IYD: Reflections of a youth activist

To celebrate International Youth Day, Maisha (pictured) reflects on her last two years of activism.

To celebrate International Youth Day, Maisha (pictured) reflects on her last two years of activism.

It has been almost two years since I joined Plan International Bangladesh as a national youth advisor. After that, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Youth For Change member and a global youth advisory panel member. It has been two whole years of completely new experiences. I have represented Bangladesh in Commonwealth Youth Forum 2015 for Youth for Change, I have taken over the role of Country Director of Plan International Bangladesh for a day from the youth advisory panel, I have given presentation in front of the Princess of Denmark as a YAP member, I have met at least 500 people from different parts of the world, I have spoken and am regularly speaking with youth activists who are making a difference in their community, I have designed and executed my own campaign, I attended numerous training sessions and workshops, have advocated for the issues I believe in to high officials and I feel eternally grateful to Plan for giving me these wonderful, wonderful opportunities.

You would think two years is not that long a time in a person’s life to make a complete difference, but trust me; for me, it was. I still remember the day when a web developer wanted to talk to Youth For Change members through Skype for designing our website. It was the first time I used Skype and had an international call, and what a complete mess I was! I spent all day anticipating a 15 minutes call, checking my Skype accounts, rehearsing in front of the mirror so that I can do my job well, and stressing out and being nervous about the call.

That Maisha and the Maisha from 2 years afterwards is completely different.

I feel the same excitement while talking with my fellow GYAP members or having a Skype meeting, but I am now more composed, more confident. You would think that is not a big difference but for me it is.

Two years ago, I didn’t have a strong vocal on women rights issues. I believed gender equality with all my heart but I didn’t know how to advocate for it. Big words like advocacy, campaigning, gender transformative world were lost on me.  Now I am the most vocal person in my peer on gender equality and I can crush those stigmas and age old prejudices to the ground. Two years ago I didn’t know how to design a campaign, what’s the proper way to reply to a mail, how to make animations, how to give powerful presentations. I am doing those in my sleep now.

Maisha and some of the Youth For Change Bangladesh team

Maisha and some of the Youth For Change Bangladesh team

I remember when we were told to apply for the Commonwealth Youth Forum in 2015 for Youth For Change. It was supposed to happen in Malta, and I had never gone out of the country, let alone for an international conference. While applying I kept thinking to myself, what are the odds of me being selected; I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was. I was probably the youngest of all those 250 youth delegates and I was amazed by the things I could do even being the youngest. I was able to interview the Australian girl child ambassador, I was able to push for the things I believed in, I talked to hundreds of youths from different countries. It was such an empowering experience.

Even more empowering experience was taking over the role of the Country Director of Plan International Bangladesh, Senait. I attended two meetings with her where my decision was equally taken into account. I also sat with the communications team and the gender team to find out about how they operate and at the end of the day I gave a presentation in front of all the respected staff members describing my views, my realisations and learnings from my lens.

Looking back to that day now, I find a lot of lessons I learnt that day. While in our meeting with Senait, we were given a particular problem to look at. The youth volunteers who helped the sponsor children received some honorariums for their work. We looked at the work that they had to do and the amount they received. We also looked at what amount other similar organisations provided to young people engaged in such services. Despite being young, I had encountered a lot of young people who had to support their family and they struggled with the voluntary services as a result. I was quick to voice my decision in favor of raising the amount, but Senait taught me to look at a problem from both sides. Raising the amount even by a little amount meant a significant rise in the overall budget. That’s when Debashish da explained an alternative approach. The sponsored children received a lot of letters from their sponsors and it was the job of the interpreters to translate those letters. The young volunteers could translate the English letters from Bengali. This would increase the capacities of the young people and they would be able to earn that money for themselves. So the lessons I took back home from that meeting was

1.       Always look at a problem from both sides;

2.       There might be better alternatives even without raising the budget.

 I felt empowered.

Another similar experience would be the Members’ Assembly.  Members’ Assembly is the highest decision making body of Plan International. There are only the National offices and FCNO delegates having a seat in the Members’ Assembly at present. When I asked who will represent the country offices then, my chaperone says,” That’d be you”.

When such high levels of officials place their faith on youth, we want to do better, we feel like we are important, we are able to make a difference. It has been two years since I started volunteering for Plan, and after that day whenever I had to do something big, like giving a presentation or speech in front of a lot of people, make important decisions, I always looked back to my experiences and told myself: 

“I can do this”!