This is a guest post by Tania Ahmed, student at Somerville High School.
This winter I travelled to Bangladesh with 29 other high school students from across the United States. I was part of a foreign exchange called the American-Bangladeshi Youth Leadership Exchange Program, funded by World Savvy and the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Traveling to Bangladesh and living there for one month was a life-changing and educational adventure. There I explored the country and culture of Bangladesh, as well as issues of climate change. I stayed with a caring host-family, and my host sister, Raisa Kabir, was part of the program as well. Each American student had a Bangladeshi counterpart that participated in the exchange.
Living with a Bangladeshi family, meeting inspirational people, and connecting with everyday villagers changed my perspective on my life and others’. I heard the stories of people like Korvi Rakshand, a man who left his home to start an English medium school in the slums of Dhaka, the capital city, when he was only 19. I also had the wonderful opportunity to hear Muhammad Yunus speak. The Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2006 started the idea of a social business with Grameen Bank, a micro-loaning system that pulled women villagers out of poverty. I also traveled to the slums and cyclone-affected refugee camps and realized how other people were living their daily lives. I heard their stories of hardship, but I learned just how resilient they were for adapting and leading happy lives. Many of the people in the slums were climate change refugees, their villages flooded by stronger and more frequent cyclones. One woman I spoke to at the refugee camp in Shuthar Khali told me how cyclone Aila two years ago destroyed her home, which is still under water. This experience really connected the dots for me in my mind. Even though I knew what I did at home made an impact elsewhere, it was an intangible concept. I now have a better understanding of how my actions affect people across the world. When I make a purchase, I think about where the waste of that product will end up. I think about how much carbon is released into the air when I get into a car. And although I never drive – biking is my mode of transportation – I feel more weight in making the decision of getting into a car than before.
I also learned that making connections with people were key to making change. Most of the time, international decisions in government cannot be reached because every nation is for itself. But during this trip, the Bangladeshi and American students were working together to solve climate change issues, and I think this lesson of solidarity is one of the most important I took away from this experience.
On a larger scale, my behavior takes into account not only what is good for my friends, my immediate community, and myself, but the world. I think that is the most important change I feel in myself. I am empowered knowing what I do can make a difference, and that is something I try to get across to my friends here to amplify the positive effect. I now feel like I am a citizen of the world, rather than just a citizen of my city or the United States.