Personal Journey

Breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes

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Ever since I was young, I always considered myself as a person who got along with everyone. I enjoyed keeping myself busy with different kinds of activities, meeting new people, and having new experiences. Little did I realize that the world around me was not as big as I perceived it to be. Going to an English medium school, my life revolved mostly around friends from school, and I hardly ever had the opportunity to meet anyone from other education mediums in Bangladesh. I thought that there would be little that I would be able to connect with them on, even if our paths crossed, as it was difficult to think of much that we may have in common.

For example, in this day and age, when you think about Madrassa students, many preconceived notions come to mind, such as extreme conservatism and lack of tolerance for diverse views. Similarly, perhaps, English medium students are also subjected to certain stereotypes such as being too vain, or trying too hard to emulate Western values and culture. In reality, however, the fact that young people from different backgrounds don’t have many avenues to interact in society leads to such broad generalizations in their views about each other.

We must ask ourselves, does this bode well for Bangladesh? In a country where 52% of the population is less than the age of 25, our future will in large part be shaped by the next generation of young Bangladeshis. What would that future look like if young people with diverse perspectives cannot reconcile their differences? In truth, I would have never been prompted to even consider this issue had I not learned about the BBLTJ program at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center. The BBLTJ, or the Building Bridges through Leadership Training Junior, is a month-long leadership training program that brings together students from diverse backgrounds. It features English, Bengali, and Madrassa medium students who come together in the classroom to explore their ownselves, and try to bridge their differences through team building, reflection, and service learning.

I applied to the program with a lot of trepidation, not knowing what to expect, but felt that the opportunity would at least push me out of my comfort zone. And I felt that without moving to the edge of your competencies, you cannot grow as an individual. The next few months that I spent at BYLC were truly memorable. I grew more than I could ever imagine in self-confidence and motivation, and felt that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. What inspired me in this journey were the friendships that I had forged with my fellow participants who came from all walks of life. Their leadership journeys and struggles to be the best versions of themselves inspired me to also live for a bigger purpose than just my own.

My preconceived notions about Bengali and Madrassa medium students were also shattered. I realized that we all really have the same aspirations in life – to do well for ourselves while making a positive impact in society through our work. Most importantly, however, I learned that when a group of diverse individuals come together as one, great things can happen.

One of my best experiences in the program was during the Leadership in Action phase. In this component of BBLT-J, we went out to underprivileged communities and tried to deliver a positive and sustainable intervention as a team. In this project, the diversity of our team led to approaching the problem at hand from a multitude of perspectives and added to the richness of our project. It helped reaffirm why diversity and building bridges is instrumental to creating positive change. Differences can often be translated into strength, if all the voices are given an equal chance to be heard.

I am sharing my thoughts with you today to also encourage you to step out of your comfort zones to meet other promising young men and women who share the same passion and drive for change in society, but do not necessarily hail from the same background as yourself. Based on my own experience, such interactions can often be transformative and seminal in your growth as a person.

The program that first provided me with that opportunity is taking applications for its latest batch of participants. The tenth  BBLTJ program has launched and the deadline is set for February 28. I encourage everyone to visit the website www.bylc.org/bbltj and apply.

Monoshita Ayruani, a graduate of BBLTJ 1, is an undergraduate student at the University of Liberal Arts, and Copywriter and contents strategist at WebAble. She is also the Co-founder of the blog Mad Koffee.

Being a Leader

1920 1255 Zehra Nawreen Khan

This article was originally published in Star Weekend, The Daily Star.

”What makes a leader?”

This question was asked the lead instructor, Khaled Saifullah, to my class, on the first day of the Building Bridges through Leadership Training (BBLT) program at BYLC. Each of us produced different answers. One participant said, “A leader is someone who mobilizes people”. Another said, “A leader is one who takes initiatives”, “A leader is someone everyone looks up to”, “A leader motivates, inspires and represents people,” the comments poured in. Khaled Bhai neither refuted any idea nor did he rule one as accurate. Geared up with pens and notebooks, we all waited intently for him to give us the answer. A moment of silence ensued, accompanied by confusion. We looked at one another, some of us shifting in our seats, others trying to hide their growing anxiety. As the restlessness became palpable, we waited for him to relieve our tension. There came no answer and on that momentous first day we never ended up learning what qualities define a leader. But this was only the beginning.

The BBLT journey, for me, was a rewarding experience, one that tore at my convictions but exposed me to a world of opportunities. Thrusting myself into new territory, I was able to transcend the limits of thought, and gained the confidence to initiate action addressing social issues that are important to me.

Once we were equipped with the rights tools, the second phase of the program required us to implement what we learned in the real world and catalyze social change. This was the hard part; no matter how many books you read on leadership, nothing can prepare you for practical situations, if you lack the knowledge acquired by experience. My teammates and I chose a makeshift school for the street children in the vicinity of Panthokunja Public Park, as we were familiar with the area. After brainstorming different ideas and assessing the site, we came up with a plan to help the school.

We felt that, in addition to poverty alleviation, lack of access to essential services such as primary education, basic healthcare, water sanitation, nutrition, etc. are the most pressing issues and overarching challenges facing Bangladesh. Due to lack of access to essential services in underprivileged communities, our group, Project Lighthouse, decided to work on raising awareness about education, health and hygiene among the underprivileged children attending the school, as well as delivering modest support services to improve their standard of living. However, since we only had modest resources to aid our project, we decided to focus on education and sanitation. We planned to donate an electronic projector so that they could learn from different visual mediums, and to install a portable toilet to ensure better sanitation.

The challenges we faced to achieve our mission were formidable. One such instance was when we realized that it is easier said than done to install the toilet. We needed prior permission from City Corporation before we could put it in place. The City Corporation recognized the importance of the matter for provision of sanitation facilities to the community .It was fortunate for the community and us that they agreed to donate a toilet from their own resources. We then had to revise our plans, but it could not overshadow the joy and satisfaction of making a small difference in the lives of those students.

So, back to the question at hand, ‘what makes a leader?’ Without having the answer laid out in front of us, we learned what we needed to through experiential sessions. It is this heuristic approach to learning that enabled us to discover our potential and develop qualities attributed to leaders. Going into the program, we all had our individual concepts about what ‘leadership’ meant and we realized that none of them can be ruled out as either accurate or otherwise. But one thing that we learned on Day 1 is that when there is a crisis, a leader is one who does not look up to authority for answers.

Heading towards a Common Platform

1920 1255 Zannatul Ferdous Miftah

This article was originally published in Star Weekend, The Daily Star. 

“What is the main purpose of your life?” was the most frequently asked question throughout my two and a half month journey during the Building Bridges through Leadership Training (BBLT) at Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC).If the purpose of our life was just to live, then we all would fail one day. So I would say the purpose of my life is to mobilize people towards taking action for a common good.

I realized that the successful completion of the 12th BBLT program was not the end, but the embryo of my leadership journey. I took the chance to apply to be a campus ambassador for the 13th BBLT program. Ambassadors were recruited from different renowned institutions of Dhaka, including Viqarunnisa Noon College, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology, Bangladesh University of Professionals, Islamic University of Technology, BRAC University, East West University.

The Campus Ambassador has the responsibility of encouraging students of their respective education institutions to apply to BYLC programs. Initially, the role of a campus ambassador did not seem very tough to me as I was a fresh graduate of BBLT 12 and had the zeal to bring more young and bright minds under the tutelage of BLYC. I had personally identified many enthusiastic individuals with potential who just needed the appropriate push in the right direction. So, I had to convince the tender hearts to apply to the BBLT program to get their long awaited common platform, and meet other likeminded individuals from diverse backgrounds.

As I worked as Campus Ambassador, I was one again reminded of how important it is to talk about the tenets of leadership to the youth of Bangladesh. There is a common perception that leadership can only by exercised by people in authority positions, such as politicians. But at BYLC, we absorbed the idea that that leadership is all about taking the appropriate action at the appropriate time, the power does not only lie with political parties! So I took my time in explaining to people that leadership is an inherent potential in every individual, all we have to do is to bring the maximum output by utilizing it.

We used the consent letter provided by BYLC to take the permission from the university authority to set up a booth for the applicants at TSC and also post BYLC posters at Curzon Hall, Faculty of Business Studies, Arts Faculty notice board and also to the residential halls and cafeterias at different corner of the campus. We also went on FM radio to talk about our initiatives.

Covering the large campus, postering, passionately giving presentations wearing BYLC’s green polo T-shirt with my fellow campus ambassadors Mahia, Jubaer and Joy was never hectic, rather, we learned from each other, made new friends and preceded towards fulfilling BYLC’s mission to bridge gaps in society by uniting youth from diverse backgrounds, equipping them with leadership, problem solving, teamwork skills and engaging them in community service and active citizenship. By working as Campus Ambassador, I was able to expand my network and maintain new relationships with the academic professionals, clubs and students of my university. The activities enabled me to develop my communication and teamwork skills and I became more confident in giving presentations.

Performing the responsibilities of a campus ambassador was challenging but also exciting and a continuous learning process. I would encourage anyone who wonders about their purpose, to take on leadership roles such as these because no matter how big or small the task, it eventually leads toward making progress for the common good.

Readying the Future Today

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This article was originally published in Star Weekend, The Daily Star.

Can leadership be taught in a classroom? We are confronted with this question every day when we teach leadership to a diverse group of enthusiastic young students at Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). Leadership is a generic term that everyone has an opinion about, which makes the job of teaching leadership all the more challenging. read more

Breaking Stereotypes

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Where in Dhaka do you ever see girls from English medium schools casually socialize with boys from Madrassas as equals? I was suddenly struck by the question as I walked into the first day of leadership training at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). In the classroom, a group of girls from Viqarunnisa were laughing together, some boys in skullcaps had grouped in one part of the class, and I automatically sat with some girls who looked familiar to me. read more

Speaking in public: The double edged sword

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“Words have incredible power. They can make people’s hearts soar, or they can make people’s hearts sore.”- Dr. Mardy Grothe read more

Changing your story

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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. read more

Leading With Competence

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This article originally appeared in Dhaka Tribune on June 11, 2014

They say that learning without application is just knowledge, but learning with application is wisdom. Engaging leadership lectures and team building exercises are unforgettable parts of my BBLT experience, but my most cherished memories are of working in Dhaka’s Kamalapur slum – my opportunity of churning some knowledge into wisdom. read more

An Inside Look into the BYLC Leadership Master Class | Bangladesh Leadership Youth Reflection Training Development

2592 1728 Sumaiya T Ahmed

The first time I heard about the Master Class on Leadership, I was hesitant. I was already a BBLT 3 graduate, and felt that I knew most of the concepts of leadership that would be taught in class. On top of that, I had piles of work to do at the office, so when one of my colleagues asked me to join the four-day long class, I did so without much enthusiasm. Little did I know, however, what the Master Class had in store for me!

 

From the very beginning of the Master Class, I, along with the rest of the group, were thoroughly engaged in leadership learning. Each and every discussion that we were having was being turned into a dynamic learning experience. In the first session, we delved deep into the role of leadership and authority. As the discussions progressed, we got drawn into a heated debate on the subject. Personally, I am not a big fan of confrontations, so, at one point, I became frustrated and looked towards Khaled Bhai, the instructor, to intervene. read more