Dreams and memories: Bangladesh in 2021

Posted on December 21, 2011

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Amar Bangladesh

Almost six months ago I watched the landscape of Bangladesh unfold beneath my plane for the very first time. As the huddled lights of Dhaka city glimmered below me, my mind pounded with questions about the things I would find in those dimly-lit streets. I am new here, and I am still, in so many ways, a stranger. But I am a content stranger and I have been welcomed like a guest. Since I’ve arrived, the people of Bangladesh have become my family and this land of the glowing red sun has been my home.

And it really has come to feel like home. At some point, Dhaka made the transition from being a place I was discovering for a little while, to a place where I live, where I am. There have been so many highlights so far, and I am also excited about what 2012 will bring. In especially exciting news, my mum will come to visit me in January and I’ll get to catch up with a cousin I haven’t seen in years in February!

Since I’m in such a personal phase of looking back, looking forward and looking inwardly, I thought I’d share an edited excerpt of text which I’ve written for a book that will be published by Hunger Free World next year. The book is called “My Dream for the Year 2021” and features a collection of essays and articles about hopes and dreams for 2021 – the fifty year anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.

Last Friday December 15 was the forty year anniversary of independence, and the streets were flooded with cheers, drums and the colours of the Bengali flag, red and green. One of my favourite things about Bangladesh is that the people here are eternally hopeful and passionate about their country, meaning that there is a lot of potential for things to improve.

So, here are my “outsider’s” thoughts on how that could happen:

In order to look to the future we must first learn from our past – Bangladesh is only a young nation, but it has come a long way since its birth. Bangladesh’s Human Development Index ranking has almost doubled since 1980.  Over the past 40 years, life expectancy has increased by 23 years and there has been a 65% reduction in infant mortality since 1990. Although Bangladesh continues to face challenges as a nation, many difficulties have already been overcome. This is evidence that change is possible, that hope is tangible and that dreams can become realities.

My dream for the year 2021 is that everyone in Bangladesh will be free from the plights of hunger and poverty. It is a big dream, but I believe that it is just as possible as doubling the Human Development Index or reducing infant mortality.

When I think of a hunger and poverty free Bangladesh, I imagine a place where people are empowered at an individual level, a community level and a national level, making the nation self-reliant in every sense of the word. I envision a country that is as figuratively golden as its fields during Harvest time, where happiness and life’s essentials are abundant and accessible to all.

But vision without action is a daydream, and action without vision is a nightmare. We need to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. In order to end hunger and poverty and create a self-reliant Bangladesh, I believe there are two things we need to act on first.

Collaboration

Bangladesh faces complex problems which require constant innovation and adaptive solutions – there is no single path to reaching the end goal. Therefore, the people of Bangladesh must act holistically, working together for a big picture rather than just concentrating on their individual roles.

Instead of separating problems and dealing with them exclusively, there needs to be more collaboration. People should listen to each other and work together to find the connections between problems, visions and solutions. We must think creatively and then plan wisely to ensure that our collective capacity is fully utilized. In order to achieve these things, we must begin by facilitating conversations that ignite the process of collaboration, and pursuing dreams with the coordinated actions of many.

But collaboration demands genuine engagement between people, and in order to do this authentically, we need to eliminate the dramatic gaps between the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, hungry and obese, haves and have-nots. This change can be achieved only when we stop perpetuating the prejudices we’ve inherited and start embracing a new social order that demands justice and equality for all. A woman should not starve so that her husband can eat – it is her right to eat as well. A child should not be forced to skip school because they need to work to support their family – education is there for all, and it is everyone’s responsibility to uphold that.

Empowerment

Changing attitudes starts at a personal level. While we must work together for a shared goal, we also need to act individually – we need to empower people to be self-reliant in their own lives before Bangladesh can become a self-reliant nation. This means equipping people with the skills and knowledge to forge their own future, to be masters of their own destiny. Empowerment begins with knowledge and self-belief, and requires equal access to these tools for change.

The youth, the future of Bangladesh, deserve a quality education that does not just teach them to pass exams but also teaches them to live. Young people need to be equipped with the abilities to think critically, creatively, adaptively and collaboratively. Just imagine what this country could be like if every person under thirty – a third of the population – had the mind of an entrepreneur, the heart of a philanthropist and the commitment of a freedom fighter.

Schools are an obvious place to start this process of empowerment, but beyond school, we can all begin by reflecting on ourselves and the way we live our lives. Ask yourself: what am I doing to bring this nation closer to ending hunger and poverty? Every person has a quintessential quality that they bring to the world, so facilitating change requires us to find that quality in ourselves and in those around us, and to use those qualities for the betterment of all. If everyone committed to this process of sharing, teaching and learning, the people of Bangladesh could move forward together, as equals. Anyone can be a leader for positive change – it starts by setting an example for others through our own actions and reflecting constantly on how we can each contribute to the much bigger jigsaw of humanity.

Reaching the Golden Country

Hunger Free World is actively working to create a self-reliant Bangladesh by 2021 and I have been lucky enough to play a small part in that as the Youth Advocacy and Communications Officer for the organization. Though I write my dreams for the year 2021 as a Bideshi, these are still hopes that come from my heart.

I dream of creating a better Bangladesh because the people here deserve it. It is your right, as a Bangladeshi, to demand a country where everybody is empowered to live the life they wish to, free from the worries of hunger, poverty, corruption and a lack of services. I hope that we can all work together to reach that golden dream.

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Posted in: Development, Writing