Inspirations come in different forms. It is something that we need every day to fight against the odds and advance further, to push ourselves little by little and become better than what we are today. However, when it comes to being a woman, the path of advancement becomes more challenging sometimes.
This is where 3.5 Billion Reasons steps in. Supported and funded by the U.S Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the programme claims to address the gap of education and leadership opportunities between urban and rural female students in Bangladesh. It also hopes to connect and inspire the youth to take the initiative to stand up for equal rights and make communities brighter. The initiative began in September last year and has till date worked with 18 girls studying in 9th and 10th grades coming from Mymensingh, Netrokona, Sylhet, Narsingdi and Munshiganj.
The 3.5 Billion Reasons workshop is conducted by the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme alumni members and trained professionals. After attending the two day long training session, the participants are expected to spread the inspiration they gain from the programme within their societies. A grant allowance is given to the participants and are hand-picked based on their potential by the programme coordinator and also the principals of the schools. Each participant is assisted by a mentor. The participants are then trained to identify their leadership abilities, comprehend the importance of volunteerism in our society and become more actively involved in developing communities. The platform enables mentors and mentees to develop a healthy relationship, enabling each to become a source of inspiration for the other through communication and sharing experiences.
One of the key aims of this programme is to make the participants familiar with organisations like the U.S. Embassy Dhaka, USAID, Spreeha Bangladesh, Bangladesh Nari Lekhok Foundation, Aangina and more.
3.5 Billion Reasons programme coordinator Mustahsin Islam says, "In rural areas, we mostly find boys pursuing higher education. Sadly, the same cannot be said in case of girls. I had once met a young girl who got married early and could not think of pursuing higher education. This worked as a trigger and made me feel the urge to do something about it." Mustahsin got to thinking. "If I can help at least ten girls to fulfill their dreams of pursuing higher education and achieve desired jobs, I would consider that as one of the most significant achievements of my life. These very thoughts led me and Toufique Tuhin to come up with the idea of creating 3.5 Billion Reasons," he explains.
It was a big challenge to convince the parents of the participants to allow their daughters to come to Dhaka, attend the programme, stay for a night and attend the consultations with their respective mentors. Mustahsin says, "More than thirty girls were initially selected but only 18 of them made it to the programme due to the lack of support from their parents. We tried hard to convince the guardians but ultimately, their patriarchal mentality beat us."
However, there have been a number of success stories already. 12 out of these 18 participants have opened clubs in their respective schools where they discuss social problems, particularly the problems regarding young girls and try to come up with ideas to solve them by taking a group initiative. Sanjida Islam, a student of Grade 9 and one of the participants from Putia High School, Narsingdi, successfully rescued one of her school mates who was about to fall a victim of child marriage. Other participants from Mymensingh opened a girls club in their school and held a training session for their peers to share their learning from this programme. Another example is that of Fahima Islam Oishy, a Grade 10 student from Tetaigoan Rashid Uddin High School, Sylhet, who recently qualified for the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program 2017 with the help of her 3.5 Billion Reasons mentor. All of these achievements were exhibited on 28th April, 2017, at BRAC Learning Centre, Uttara. They were awarded with certificates later.
3.5 Billion Reasons is a ray of hope for female students living in rural areas of Bangladesh. This programme encourages the participants to create more leaders like them and become the strength of the nation. If young changemakers like Mustahsin and Toufique continue to empower the youth of this country, someday, we will have enough leaders and active citizens to help Bangladesh become one of the most admired, empowered and developed nations of the world.
The author is a Media and Communication Studies student at BRAC University.