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Breaking barriers

They sat in a bunch in the American Centre library, carrying on animated conversations in excited whispers. Their faces mirrored intelligence, energy, and the kind of contentment that comes from a sense of achievement. From their body language, you could tell that they shared a comfort level with one another that comes from having shared an incredible experience together. This was the group of students from the US, here on an exchange project facilitated by the Linking Individuals, Knowledge and Culture (LINC) Youth Exploration and Empowerment Program organised by Relief International Schools Online, which is funded by the US Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, US State Department.

Applicants from high schools around California underwent a rigorous screening process, through which the eight finalists were selected on the basis of their leadership skills and community service experience. The team consists of Jammie Castellanos from Belmont High School, John Hutchinson from Newport Harbor High School, Jessica Gutierrez from Orange High School, Ivan Perez from Camino Nuevo High Tech High School, Angela Nzegwu from David Starr Jordan High School, Ryan Theimer, who attends Monrovia High School, Gloria Rosales, a senior at Phineas Banning High School, and Bryant Gomez from Manual Arts High School. Accompanying the team is the LINC Youth Leader Stephanie Horak, a senior at Monrovia High, who was previously an overseas volunteer for Relief International in post-tsunami Sri Lanka, and is here to assist her peers with the negotiating the rigors of being volunteers in a developing country.

Relief International carried out a similar screening process here in Bangladesh, and short-listed fourteen students from all over the country to join the US delegates in this project. The BD group consists of Chrysantheemum from Sunamganj Government Mohila College, Nazmun Hunira Nancy from Akramunnarcha College in Rampura, Aashramikee Disha Roy of Rangpur Govt. College, Md. Saiful Islam (Safi) from the KD Govt. High School in Naogaon, and Md Sadequr Rahman Khan from the Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protistan (BKSP) in Savar. There are five candidates from the Rajuk Uttara Model College: Shakila Akter Jahan, Habiba Jeba, Sheikh Farhana Binte Ahmed, Sucheta Shegufta and Tazreen Ahmed. There are also four candidates from the Government Jubilee High School in Sunamganj: AKM Ruhul Amin (Rubel), Bibekananda Sarker (Dhrubo), Kowsar Ahmed (Shourov), and Ashokh Chowdhury.

The LINC program included workshops focusing on several topics relevant to youth and society, and particularly the role of youth in community service. Both sets of students will be brought together in both the US and Bangladesh, and the goal is for the two groups to get to know each other well over the course of the year through both the visits and activities between and after the exchange visits themselves.

LINC Program Officers Caitlin Drewes and Lela Lantz told us that in addition to working directly with communities and community groups, a key part of the LINC program is that the participants actually got into communities and perform work with their own hands. The twenty students have thus been working on several community service projects in and around Dhaka, which includes the building of a community centre in Manikganj (that's right, with their own hands!) and other small projects in collaboration with Proshika, as well as some projects in collaboration with Democracy Watch that took them to Gazipur, amongst other places.

Sometime in March, the BD group will be going off to the US for a similar program over there, and even after the exchange, youth in both countries will continue to work on communities projects, an average of ten hours per month which is considered vital to the project.

When asked about what it was like working with the Bangladeshi students, a smiley-faced Jessica Gutierrez responded that “They were so amazing! Each of them could be an excellent cultural advisor because they were so eager to teach us about their language and traditions.” Jammie Castellanos and John Hutchinson both confessed to preconceived fears (of very different natures) as to what the trip would be like, but both expressed a pleasant surprise at the warmth and hospitality of the Bangladeshi people, and this included just about everyone they met, not just their Bangladeshi peers. The group spoke warmly about the feeling of accomplishment they had in doing all that they did, and also about their own personal growth. Ryan Theimer talked about going home with a better understanding of himself and other cultures, while Ivan Perez and Gloria Rosales both expressed a desire to go back home and put in an extra effort into community service, with a view to enlightening others about people from other cultures.

When asked about the negative aspects of their trip, the group unanimously responded that it was the hardest getting used to the Dhaka traffic.

What the LINC project is trying to accomplish is truly laudable, and here's wishing them success in their ventures, and let's also hope that when the BD delegates go off to America, they are able to achieve as much as their US counterparts have in this trip.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Shailee digital prokashoni releases new book for children

Shailee Digital Prokashoni, a local digital publishing company has recently released a new book for children titled 'Chhora Gaane Pora'. This book is one of their many such books in the market.

The book comes with a VCD. There are twenty rhymes in the book altogether. Each includes a list of words and their meanings. The book is colorfully designed and has a lot of pictures which children should find amusing. The VCD features animated videos of the rhymes. The videos are done using the flash software and are pretty impressive by Bangladesh standards. The rhymes have good tunes so that the children can sing to them. It seems a good way of attracting children towards learning Bangla. 'Our main aim was to create a product to help children learn new rhymes, improve their vocabulary as well as have fun', says the creator of the book, Mr. Masudur Rahman. He also informs that there are other such products for children by Shailee Digital Prokashoni which are available in the market, some to help them learn Bangla and English alphabets, science, geography etc. and also one animated cartoon film.

This book is a fun way of learning new Bangla rhymes and words for children. It is available in most bookstores in the city for a reasonable price. Shailee Digital Prokashoni definitely deserves some credit for the incentive if not the final product.

Elephants-almost human

Who doesn't find elephants cute? I've spent all my life craving a pet elephant, but then again, finding space to keep it might be a…. ahem… tiny problem. Well, elephants have been highly popularized for numerous reasons. Their tremendous strength and uncanny intellect (not to mention, they're cute too) have made one the most prized domestic animals.

Elephants have done it all- from fighting wars with Hannibal to participating in pageants in ancient Roman amphitheaters. But nevertheless, it his hear rendering to see the populations of these adorable creatures continue to recede as a result of human mismanagement and cruelty.

Elephants are symbolic to many cultures. In Hinduism, there is the elephant faced god, Ganesha. Buddhism indicates that the Buddha chose the form of a white elephant as one of his earthly incarnations. Elephants can live up to 60 years of age. Though more than 600 species of elephant are alleged to have existed in the past, now only two species exist: the African and Asian Elephant. The Asian elephant tends to have smaller ears and is generally smaller in size. Elephants sleep very little, instead, almost 15 hours of the elephant's day is spent gathering food: almost 100 pounds of grass, leaves and twigs. Not only are they excellent swimmers, but affirming popular belief, elephants do have almost infallible memories.

Presently, the closest relative of the elephant is an animal called the hyrax, which ironically resembles a guinea pig.

Elephants are very social creatures, in addition to being highly intelligent. They tend to display what can only be described as human- like behavior. These animals travel in closely-knit packs, with herds composed of cousins, aunts, sisters, nieces, etc. Research proves that elephants not only mourn deaths of their fellow creatures, but also celebrate birth of baby elephants! They communicate in a variety of ways: touch, sound, scent, body language, etc. they are extremely loyal and affectionate animals, not hesitant to risk their lives for members. Even in captivity, elephants grow attached to their keepers- making them very delightful pets

They are one of the very few animals in the wild with sparse enemies-well- obviously except humans. Not only have people extensively damaged the elephant's natural habitat, but also, elephants are still being mercilessly killed solely for their tusks. The elephant population has been reduced from 10 million to about only 600000 in the past century. Poachers often tend to slaughter the older members of the herd, who the rest of the herd depends on. In fact, young elephants rarely survive following the death of their mothers. Though organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and World Conservation Union are attempting to ensure the conservation of elephants, it is predicted that elephants shall disappear from the face of the earth by the year 2030, or less

By Bushra Sameeha Anwar


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