What makes an emerging young leader?
My work for the community over the last seven years along with the work I am doing right now for the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar has created an impact on people. They are inspired by my efforts, and so my work benefitting my community is why I believe I won this award.
I am really grateful to the US State Department and the US Embassy in Dhaka for nominating me, especially since it makes me the first Bangladeshi woman to win this award.
Where did your own journey begin?
My journey started from a very early age as my mother was a social worker as well. I was inspired by her. When I was in school, they had a program called Sunshine Village, where students of the school used to teach the children of our cleaners. I used to go there voluntarily after my school hours and teach the children. That’s when I felt that as a Bangladeshi youth, I have to contribute to my society. This is something that lives within me as a responsibility.
I started working in community development by being a volunteer at events and organizations. I got to know about Volunteer for Bangladesh, a youth wing of the Jaago Foundation. I joined it in 2012 for a campaign called Universal Children’s Day, which raises funds for street children in Dhaka and Chittagong. We felt that these children do not have the normal life other children in Bangladesh do. They do not get to go to schools, and they do not get to see or do things that a child would usually do.
This event taught me a lot about how I can contribute to my community by volunteering. Therefore, I kept working with Volunteer for Bangladesh in Dhaka, Chittagong, and various other districts through by joining events, organizing, fundraising, finding sponsors, and at the same time mobilizing many youth and involving them in our projects. This led me to become the President of Volunteer for Bangladesh for Chittagong district, and I am still with the organization as an advisor trying to build a Volunteer for Bangladesh for Cox’s Bazar.
Our society believes that pursuing any other activity alongside studies may hamper education. Do you agree with this?
In 2012, I was a student who just started her university life. I definitely had to balance my time between my study and extracurricular activities so that both were good. However, I do not believe that hampered my studies, because it helped me to shape myself and become who I am today.
I think volunteering is very important for a person’s self development, as well as skills development. Through volunteering for a lot of projects and activities, I learned how to organize and execute. At the same time, I started to feel for the people as I was directly in contact with underprivileged children, people from slums, and Rohingya refugees. I felt their pain and suffering, and that created a sense of responsibility within me which spurs me on to contribute to my community as a responsible citizen.
How can Bangladesh bring underprivileged children out of poverty?
Our country is stepping up to being a developing country, so we need to increase our literacy rate. Children need to be educated in a way that the child learns civility along with getting an education.
As we know, there are a lot of underprivileged children in our country. People from lower income groups cannot afford to send their children into schools, or they rather that the child does some work which would earn the family some extra money. However, I think that we need to address the fact that children need to go through a development process in order to become a responsible citizen.
It is very important to address the sheer number of underprivileged children who are not getting a proper education, which is why we choose slum children in Bangladesh for our schools so that we can give them a quality education which forwards the sustainable development goal as it enables them to earn a better living in their future.
Safe haven works with traumatized children in refugee camps. Why do you think it’s important to work on the trauma of Rohingya children?
It is definitely important for those children as they have witnessed a lot of brutality. These are children who have seen killings, destruction, and gratuitous violence.
When working with these children, it is easy to see that they are heavily traumatized. They seem lifeless and most of them do not want to play or smile. Some of them refuse to even talk.
A lot of these children have lost their family members or those dear to them. Some are now orphans with nowhere to go. Moreover, they are living in very congested camps where they do not have the proper space to play. Safe haven is addressing those issues by working with these children and providing a friendly space where they can come and talk to each other, play, learn about our culture and their own culture, and get to see that there is a life outside of the trauma that they have faced.
In Bangladesh, trauma is given less priority. What are the difficulties you faced while working on this issue?
It is definitely challenging to work with these groups and to address these issues, because in Bangladesh psychological issues are usually not taken seriously. Also, being a woman I faced a lot of obstacles while working on these issues. I think this is an important issue because it is something very close to the core of our society which needs to be addressed in-depth. The more people step up and work on these issues, the better our society will become.
What’s your dream?
My dream is to become a humanitarian activist and also to advocate for women and children’s rights, because I feel that as a woman I had to face a lot of obstacles and am facing them still. I really want to empower the women in my society and country and make them strong and able to become the leaders of tomorrow.
What elements of our society do you think need to be changed in order to attain prosperity?
As an emerging leader I want to tell the youth of my country that they should think about their responsibilities towards the community. The majority of the population is made up of youth, and if the youth comes forward to work on the core issues that we have, these problems can be solved better and quicker, and we will take a large leap in our journey as a developing country.
Do you believe that early childhood development can help the youth to eventually help the whole nation?
Early childhood development is very important because if a child is raised in a healthy, proper manner then he or she is less likely to be diverted towards extremism or other violent activities. When a child undergoes proper development, he or she will be able to think rationally and see the world in a better and more human way. This will shape the child to become a responsible citizen of his or her country.