In my parents’ homeland of Bangladesh, I have always felt like a complete foreigner. As a native and long-time resident of Southern California, I have enjoyed a very comfortable upbringing relative to Bengalis living half way around the world. Given my strong familial and cultural ties to the country, I decided to leave my comfortable surroundings last summer and work as a volunteer in a school for underprivileged youth on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka. Through my work with impoverished children, I was able to better connect to the culture of my ancestors and gain a new-found appreciation for the challenges faced by those confronting Third World poverty. Realizing my cultural bias helped me better appreciate the perspective of Bengalis and forge deeper connections with friends and acquaintances I made during my visit.
I cautiously walked into my first day of work at Syedpur Hassan-Shahinur Academy, uncertain of what to expect. My eyes dilated as I observed the room: it seemed as if a hurricane had brushed through the classroom, only leaving the building in its wrath. The desks were formed from scrap wood, often slicing the hands of the students due to its rough nature. The books were tattered; some filled with words and concepts my brain could not grasp- let alone that of a typical four year-old student. I was horrified of the sordid conditions these children had to work through. As a child, I was given brand new supplies and clean desks which did not pose a threat. If I was ever in need of any materials, I would simply run to the store in order to retrieve them. In my mind, I juxtaposed the images of these children to the images I perceived growing up in my comparatively privileged home. I constantly questioned myself, how would I live my life if this fortunate lifestyle was not given to me?
We made new desks for all the kids and supplied them the necessary supplies in order to succeed in gaining an education. Realizing the basic necessities that I take for granted forced me to re- prioritize my life. All of the books were replaced with stories deemed appropriate for children. All the materials were in place, it was my time to spread the wealth of knowledge that I was privileged to have learned. I now had an opportunity to give back to the community that had suffered for numerous years. I finally realized that not everyone is as privileged with the educational opportunities I have had.
People in California and Bangladesh have the right to a good education, an opportunity to grow in intellectual thought. Though their circumstances may not necessarily be the same, no child should have to use outdated study materials that have no significance and no importance to their cognitive growth. The opportunity to read age-appropriate books to these children for the first time gave me a great deal of satisfaction in the small but meaningful impact I had made. The excitement on their faces is something I will never forget.
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