A group of students from Dhaka University took part in the Peer to Peer – Facebook Digital Challenge, an international contest that took place in Brussels and won first prize. A member of the group, Sausan Suha, writes about their experience:
The name ‘Positive Bangladesh’ reflects our work. I’ll go back a few months to explain how our efforts against extremism led us to Brussels and how we won the Peer to Peer – Facebook Digital Challenge.
The four of us – Tausif Tanzim Ahmed, Samin Yasar and myself from Dhaka University’s department of international relations and Zulqarnain Tasin of the robotics and mechatronics department – got to know each other from the very beginning of our university lives. We would hang out together though we were quite different from each other.
Tasin is still undecided in life, Samin is all about music, Tausif keeps the campus alive with his activities and I am a jack of all trades, master of none!
Once we were having a heavy discussion and debate about the behaviour of the people on social media. There were people who used the social media to spread all sort of negativities, vent their anger and frustration and divisive thoughts. But why? Was it because of the country’s socio-economic condition, lack of education or simply very personal frustrations?
We read up on the issue and talked to all sorts of people. Samin’s house became our base. Then we were joined by Saif Mostafiz of Dhaka University’s biochemistry and molecular biology department and younger brother Adib Reza.
We primarily observed that there was one group of people who regularly sent out negativities. The question arose, would it be possible for such negativities to impact the girl who was studying hard to go abroad for higher studies, the boy who was devoted to inventing something new, the one who was determined to become a fashion designer, or the boy who spend all his time on the field, dreaming of playing in the World Cup one day?
We started a survey. We came to the conclusion that it was much easier to influence a purposeless and unfocussed person towards extremism than those who were involved in any activity, honing their talents, busy with creative work.
We set up a simple goal. We would work against negativity, work to build up a positive environment. Many youth were failing to create an identity of their own simply due to the lack of opportunity and information. They were leaning towards depression. We began working towards informing them about all sorts of opportunities and possibilities. We organised all sorts of events, conferences and workshops, thus beginning our Positive Bangladesh initiative.
We have a website <wearepostivebangladesh.org>. Its objective is to send out positive vibes and we like to call it am ‘opportunity hub’. We have our own Instagram and Facebook profile too, as well as a blog to spread out positivity. We even have comic strips and stop-motion videos to tell various interesting stories.
Then offline we have our Ways to Engage campaign which we take to various schools, encouraging students to take part in various activities. The next step is Inspire to Engage. Members of the new generation share their inspirational stories from this platform.
So far our most popular ‘invention’ is Hundred Days of Positivity which is a 100-day story series of inspiring news from all over the country. We have more initiatives in the pipeline.
We had been spending from our own pockets to run all these initiatives and just when all our resources were more or less exhausted, we took part in the UNDP and ICT Division Bangladesh Digital Khichuri Challenge and became the runners up. That was a great source of encouragement for us and revived our spirit.
Hoping for further funds, we took part on the Peer to Peer Facebook Global Digital Challenge Spring 2019. This contest was organised to spread the message against the propensity towards extremism and was financed every semester by Facebook and organised by Adventures Partners. How exciting it was to learn that we were among the top three groups, along with one from Spain and one from Nigeria!
Then there was the hassle of getting visas and preparing to go – let’s leave that story for another day! We defeated around 500 universities from around the world to win the first prize – 5000 US dollars! We are happily going around Europe in an effort to expand our network further.
We are joined by two more students of Dhaka University now – Mahdi Hasan of the economics department and Mohammad Sifat of the international relations department. Their inspiration has taken us further ahead. We are grateful to so many, many more people, but the list is too long to fit in here.
We are receiving such encouraging response from young ones that our commitment to this work is simply increasing. There is still a long way to go, to show thousands of young people that they can make their dreams come true. We have worked hard on this project but all those sleepless nights will be well worth it if we can spread the light of hope all around.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir