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Role Model:

Saving the Acid Survivors

Name: Tineke Kemena
Born: August 30, 1981
Education: Christian University, EDE
Idol: My mom and dad
Favourite Quote: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” ~ Henri Matisse

Last year in 2007 as Tineke Kemena came to volunteer for Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) she was probably only looking for some experience just like the others. But after a year right now, to anyone in ASF she's just like another colleague and to the acid survivors, a friend.

It was Tineke's own words in 2007, “I don't live to work. I work to live.” But a year down the line, just before the ASF Benefit Ball for which she was volunteering as the Project Coordinator, anyone who saw her must have thought otherwise. With a few dedicated volunteers and ASF officials she worked from 9am to 8 pm five days a week and this time she was not only working for experience but also for some good for some people that she came to feel for. Her dedication to this cause, made Tinike Kemena the first of many RS Role Models that are to be featured in the days ahead.

RS: How did you come to know of ASF?
TK: I came to know about ASF from a friend of mine last year in June who then introduced me to Mrs. Parvin Mahmud from ASF. My friend told me about women in Bangladesh who get attacked with acid. At first I couldn't imagine how it would be. I had no idea what it was until I came to ASF.

First of all I think when you come to know about acid violence first hand, for me it was a shock. After the Ball last year I went back to the Netherlands but then I decided, 'no I really want to do more for the acid survivors.' So I decided to come back for half year, which is now seven months. And during my stay here I decided, 'no I can do so much more' so I am going to be coming back again next year.

RS: While you were a teenager, did you ever imagine yourself to be volunteering halfway across the world?
TK: Never! But ofcourse I like to travel. But what's keeping me in Bangladesh is probably the culture, the hospitality and the people. Bangladesh made me realize that it is the duty of the privileged to help the underprivileged. And this work actually gives me so much joy and happiness that money can't buy. Sometimes I have awful days. I wake up and there are so many troubles already with water and transportation. It's literally 8 o'clock in the morning and you've already had it. But after getting to work when you walk up the stairs and you see your colleagues and the survivors and they ask you, “Kemon acho?” then my day is already good. You forget the stress.

RS: How much are you changed as a person now?
TK: I appreciate all the things in life way more. The small things in life. You always want to get more and more and more? And suddenly you realize that you can have all the money in the world but the people around you and who you are, are way more important. So I think Bangladesh changed me in the sense that now I have a lot of appreciation for what I have. I realized that it's not as normal as I thought it was. Suddenly you realize that it's a privilege.

RS: What are your plans for the future?
TK: I'll be back in March next year. Along with some partners we'll be starting an income generating project for the acid survivors which is a fashion designing house named Projapoti. It is a fashion line, where the acid survivors themselves will be the designers. It will be all Bangladeshi natural products and we plan to market it internationally as well as within the country. A few survivors will already be starting to train while I'm away. It is also aimed at raise awareness against acid violence nationally and internationally.

RS: What are the things that you really liked about BD?
TK: Eating with your hands. I think what I also like about Bangladesh is the unexpected. You cannot plan a week. Forget it. So it also makes it a challenge. I also admire Bangladeshi people because they have to deal with so much disasters year and year out. They have to struggle so much in life but they are still left standing and still smiling. And I love it that still Bangladesh is the happiest nation.

By Hitoishi Chakma

Hopes and Dreams

It is not our extremely efficient garbage dumping system, nor is it out extremely efficiently inefficient political system that makes up a pseudo-literal backbone of the country. Nay. It's the faithless, and the faithful of the country, the ones that break their backs day in and day out, in the night's dark light, in the sun's burning shine, and in the blistering cold of the winters, in the storms of all yesteryears… just so that the rest of us more privileged ones can get to a desired place.

I'm of course talking about the countless innumerable rickshaw pullers in our country. Most of them don't earn enough to even get by the week, let alone the month. It's usually the case that they have to rent a vehicle, pay a premium and a further large share of their daily earnings. This hardly leaves them with anything to take home. And yet they go on, every day of every week throughout the whole year, for an earning not even nearly enough for their sweat.

They do it because like all other human being they want to survive. They do it because they have families- wives and children who need to be kept fed, healthy and educated, younger siblings and old parents that needs to be taken care of- and it has fallen on their shoulders to look after them.

Some of these rickshaw pullers take peace and solace in the compassion and shelter of their God(s), and some of them find their high and dark comfort in destructive drugs and addictions.

While some find their sanctuary in simple music.
One such person is Omar Ali- a 45 year old rickshaw puller who makes his ends meet in the streets of Dhaka pedaling people around for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. His years and years of devotion to music has finally paid off. Right from his youngest days of pulling buffalo carts, he would devote a lot of his time to music. In the trafficked streets of Dhaka, every red light and every chaotic corner is a cue for Omar Ali to sing out. It's even helped him earn some extra tips from his passengers on numerous occasions.

Magic Tin Chakar Taroka, or “Three Wheeler Stars” is a reality show similar to American idol, Close-Up One, etc. in nature, except that it features rickshaw pullers instead of the regular people you'd see. The person behind this idea is Munni Saha. She had observed a talent show for rickshaw pullers in a school playground outside of the city and was stricken with the idea. She pitched the idea, and obtaining the backing of her television company, she began to publicize for auditions, with the help of posters on the back of rickshaws.

The contest turned up around 3000 thousand enthusiastic contestants. This was soon reduced to 20 people through weekly episodes… In the end, it was Omar Ali who took home the grand prize, around a whooping 2000 USD and a record deal to release a CD and DVD with him singing. Life is now looking up for this aged man. The pain of pedaling is finally over for Mr. Ali, and he now wishes to devote and develop a hopefully successful career in music. The other 10 finalists all received atleast around 300 USD, enough to enable them to buy their own rickshaws if they want.

Our heartiest congratulations to every one of them- may they now have a smoother road to look forward and turn to.
And to Mr. Ali? Rock on, dude.

By iEmil

Eid: Here and there

My first Eid away from Bangladesh. How was it? Well let's just say it was an awakening of some sorts. This Eid-ul-Fitr arrived exactly a month after I started college so I had some time to adjust. But the more time seems to go by, the more it seems to be that I will never 'fully' adjust but will just move to the new motions, keeping in touch with everything at home (you hear me my friends? Maybe you guys should mail me more) and imbedding my old memories somewhere so I can whip them out when I come back in a few months.

But not to digress from the point that was about Eid. My Eid experience wasn't as traumatic as it might be for some people the first time away from home. I had my sister's house to go to and add to that the humongous Bangladeshi community living here and the insane number of dawats (and food), you have a pretty good recipe for something to do. But the thing was that I wouldn't just do Anything on Eid day in Bangladesh. I would have the best time ever with my friends and family and I guess the high standard was what made it so much harder.

Eid in Bangladesh would start out from early morning because it takes so long to get that oh-so-perfect look (though you can never be totally satisfied with yourself). Mom would make me taste all that she cooked for the day before anyone else came so I could taste her food fresh and warm. Then some friends would come over and we would go to another friend's place where everyone would meet up. By noon, we were rearing to go and if someone had a car we would roam Dhaka in that or just use CNGs and rickshaws. And I mean the Whole of Dhaka Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Uttara etc.

The evening was usually reserved for family. My parents and I would then move together to whichever party we thought the best food would be served (my idea). And so the day would end. But that was only the first day. The second and third day usually ran on the same themes but with less glitter and hyperness. Here, in the US, you're very lucky if you have family with you to celebrate the first day of Eid. And you're even luckier if you have more people to celebrate it with. I felt sorry for my other Muslim friends here who didn't have anything else to do on Eid except go to classes, which so many do. I luckily escaped from that fate but all the hullabaloo and gathering at the dawats just made me feel lonelier for 'my' kind i.e. my friends. I missed the excitement of trying to get ready so that you look better than anyone else and the constant companionship I would have on Eid and of course the endless gossiping about who was doing and wearing what. It also made me realize though how universal Eid actually is. It's not something that only one community or one country celebrates. Muslims all over the world in other small groups in other communities in other cities in other countries also got together, threw parties, wore their new clothes and generally just had a good time. This was one occasion guaranteed to make the person even with hermit tendencies come out of his hole.

As for me I now appreciate my religion and culture much more, now that I know how empty it feels not to have it. Eid is fantastic as to how it brings people together. And how it makes women cook the best food ever and how it leads to people like me to eat so much that they feel like a balloon at the end of the day…

By Nisma Elias



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