.
What does it really take to change the world? Does it take a large amount of money or a timeworn, wealthy organisation to come up with a good idea and implement it, to make a difference? You have only to look at these student groups and programs to realise that all it really takes is the intention to do good, to take the world forward, one small step at a time…
By Diya ,Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky and Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
Photo: Munem Wasif