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Friends of the Planet, Friends of the Nation:

An Interview with BANDHU

People have had a lot to say about the youth of the nation, and not much of it has been very flattering. We've been regarded as dangerous, violent, or sometimes annoyingly irresponsible and a burden to society. Very rarely do we actually rise to the challenge and try to disprove the prejudices and slander heaped on us. Well, recently, we seem to have found a voice to speak for us, and that comes from BANDHU. No, this is not a matchmaking company. The acronym stands for "Belfry Association for Nation's Development and Human Unison", and it is a student-run organization which deals with ecological and social issues.

Formed on June 1, 2001, the organization is run by a group of students from the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB). Their aim is mainly to spread awareness regarding a wide range of social and environmental issues, and also to try and repay, as far is feasible, the great debt they feel that we all owe to our home planet. Here is the BANDHU team at a glance:
Secretary General: Uday Shankar Chaki
Anisur Rahman , ahduzzaman Rumi , Sagar
Sarkar Shojol , Shoma Dutta , Nazia Ahmed ,
Mona Lisa , Neel Shomudro, Jewel
Azim , Fazle Rabbi , Rahat Bari Tuhin , Najibur
Rahman , Choudhury Mahbub Alam

Advisor: Khaled Mahfuz Saeef
Since its establishment in 2001, BANDHU has been very busy. Starting in 2001 and throughout last year, they have organized special environmental awareness seminars in local schools, where they discussed different ways to protect the environment, cut down on pollution, and basically take care of the world around us. Guest speakers at these seminars included ecological research scientists Ragib Uddin Ahmed, and Abdullah Zafar. Executive Member Saeef, a student of Environment Science & Management at IUB, spoke on behalf of BANDHU, and the seminars were conducted by Executive Member Anisur Rahman, and Secretary General Uday. BANDHU also donated plastic dustbins to the schools, to encourage the students to stop littering.

Early this year, BANDHU brought out a rally to protest the poaching and trafficking of domestic wild birds and migratory birds. The rally was followed by a seminar protesting the same, held in the Public Library Auditorium, where reknowned bird-watcher Enamul Haque enthralled the audience with a slide show depicting the plight of the domestic and migratory birds in this country. This seminar was arranged by BANDHU as well. Mr. Enamul Haque has also aided BANDHU in its endeavor to spread awareness against the threat to these birds, amongst schoolchildren in various schools.

The organization has also held a couple of seminars and slide shows this year, featuring the various tribes in the Chittagong hill tracts. Again, Mr. Enamul Haque presided over these seminars, where he spoke about the different tribes living in the CHT; their lifestyles and the trials and tribulations of life on the hills. The seminars were again conducted by Uday, and this time, Executive Member Shoma Dutta spoke on behalf of BANDHU.

Early this summer, BANDHU organized an expedition to Sylhet, where they took a group of schoolchildren on a study tour to see Jafflong and the waterfall at Madobkundo. As well as getting a chance to appreciate some natural marvels of the plantation district, they also got a firsthand look into the lives of the Khasiya tribal people. BANDHU spokesperson Saeef told the RS about the authorities' plans for building an Eco-park near the waterfall, and the Khasiyas' reaction to it. "They (the Khasiyas) don't want it (the park). They feel, that by building roads and bridges to make it easier to access the place, the developers will be taking away from the natural beauty of the surroundings. They are also worried about the tourists, who have not respect for their privacy."

So you see, this is one group of dedicated young people determined in bringing a positive change to their surroundings. When we asked them about the problems associated with running an organization like this, Uday wryly told us that the biggest problem was with registration and the lack of funds. A relatively new group, composed entirely of students, their sources of funds are rather scarce, although recently, they have managed to secure donors who will sponsor a research expedition to the St. Martin Islands, which is what they plan to undertake next. "It's also hard to keep people motivated" Saeef told us. "When they attend the seminars, they all give us a lot of vocal support, but most people balk at the prospect of providing hands-on assistance or financial help."

BANDHU's message to the readers of the RS, and the young people of this country, as Saeef and Uday put it, is "Awareness is important, but useless without action. Be aware of your surroundings, but make this an active awareness. Do something, anything to repay Earth's credit." A very noble message, indeed. Here's wishing them all the success that they dream of, and let's all give them a hand, shall we?

By: Sabrina F. Ahmad

The quest for Mars and a tragic tale

The Proposition: I reached office one Saturday and Raffat Apu (Da Big Boss) handed me a poster of Bangladesh Astronomical Association's Mongol Groho Porjobekkhon Camp (Mars Observation Camp). Milon Bhai from the association had given a call and asked me to join a river cruise they were going to organise. It sounded great though I was doubtful whether it was going to sound great to my mother. Well, it didn't. She was making a fuss about how I'd be bending over the launch's edge to look down at the river and bring misfortune upon myself. It took me a lot of convincing and debating to convince my mother (add my father to the list) that I'd be OK and all that. Meanwhile Raffat Apu had warned me to obey whatever my mother says and not to practise my art of convincing people. Well, I'd done the convincing by the time she told me that, so I didn't pay any heed to the warning. After she reads this, she might give me a lot more than a mere warning.

The Preparation: Well, this was just a one night cruise so there was nothing much to prepare for. When I went to the Sundarbans, I was onboard a launch for more than two days. I took a great deal of warm clothes because it was really cold there. This time, I just took a towel. I should have taken something warm too because the night on the ship turned out to be quite cold with a strong cold wind blowing all the time. Well, there was one more thing that I took with me, a lifejacket. My dad got a lifejacket from his connections at the BIWTA (Bangladesh Internal Water Transport Authority), the people associated with all the capsized launches and steamers. The lifejacket was brought "just in case" and me wearing a lifejacket turned out to be Robocop fitted with a disproportionate head.

The Bus Journey: I reached the office of the Bangladesh Astronomical Association at Lalmatia by the fixed time on the fixed date. There were a lot of people there, some with their entire families. We were all supposed to go first by bus to Gulistan and then to Narayonganj. Unfortunately the following day was a hartal and there was a lot of mayhem and chaos going on at Gulistan and so we had to rent a local bus and directly go to Narayonganj. The journey wasn't so pleasant. Many of us had to travel standing and traffic jams were there to greet us along the way. WE finally reached the ghat at Narayonganj. We got on a speedboat that took us to the launch moored in the middle of the river. The river was the Shitolokkha and the launch was called the M.V. Oboshor. While on the speedboat I was holding tightly to my bag carrying the lifejacket, "just in case". After boarding the launch, I initially walked around with that bag in my hand, this too "just in case". Anyway, at 8:15 p.m. the launch set off for estuary where the Shitolokkha meets the Meghna, our predetermined destination. We were to stay there for a few hours and then come back to Dhaka (this time at Sadarghat) by dawn.

The voyage: The launch was really good. After all, it was a tourist launch, not the ones we see on TV being pulled up from river beds by cranes. On the way we went past lots of other launches and steamers as well as small kheya naukas. It wasn't long before we laid anchor. In the distant hundreds of lights were coming from the Modonpur Power Station. The scene was fabulous: it seemed as if the night sky was on fire. (I'm not any poet; otherwise I could have come up with a less lousy comparison.)

The briefing: Before dinner, we were all given a briefing on Mars by Sujan Kumar Dev, Director of the Observation Unit of the Bangladesh Astronomical Association. Mars is the Roman god of war. It also has certain significance in Hindu mythology. Usually Mars is 227.9 million km away from the Sun but o 27th August it was 55.8 km away. It has a radius of 3314 km while it mass is 0.11 times that of Earth. On Mars 1 day equals 24 hours 37 minutes while 1 year is equal to 687 Earth days. The time of rotating around its own axis once is quite close to that of Earth since Mars has its axis of rotation tilted at 24 degrees to its orbital plane. In Earth's case it is 23 degrees. Mars has two natural satellites, Demos and Phobos, the former having a radius of 14 km and the latter a radius of 26 km. He also gave a lot more info. An interesting one was that on 27th August (the date the planet came closest) Mars rose at 6:42 p.m. and set at 5:55 a.m.

The tragic part: The purpose of the expedition was supposed to be viewing Mars from the river bed. Well, we viewed Mars all right, but with the naked eye, no telescope. There was one with us but it came to be of no use. With the launch constantly swaying to and fro to the waves, the focus of the telescope was constantly disturbed, making it impossible to view Mars closely. This was when I came to know many of the passengers were mentally prepared that the telescope would come to be useless. Well, I wasn't. I'm a reporter and I was supposed to write a feature on seeing Mars. How unlucky!

The journey back: We reached Sadarghat the following morning. It was hartal and so I had to take a rickshaw all the way back to Dhanmondi from Sadarghat. An empty Dhaka at early morning felt great. I also got to know where Bonghshal is and now I know where to take my cycle to be fixed. Then I went past Nogor Bhobon and spent five minutes wondering how bad it would be if such a great building were destroyed on the event of an earthquake.

The end: I tried to go to Wonderland later to finally get to see Mars but didn't quite manage it. I believe the Bangladesh Astronomical Association put up a marvellous show at the Science Museum at Agargaon and especially at Wonderland. Huge numbers of people stayed there till late at night, often hours past midnight. On the last day they even showed Mars on a projection screen at Wonderland with the help of a very high-resolution camera. They are now showing Mars at other districts like Chittagong, Khulna and Barisal. It's a really good gesture of the Bangladesh Astronomical Association to spread a science as intriguing as astronomy around the country. I wish the rivers would cooperate too it was really frustrating not to get to see Mars on the boat.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Milon Bhai for offering me to join the trip and thanks to Javed from the association for helping out with other stuff.

By Hamdan Kabir (Safir)


Campus news

Debate Festival at Viqarunnissa Noon School & College

A debate festival has started from 26th August at Viqarunnissa Noon School & College. The festival is being organised by Viqarunnissa Debating Club, the club associated with all debating activities concerning the institution. The sponsors of the festival are Tibbot toiletries and the national daily Prothom Alo. The festival includes a national debate workshop, as well as the 10th inter-school and 8th inter-club Bangla debate competitions to be held by the organisers.

Every debate festival has some sort of a slogan associated with it. "Wars should be fought for the sake of human rights: humanity should be the power" is the slogan of this particular festival. The debate workshop includes classes on debating, to be taken by well-known debaters in the debating arena. 29 teams from 24 colleges and universities are taking part in the inter-club competition while 14 teams from 10 schools are taking part in the inter-school competition. The festival is to go on for 10 days.

Guests at the opening ceremony all emphasised on how debating can help a person develop his character and reasoning power. Not only does debating help one's oral skills but it also changes the way one reasons and decides between good and bad.

Debating is a very popular extra-curricular activity nowadays. Ever since the first debating club of the country was founded in Notre Dame College half a century ago, debating has gradually become very popular and widespread. Many schools, colleges and universities have their own debating clubs nowadays that take part in different debate competitions and workshops. Teams at university level have also been participating and doing well in international debate competitions. Debate competitions in both Bangla and English have gone on for a long time on the national TV channel for many years now, although the overall quality of the program has greatly deteriorated in recent years.

By Hamdan Kabir (Safir)

Book review

BagAzine-A Magazine With a Difference

BagAzine, a magazine for children and adolescent, is published by Laurent le Danois and Terre des hommes foundation. Bagazine was created to encourage children and teenagers, from across the globe, to express themselves through essays, poems, pictures etc. The magazine's main purpose is to help the underprivileged children, especially street children, to develop their creative skills. The magazine aims to increase the self-esteem of underprivileged children and to help them become confident individuals. Children from around the world are encouraged to participate and express themselves, in order to forge friendships between children from different cultural backgrounds, religions etc.

BagAzine is bright and colorful and it immediately attracts young ones. The pages are filled with pictures, poems, short stories, reports about special events organized by Terre des hommes and many other features. The magazine receives lots of letters and emails from readers and the first couple of pages are dedicated to letters for the editor. Inside, the pages of the magazine are covered with colorful designs and illustrations. The magazine also has a "Cartoon and Jokes" section, an "Art Gallery" section and "Folktales". Children from all parts of Bangladesh contribute to the magazine. The schools in the Children Advisory Board are Aparajeyo Bangladesh in Chittagong and Grace International School in Dhaka. Many of the children who contribute to the magazine are working in the streets for a living. These children can express their frustrations and dreams with the help of the magazine.

Terre des hommes has so far published three issues of BagAzine. The first and third issues were bilingual, i.e. the text was in both Bangla and English, making it easier for Bangladeshi children to read the magazine. The second issue, which was published on the occasion of Child Right's Day 2002, was in French only. It was published mainly for Swiss children, but it was well accepted worldwide. In the third issue, contributions came from children of West Bengal and Mumbai. The magazine is published once or twice a year depending on how fast the young contributors can come up with new ideas. Till now the magazine is for free distribution and is available to anyone who sends in his or her mailing address.

By Ayesha Mahmud



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