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     Volume 6 Issue 48 | December 14, 2007 |

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Living in Hope

Andrew Morris

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and unrestrained.”

Overheard at the Dhaka Club? Two retired colonels strolling through a park perhaps? An op-ed writer in these very pages? No, this quotation, from the Greek poet Hesiod, is just a little older than that. It dates back 2700 years in fact, and just goes to show how bemoaning the youth of today is an ancient and established custom. Much later, a mere two and a half thousand years ago, Socrates is said to have echoed these thoughts, in the following passage attributed to him:

"The young now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers… They talk as if they alone knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them.”

Now Hesiod and Socrates have many advantages over your correspondent, whose words are unlikely to be read two and a half weeks from now, let alone two and a half millennia, but they suffer by comparison in one vital respect: they weren't at the recent launch of the magazine “Voices of Hope”, and I was. If they had been, they might well have reconsidered their opinion about the youth of today, as there they would have met a highly impressive group of youngsters who are committed to making a difference and to shaping a better world, starting right here at home.

They are all members of the new organisation HOPE (”Help Our People Empathise”). Founded in April 2007 by Munsia N. Ahmed, a faculty member at IUB, the group which currently consists entirely of present and former IUB students, has three main aims: they raise funds to support the work of selected NGOs, enhance these NGOs' public profile, and most importantly, get involved in exchange programmes which give members hands-on experience of actual NGO operations in the slums, in clinics, and in cyclone-affected areas, as well as involvement in coastal cleaning programmes.

The fundraising efforts to date have involved a number of food fairs and a concert at PM Lounge, featuring a number of local stars. There are more plans afoot for corporate fundraising events. But Munsia is keen to stress that fundraising is only a small part of their much wider agenda. Money is always necessary, but the main thrust is to tackle the issues themselves, in a way which is more sustainable and hands-on.

Using a very media-savvy approach, the group therefore devotes time to creating a public profile for their carefully-vetted causes, such as Streetwise, which offers education to street children. One of the most able of these children was recently offered a scholarship from the funds raised to date. At the magazine launch, he proudly accepted this honour and recited a few nursery rhymes in flawless English, proving his merit.

Members of HOPE are themselves already involved with Streetwise, offering teaching and other support, Also present at the launch were members who have worked with Shushasthya, a medical NGO founded by expatriate Bangladeshi doctors, which now operates a number of mobile clinics and treatment camps wherever the need arises across the nation. Above all it's this practical engagement of students with causes which marks HOPE out as a can-do initiative: more than just talk, and certainly more than just money.

Moved by a documentary on poverty she saw while still a teenager, Munsia made a commitment to herself to do something to help those from less fortunate backgrounds. Using her obvious motivational skills, she has gathered round her a very able group of students. Some are already involved in business ventures of their own, while others bring to the table a whole range of abilities, including fundraising, graphic design, music, creative writing, photography and even cake-baking. Sitting at a meeting with them, it soon emerges that they also possess a variety of talents whose applications are not so immediately obvious, from long-distance swimming to drumming and from karate to trekking, but such is the energy in the group you get the feeling that very soon even these could be usefully deployed. A fundraising karate chop session in which passers-by volunteer to be victims? An awareness-raising drumming session or a swim for charity? Who knows…

What is also striking about the organisation is its professionalism. From the logo to the posters and artwork they have created, and from the glossy magazine written and edited in-house to the campaign song, you get the feeling that these are people who mean business, and who know, in an age which is highly image-conscious, how to present their own cause and the causes they support. The launch itself had a slick feel to it: candles and rose petals on the tables, the precisely-timed order of events, the speeches kept short and to the point.

But it's the enthusiasm of the members which is even more noteworthy. When asked why they have joined and what they get from being in HOPE, individual members are unanimous in saying that it offers them a chance to give something back to society. Sarah F. Ahmad, who is the fundraising officer, is committed to the idea of making even a small change for the good, while Azmoon Ahmed, in charge of catering, adds how being part of such a group offers strength in numbers: the whole is much more than the sum of the parts.

You walk away from HOPE meetings and events convinced that there are grounds for hope after all, and that these efforts deserve the support of everyone. In a context where charity work is often treated with suspicion, here is a group which has the potential to restore faith in the eternally essential cause of social engagement, and in the benefits it brings to all concerned.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007