It was a chilly weekend afternoon and a good day to stay at home. So, I decided to pay a visit to Faisal, my affable cousin. Usually, he is busy with numerous things and getting a hold of him is quite hard. But I got lucky this time and got a warm welcome. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, we started bringing up various topics over tea and scones, trying to solve local and global problems with our rhetorical flourishes and crazy ideas. So, the conversation was going quite well, when - all of the sudden - a news clip on TV caught our attention. This was of an Indian boy just winning the prestigious National Geographic Geography Bee competition. He seemed quite young and confident. While we were both amazed by his glorious feat, a thought immediately crossed Faisal’s mind. “Why can’t we showcase the talents of our very own Bangladeshi kids and young entrepreneurs brought up in the U.S.?”, he wondered. While they are also very talented, they are often under-appreciated. While young Indians brought up here get many accolades, young Bangladeshis also excel, but sadly, they are often mistaken for the Indians because of similar physical features and culture. Shrouded from view are many of their accomplishments because they don’t come to the limelight as often as their counterparts do. So, naturally I saw merit in his question and I started wondering too.
At that very moment, he decided to spearhead an effort to organise a grand event to bring this next generation of Bangladeshis together. These would be kids from middle and high school and will also include young folks who have recently graduated or are making a mark on society in many ways. The primary purpose would be to create future leaders by showcasing their work and talents, and by helping them network with one another for their greater future success. A successful Bangladeshi IT entrepreneur himself, Faisal owns an IT company called Technuf in Maryland, and we both felt that it would be a good platform to use for this because it could provide not only the needed muscle power to this endeavour but could also garner better support and funding from potential sponsors and donors on board with this cause. That he would accommodate such an undertaking in his extremely busy schedule impressed me.
Fast forward a few months from that meeting, and the rubber started meeting the road in earnest. The event was planned under the banner of BEST (Bangladeshi Entrepreneurs Society of Talents). This is a non-profit organisation created by Technuf, originally to build a solid network of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs who can work together to make a difference in society doing great things together. Several meetings were held at his office and a few dedicated and enthusiastic individuals came forward to help with this effort, including me. I have a young son and I felt I also have a stake in it myself where I can provide an opportunity for him to build confidence. In a series of weekly meetings, the event was designed to consist of several segments. Several individuals were chosen, each of which would be in charge of a segment. These segments included success stories, performing arts, solving problems by teams with creative ideas, and skits. Several keynote speakers were invited as were the sponsors to speak for a few minutes each. The promotion of this event needed to happen both online and by word of mouth. So, a group of savvy individuals was put in charge of creating the posters, flyers, and Facebook pages to disseminate the news and encourage other young folks to attend. I thought of a segment where I could bring some folks to present their ongoing efforts and called it “Success Stories”. This is a segment that I decided to lead.
All the hard work and planning culminated on April 6, as the event was finally launched in a local Marriott hotel. The drop-in floor was laid for dances and performances, the flyers were hung, the white linen adorned the circular tables. The stage was set for a grand show as the banquet captain and her team laboured to prepare the hall. Outside the hall, photo booths were placed and snacks and drinks were placed for the cocktail. I arrived early and inspected the stage thinking about my segment. The clinking of glasses and silverware, lighting resets created an ambiance ready to usher in a new era for the young. In came the Sound Engineer, the projectors, the banners, the microphones, and the paraphernalia. After the organisers made the final checks, the hall was opened to the guests and the young for whom the show was intended. The cocktail was served outside for everyone to mingle and exchange pleasantries. The show started an hour after the cocktails and everyone trickled into the hall and into their seats.
After Faisal announced the show open with his welcoming remarks, the keynote speakers and sponsors addressed the audience. Then the show really came alive with the young performers coming on with their spectacular performances. Some sang some played the piano and the guitar, some recited poems, while others danced to the tune of popular songs reverberating across the hall. There were games designed by the young participants and they did a great job playing and acting them on stage to huge applause. We all felt proud of them, secure in the thought that the next generation of Bangladeshi Americans were ready to carry the torch to new highs. This was the perfect stage. The organisers also did a great job working with them and guiding them with feedback and advice. Each one was in charge of a team. There was a segment on creative ideas in problem-solving in which they were given problems to elicit mind-boggling solutions. One interview that really fascinated me and all others present was of this special guest Bangladeshi wonder boy Isaac Soborno Isaac Bari. He was not even 7-years old but he was already well known for his genius in mathematics and I was told he had already solved some PhD level math problems. He had been invited to a number of prestigious graduate schools and also been invited by Barack Obama, the former President. On stage, he talked, among other things, about the ills of global hatred and terrorism and his solution of love and harmony. He wrote a book called “The Love”. It was refreshing to see the solutions a young boy at this tender age could offer to problems of divisions and hatred that plague many parts of the world today. A problem of this scale could only be solved when folks his age recognised it, I thought. I had just started feeling very sanguine of a bright future when my watch reminded me of the segment I was in charge of. This was “Success Stories”.
My idea was to showcase some of their achievements with stylish presentations to inspire others. So, I put together a presentation of two groups and working with them was a real pleasure. I want to highlight their stupendous feat here.
The first presentation was by Techie Titans, a leading team from Virginia. In its past 4 years, the team had competed in the State Championship every year and twice in Super-Regional Championship (national equivalent) as one of the top teams from Virginia. From the seven members of the team, three came to present the robot in the event, led by the team captain Faraaz Rahman.
They had advanced to two State Championships (VA and MD), won 2nd place "Inspire Award" (best all-around team award) from Virginia State championship, and competed at the East Super-Regional Championship in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
With much fanfare, they came on stage with their fancy robot. Although they had been competing in several school competitions nationwide winning plaudits, this was their opportunity to flaunt their skills in robotics to the other aspiring young Bangladeshis. They designed a robot that would respond to commands to collect a number of balls on the ground and deposit them in a basket. The robot was armed with an onboard camera to intelligently navigate its way. The audience cheered as the robot moved on the floor, scooped up the balls and deposited them. They also demonstrated the ability of the robot to climb up a pole. The entire setup with the main robot, remote controls, the basket was very elegant and looked like a NASA MARS rover project lab to me. As they talked about its design and moved the robot front and back, the crowd went into raptures. Members from the audience were also invited to try their hands at driving the robot. All of them derived great pleasure from getting the robot to move. This demonstration visibly moved a lot of young minds to the extent of seriously pondering a future endeavour in robotics. With the growing influence of Artificial Intelligence, there is just a lot of room for making advanced robots and Techie Titans have high hopes of building more complicated ones. The hope was that more and more will take up robotics and AI to make a significant impact on day to day life.
They are also very active in the local community, by spreading the importance of STEM and robotics and by hosting workshops. They have also gone beyond their local community to help and guide the FIRST Global Bangladesh Team in Dhaka, Bangladesh. While talking to the team captain Faraaz, he mentioned that they are trying to bring more and more students to STEM and robotics field. It’s a hands-on engineering learning, using industry-level tools and best practices such as programming with Java on Android platform and Project Management using Agile methodology.
This second presentation, equally impressive, highlighted the importance of preserving the very Earth we live in. At a time when environmental degradation has been at the forefront of all concerns, solutions to everyday problems offered by these bright young minds are a breath of fresh air. These small answers can snowball into a much bigger global response to global pollution problems. Why not initiate it at the school level? Enter Azrin, an affable young 10th grader who came eager to share such an innovative solution. She has been a part of an initiative called grow greenly. Launched by four high school students in Virginia, this endeavour has been an undertaking on developing environmentally-friendly gardening products, something as simple as a plant pot. This team had taken part in Regional Science and Engineering fair and had received multiple awards in addition to being named as the Best Environmental Group in a county competition. She demonstrated on stage how their biosolid plant pots could reduce plastic pollution and eliminate the need for harmful chemical fertilisers. These pots are made of such environmentally friendly materials as leaf-based composts, water, corn starch. These planted directly into the ground, containing the plant in a question, will provide the necessary nutrition. Plastic, as we know, is not biodegradable and piles are either sitting on landfills or are floating in the oceans.
She faced many inquisitive minds. As she cheerfully answered every question, she also encouraged the students to challenge the environmental crisis we face today.
Initiatives such as the above have been going on for some time, often in isolation, but by organising this event BEST has brought these commendable efforts by young Bangladeshis to the spotlight to create an identity for themselves so that budding young talent can take a lot of heart and look up to their fellow countrymen in pride. I am confident that this event is just a beginning and will not only promise more in the near future but will also forge a strong network of young Bangladeshis who aspire to greatness and who can share and guide others by staying in touch. I know very well that these young minds are indeed the very best.