My leadership journey began when I was a first year Alim student. The Sajeda Foundation encouraged me to apply to the Building Bridges through Leadership Training program as I had always been involved in different extracurricular activities. My interest was particularly aroused by the term “leadership”, as I had always wanted to do something of purpose, but was self conscious, and doubted my ability to mobilize people. I felt that people wouldn’t listen to me.
A part of the reason for my self-doubt was because I was studying in a Madrassa. Madrassa students are often put in a box. Marginalized from various job opportunities, they are not expected to go too far in life. Even my family expected that I would end up becoming a teacher at a Madrassa. This reaction is symptomatic of how society views Madrassa students. If we look closely at the educational system in Bangladesh, the disparity in treatment between English and Bangla medium institutions and Madrassas is quite apparent. Except for a select few, most Madrassas are underfunded and lack resources. The best learning opportunities and placement programs prioritize students from Bangla and English medium schools, disallowing madrassa students from achieving more holistic life experiences. In a way, they are isolated from the real world and real jobs. This discrepancy has contributed to growing suspicion and intolerance between the different education mediums, further perpetuating social barriers.
This barrier was first broken for me when I was participating in the BBLT program that included students from English and Bangla medium schools. It took me a while to eventually mix freely with all the other students. What was even more challenging for me was working in a gender inclusive environment, which I had never done before. During the community service phase, my group, Bohumatric, consisted of girls and boys from all mediums, and it was the first time I was working with women. Despite initially being uncomfortable, I eventually stepped out of my comfort zone and had no qualms about working side by side with women. We even decided that our community service project should focus on empowering underprivileged women.
I realized that I had a lot to learn from everyone. Through building an inclusive learning environment, BYLC had created an equal platform for all of us where each of us felt like an equal part of society. This unity fascinated me and motivated me to work harder.
It has been 7 years since I completed the BBLT program. The confidence that I too can contribute to the betterment of the society has grown within me throughout the years, which is why I continue to work at BYLC today. Inspired by my own metamorphosis, I contributed to designing the BBLT Junior program, aimed at secondary school students. So far 230 students have gone through 8 program, where I have worked as a facilitator in 2 and an instructor in 6. The reason behind teaching leadership to adolescents is to help them realize the importance of active citizenship and demonstrate that leadership can be exercised at any age. I realized that it was my responsibility to pay forward the positive transformation I had gone through, and inspire younger generations to want to change the world. When I see my students graduating and say that BBLTJ has been instrumental in their lives, I realize the time and energy I have invested has been worthwhile. It is an amazing feeling to watch a shy Madrassa student walk confidently in front of a class and deliver a heartfelt speech about their dreams and aspirations.
Inclusive spaces like BYLC can contribute to reshaping narratives and help everyone to move further, together. The most important lesson I have learned throughout my journey, that I would like to share with my fellow students, is that it is vital that we, the youth of Bangladesh, break away from the confining categories and roles that society often forces us into, and continue to have big dreams, and be confident about turning them into reality.