There is a school of thought that teen dreams are mere fantasies. They are meant to remain unfulfilled as products of immature influences. However, when some teenagers in their unique ways saw identical dreams almost three years ago, that social belief very much pervaded their visions. This is probably why, three years later, in spite of the obstacles, against all predictions; their dream has come true.
That dream is called 1° Initiative.
The Beginning of a Beginning
The August of 2006 was a memorable one. My friend, Tushmit approached me with an idea of opening up a youth network; a concept forwarded to her by a common friend, Farhana. The plan was to allow young people to express their ideas and take up leadership roles in society. Seeing this to be a marvelous opportunity to create something, I jumped to the idea. Later, I contacted another friend, Zubair who was interested in similar things and in a few days, we became a small force of nine people.
Farhana, Zubair and I decided to act as heads and give this ‘plan’ a shape. The shape, of course, needed a name and on a sunny day while lazing inside an empty classroom in Mastermind, the team brainstormed and 1° Initiative was born. The idea behind it was simple. By each degree, we would change the way we contribute to our communities and eventually, create a small body of youngsters who wanted to act along the same line.
A few sleepless nights and Zubair had designed our logo while I had our MOU (fashionably termed ‘Constitution’) and WordPress blog. We signed, grinned and were excited to take on the world.
That was the beginning of all problems and all solutions.
We’re Not Kids!
The difficulties of being a more informed teenager than your peers are numerous. Firstly, you’re funny. You’re one of those people who don’t approve littering, finds something to do almost everywhere and has a tendency to give bombastic speeches on noble doings of not-so-noble persona. Secondly, you’re not taken seriously. You’re a hormone-imbrued teenager, unprepared for the wild reality that infatuates adulthood and your dreams are pointless.
We were of the kind, labeled funny and given little importance. Therefore, the transformation from thinking of doing something and actually executing it was itself a hurdle. Our first big break came with Autism Welfare Foundation (AWF). Volunteers from 1° Initiative were to spend certain hours weekly with autistic children at the foundation, and on a personal note, I believe it was the project that really changed what 1° Initiative was all about.
Autism was not a walk in the park. The children had demands and the volunteers needed to be patient. Having their own niches and shortcomings, autistic children were difficult to become friends with, but incredibly wonderful friends once you’ve managed to inch into their lives. For us, who were doing something of this sort as our first task, it clearly was an incomparable lesson. We learnt patience, realized exactly where we needed to start and began to value the gifts of life. Working with AWF not only taught us to be more understanding as people, but also made the group realize which of us were meant to stick with 1° Initiative.
Thus, although our force became dramatically smaller with fewer members, we shared that common belief that every miniscule difference counts. In the end, 1° Initiative (1dI) became a group of eight people, namely Zubair, Tushmit, Amreen, Mayeesha, Aaqib, Niloy, Rasha and I.
No Mum, I’m Not Doing Durgs!
With the notion of small-scale community service, 1° Initiative began to grow very tardily. Breaks were rare and our enthusiasm was often dampened with exams and life’s temptations. Nonetheless, in collaboration with Mastermind Community Service Club, we soon started teaching their supporting staff basic English and Maths. It was a three-month long project, a duration in which we faced many hassles. From being falsely accused of stealing ideas to being underestimated to the point of not allowing us to work, 1dI was in chaos with the world. Many started mocking us with pinching remarks on whether we were about to alleviate poverty or stop floods, and taunted about our futile efforts. Peers came up to us asking for certificates as a precondition to their dedication. Yet, we glued onto what we believed and it was probably because we did, we pulled through every slag.
I still remember our first meeting. A tin-shed house next to Tushmit’s ‘real’ house, deserted and dusty to the throat. We unlocked the doors, cleaned the floors, coughed our way to set up a decent space and it soon became our own little office. And no, our parents weren’t exactly fully supportive of our cause. Community service required time and dedication, and we only had bucketfuls of the latter. The uncountable times we pretended to shop in Etcetra and gathered under their stairs to have a meeting, counted our funds and realized there was nothing and begged our parents to let us do something still lingers in our memories. We were cooped up in a small room and it was no common surprise that suspicions arose. No, we weren’t doing drugs! No, I don’t have my boyfriend in there! No, we’re not making bombs! The doubts kept mounting up and every time, we had to crawl our ways out of our houses to work.
With no one to fund us and no other financial backing from parents or any other organization or insitution, 1dI needed to be largely self-funded. Why should anyone trust us enough to shower their earthly greens? We were ‘children’, after all. So, each member had to contribute a certain amount of money every month and in this way, our funds began to grow. We started introducing projects that would allow us to ‘make money’ because charity had its own fair share of expenses. Friends started supporting us and stepped up to give a helping hand to our ventures. We began receiving mails from people all over the world, appreciating our initiative. A friend even wrote an article in this very magazine and responses poured in.
Things were finally beginning to roll.
Dreams Were On Wheels
Did you know 1° Initiative has its own rickshaw? Zubair and Asif bought the paints, my driver found the maker and I did the rickshaw art. It was for a guy whose rickshaw got stolen and he seemed like a decent chap who deserved help. The 1dI rickshaw was co-sponsored by Nazim Farhan Chowdhury from Adcomm Ltd and advertised by our friends from Mastermind. It was a piece of beauty for us and today, in some dusty street of Dhaka, it trundles happily carrying our name and our email address!
Now, since three years of its birth, 1dI has expanded beyond our imagination. From the small tin-shed house and staircases at shopping malls, we now have our meeting inside our houses because our parents have finally accepted us. We’ve worked with underprivileged children in different schools and share a very special bond with each of them. We’ve arranged series of quiz and art competitions for them, set up libraries at their schools with books we collected from our contacts and spent hours telling them about the glorious past of Bangladesh. Yes, we even found sponsors! The funny part is people from abroad are more willing to send us money because they believed we aren’t corrupt and we provide proof of its usage. Setting up tubewells and giving away sweaters to children (in collaboration with Drishtipat Canada), donating warm clothes in winter to rural regions (in collaboration with Chhinnamukul), cleaning up streets in Dhanmondi, promoting zero drug abuse, anti-littering campaigns and hosting Leadership Training Workshops in Jessore; 1° Initiative has accomplished an enormous lot. We now have our own T-shirts, a vibrant website, an awesome newsletter and most importantly, a dedicated pool of youngsters who are part of the family.
1° Initiative is now a brand. This statement is proven by the number of teens who now want to join our force and the emails we receive. We’re expanding to Nepal because people from Kathmandu believe in our initiative. It has been an overwhelming experience for me to head this dream since its birth and witness it growing wings. The time, effort, arguments and dedication have all proved their virtues and to this day, 1dI rolls in full swing. There is a long list of people to thank who have placed their faith in us, and this article does not provide me with enough space to do so (scroll down for list). You all know who you are and we will always be grateful to you. Thank you for being a 1° change in this world.
Visit the Official 1° Initiative Website for more information, or mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1° Initiative thanks:
- Hossain M. Elius, North South University
- Daniel Rahman, ABC Radio
- Nazim Farhan Choudhury, Adcomm
- Zaid Islam, Photographer
- Dr. Rownak Hafiz, Autism Welfare Foundation
- Nusrat Khandker, Bangladesh Medical College & Hospital
- Kashfia Habib, Bangladesh Medical College & Hospital
- Md. Mohituzzaman, London School of Economics
- Sameen Rehman, Drishtipat Canada
- Sumaiya Sharmeen, Drishtipat Canada
- Ehsanur Reza Ronny, The Daily Star
- Shahriar Shamim Emil, Rising Stars
- Nahiyan Khan, Scholastica
- Wafi Sattar, USA
- Ms. Nina Huq, Mastermind School
- Mrs. K. M. Sajjad, Sunbeams School
- Mr. Rick Davies, American International School Dhaka
- Sabrina F. Ahmad, Rising Stars
- Shamma M. Raghib, North South University
- Mr. Taimur Islam, Urban Study Group
- Md. Abdus Salam, DOM-INNO Ltd.
- Mr. Golam Kibria Chowdhury, G.A.P
- Dr. Nizam, Afzalunnessa Foundation
- Dr. Shareef Hasan, BSMMU
- Ms. Rasheda, Aalok Shishu Shikkhaloy
- Mr. Shamim Ahmed, Sunbeams School
- Dr. Idris Ali, BSMMU
- Dr. M. A. Rashid, Ibrahim Cardiac Center
- Dr. Rebecca Milton, Asif Survivors’ Foundation
- Nabila Idris, Bangladesh Medical College & Hospital
- Hiroki Bhai, Ekmattra
- Mr. Azizur Rahman, Surovi
- Community Action
- Mastermind Community Service Club
- Sunbeams Community Service Club
- Abu Sayeed Mohammad Sohail
- Nurullah Sir, The Ark Int’l School
- Rubayat Khan, Jagoree
- Nashrah Rahman, Brandeis
- Anato Chowdhury, University of Birmingham
- Tahmid Islam, University of Liverpool