How does he manage to travel on his own? How does he perceive someone's appearance? What does he see in his dreams? How does he use a cell phone? -- These were some of the questions that Aamir, an Actioneer (member of CommunityAction), and I were discussing as we were on our way to meet Rashedujjaman Chowdhury, a social activist at Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) who is not blessed with eyesight.
Rashedujjaman Chowdhury, an inspiring social activist. Courtesy: CommunityAction.
I first heard about Rashed after joining CommunityAction (CA), during a discussion with Sohaila Ridwan, an Actioneer, on possible Actions to be conducted in Chittagong. After hearing so many good things about him, I was eager to work with this person on some “Action.” I have always believed that one simply needs to think about the challenges of a less fortunate person in order to appreciate all that s/he has. However, getting to know Rashed personally and knowing about his accomplishments firsthand was inspiring in so many ways. A social activist with several Masters degrees from universities at home and abroad, an IT instructor for the visually impaired, a responsible and independent man constantly attending to his family's needs, Rashed accomplishes much more than any ordinary individual on a daily basis, not letting his disability get in the way.
We met to primarily discuss the cost of converting a printed book to Braille. After we shook hands and settled around the table, we started talking, and the supposed one-hour meeting seamlessly turned into an engaging three hour long conversation. It was sort of a 101 course on the rights of disabled individuals on a national and international level and the current situation of these individuals in our country. During the meeting, Rashed continued to surprise us with his skills. If only he could witness the baffled look on our faces as he took out his laptop and started putting it to work like a seasoned professional. As we saw more and more of his ability to function just like (or even better than) any other person, our misplaced feelings of sympathy were replaced with those of awe and respect.
Since that first meeting, we have met a number of times and stayed in touch almost regularly. Currently, we are even working together on an Action. In the six months that I have known him for, I have never heard him complain for once about anything relating to his condition. Unlike many of us, he is content with what he has and makes the best of his situation despite the obvious challenges. Such resilience and strength of character is indeed admirable.
There are many things that we can learn from such exceptional individuals around us. Such learning would hopefully raise awareness of and concern for the terrible condition of the physically-challenged community in our country. Adequate public and media attention could be the first important step in changing that. Meeting Rashed and learning through his experiences has been an eye opener, and I no longer have the naive questions that I once had about his daily life and interactions. Although I may never know what his dreams look like, one thing is for sure that people like Rashed inspire me to expand the boundaries of my own dreams.
(The writer is a student of Electrical and Electronics Engineering of American International University of Bangladesh)