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When dreams collide with reality

RS talks to young professionals and students about what they wanted to be and what they became

Existence is the name of the game in a third-world country. It's hardly ever how big you dream, it's always about your survival tactics to see another day. Dreams spring up quite easily, but barely few manage to make it past the childhood. No, we don't dream of being great composers or shoe designers or the first ones to walk on Mars. We don't dream of being the next George Best, we don't dream of being the next Audrey Hepburn. We have learnt to limit our dreams before they cross the threshold of achievable reality. We have also learnt not to take childhood fantasies too seriously.

Yes, we limited our aspirations in life to being doctors, lawyers and engineers. It's not too irrational to ask for that to come true, is it? Anyone who has the misfortune of ever going through the admission process in Bangladesh knows that your dreams are as big as the number of MCQs you get right. 'What do you want to study?' or 'What do you want to be in your life?' is way down on the priority list. 'Where did you get the chance to study?' The key word here is 'chance'. No matter what you wanted to be, no matter how reasonable you thought your dreams were, they were still too lofty for the few opportunities we can have.

We interviewed a few people, and one of them was Arnab, who had two choices when he was getting admitted to university. One was to pursue his lifelong dream of being a pilot; another was to get admitted to a business school. When both the admission tests were scheduled on the same day, he chose the business school. In his own words: 'Not a day goes by that I don't regret not having the guts to do it. The allure of a good job right after graduation, particularly in this economy seemed too illogical to pass by. Even if it means letting go of the one thing you wanted most since you were 7.'

Sifat on the other hand, always wanted to study anthropology. His parents, unlike many, even grudgingly agreed. But when he could not get admitted to any university that offered the subject, he ended up studying computer engineering. Sifat hated his university, even the good things in it. His grades suffered terribly because of that. 'I graduated this year, and to tell you the truth, the university was quite alright. It was just not my place to be. But who's going to listen?' he adds with a sad smile.

An overwhelming majority of people in universities around the country are just studying a subject because they had no other alternatives. Saba had dreamt of studying medicine ever since she could remember, but the public and private medical schools in the country didn't seem to think so. Now she is studying to be an architect at a private university. Maliha wanted to become a pharmacist, and is now studying business administration. Naila always thought engineering would be the best option for her: she is now studying physiotherapy. It's not like Bangladesh is unique, people don't get accepted to universities all the time, all over the world. But the soul-crushing silent acceptance of ours makes it that much worse.

They say you come out of the admission process a different person. And they are correct. What your lives were supposed to be and what they turned out to be become strangers to each other. The dreams of the life you wanted become stranded in an island far, far away, only to be thought of during lazy afternoons, at your own discretion. How do we carry on with those broken dreams weighing us down? We carry on. We think of the ways our lives are better off without those childish goals, we think of the fact that it was not us but some distant versions of ourselves who dared to conjure up such thoughts, we stop ourselves from thinking too much. Sometimes, we could do with a little less make doing.

By Orin

Spelling for Stardom

When The Daily Star Spelling Bee started this February, it began with the intention of providing students with a platform to stardom through spelling. We see reality TV shows being based on singing and/or dancing contests but the Spelling Bee's endeavour has been to provide a similar opportunity for students through spelling.

Although this has been the first time that the Spelling Bee is being organised in Bangladesh there has been no lack of interest among students considering a country like ours - where students are bogged down with truck loads of homework; add to that the incessant power outages and the infamous Dhaka City traffic. The word of the Spelling Bee has spread far and wide, even though the tournament is still in its preliminary stages.

Going nuts with spelling in Sunbeams

Students from all across the country have been playing the online Spelling Bee game at www.champs21.com - the tournament organisers. The champs21 crew visited the top schools all over Bangladesh in the last month and a half to filter out the top spellers from each school. But there have been many schools that hadn't been visited, and for them, the only way of entry into the second round would be via the online game. Students such as Sohaima Jabeen (SFX Greenherald Int'l School), Alif Ahmed (Gazipur Technical School & College) and Jabir Misbah (Scholars School & College) have almost all but ensured entry into the second round thanks to strong scores that have earned them a spot in the top 100 from Dhaka division in the online game. Their schools had not been visited but they got the news of the Spelling Bee and played the online game.

“Getting a chance to participate in the Spelling Bee has been a lifelong dream for me,” said a very excited Alif Ahmed. He came to find out about the Spelling Bee through a billboard on Biswa Road and says “I was always interested in spelling and watched the Spelling Bee on ESPN and Spelling Bee related movies, whenever I got the chance.”

He adds, watching a lot of English movies and going through the English dictionary a lot has helped him tremendously.

Jabir Misbah, too, echoed Alif's sentiment in being very happy to be in the divisional round. “I found out about the Spelling Bee through an SMS,” he added. He has also bought the Spellato and started reading The Daily Star on a regular basis to improve on his spelling.

The Spelling Bee has so far given everyone only a teaser of what is to come in the next few months as the competition gets serious and there is no doubt that what it has delivered so far has been nothing short of exemplary. And as I finish writing this piece with the devout help of autocorrect, it is clear that the Spelling Bee is giving many students an opportunity to showcase their talents by providing a stage previously unavailable in this country.

By Shahnoor Rabbani

Sensationalism killed the Kony

If you have Facebook or any access to the internet, you'd know by now that there is a deranged, psychopathic monster running loose in Uganda, capturing and training children to be soldiers, butchers and rapists. And all this publicity is because an organisation named “Invisible Children” made a film, distributed it through Vimeo (the upper-class YouTube) and it went viral. Let's get one thing clear before we delve into actual facts surrounding Joseph Kony. “Kony 2012” can't be considered a great piece of documentary. It doesn't follow the conventions of impartial journalism. “It's partisan, tactless and bold. It could be seen as insufferably condescending, a way of making US college kids feel good about themselves,” said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

But what it is though is a highly glossed, slick piece of digital activism. Its pure sensationalism (at the cost of running over facts) managed to publicise the grotesque crimes carried out by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Director, Jason Russell, runs this film on brash emotion, pulling at the heartstrings of his audience. But one of the major complaints most critics have had is how oversimplified the film is. Also, the way it's presented, the logical method of putting an end to this crisis becomes a full-scale invasion of the landlocked African country, resulting in huge civilian losses.

No viral trend exists without backlash, and Kony 2012 has faced massive criticism. The most obvious aspect to attack would be the sensationalism, bordering on being misleading. One thing they forgot to mention in the film, Joseph Kony hasn't been in Uganda for the last 6 years. The LRA has been beaten back out of Uganda and now are in hiding in remote areas of South Sudan. The LRA doesn't have the mass army presented in the film, no brainwashed army of 30,000 child soldiers.

30,000 is the number abducted by the LRA over 30 years. Criticism is also rising on Invisible Children's finances. After signing a pledge, they want you to fork over 30 USD for a Kony bracelet and then donate. All good and stuff, except that they spend less than one-third of their budget on actual direct action and on-the-ground work; most of it goes to filmmaking, compensation and, wait for it, transport.

There's been outcry in Uganda itself. Musa Okwongo, a Ugandan commentator at The Independent berated the fact that the makers ask viewers to engage American policymakers and celebrities but doesn't introduce them to the many in Northern Uganda already doing a terrific job. Their support for military action also came under fire and the fact that pictures of crew members posing with guns with Sudan People's Liberation Army were leaked, didn't help with PR.

Now here's the basic lowdown. Joseph Kony is the head the Lord's Resistance Army, fighting to purge Uganda and turn it into a theocracy following Kony's interpretation of the Ten Commandments. LRA is particularly well known for their pseudo-Christian religious extremism and atrocities they've committed in the past 30 years, including mass murder, mutilations, rape and, in some cases, cannibalism. In 2005, Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court but has evaded capture since then. The man is 50 years old and is thought to have 88 wives and 42 children. His followers claim he is possessed by spirits and consider him a messiah. Speaking to Reuters in 2006, he said, “We don't have any children. We only have combatants”. In 2011, the US deployed around 100 combat-ready army advisors to stomp out Kony and the LRA.

A lot of protest can be raised as to the usefulness of this video. They created awareness. That's nice, but how will that actually lead to the capture of Kony? There are 100 US commandos on the ground, not to mention that Northern Uganda has been trying extensively to capture the elusive leader of the LRA. The Hague has warranted for his arrest since 2006. The video has made Kony famous, but something needs to be said for the grossly illogical timing of this film. The film did nothing to really inform people on the turmoil in Central Africa. Signing for the arrest of Kony is futile. It's not as if he's not a wanted criminal. The LRA is classified as a terrorist organisation already. Responses from Uganda to the film have made it clear that the war is more complicated than a man named Kony.

But Invisible Children argues that the world needs to know. And they're right. Most of us never knew about Kony. But I'm going to end this post with the question that is being asked by so many around the world; what do we do now that we know?

By Bareesh


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