“Hiya, you’re green!” I remarked at the five feet stature with thirty-two teeth in front of me.
“I know! It feels awesome!” replied a grinning, green Hiya.
As the white cloths behind us got painted in shades of green and red to symbolize our national flag, getting your hands and faces green was just the beginning of a remarkable experience. The 1° Initiative Leadership Training Workshop (LTW) at Jessore was indeed swinging at full blast.
On the morning of 19th December 2008, eight overenthusiastic youths were found cramped in a microbus on the highway that led from Dhaka to Jessore. They were singing, cracking lame jokes, cheating at card games and occasionally, cackling syllables only they understood. I, being one of these eight eccentric human beings was no exception. It was a 7 hour ride with a stop at Faridpur at a summer house. When we reached our destination – my home village Laukhali – around 4pm, we were greeted with a pile load of food. However, being the hyper lot we are, our feet carried us to the mustard flower fields around the house and we spent an entire evening running around the place, chasing fire flies in the dark and sipping raw tea at a local bazaar. The night brought about pithas, adda, ghost stories and a heart-thumping preparation for the next day. We couldn’t sleep although we went to bed earlier than our usual hours and were exhausted. The anticipation killed us – well not all of us, since Hiya thought it would be magical to sing till 2am and keep the rest of the house awake!
At 6am the following day, Tushmit’s cellphone screamed the most awful alarm ever. It was so excruciatingly loud that we wondered whether it woke up the entire village. As the Mubina, Hiya and Tushmit took turns to brush their teeth and sneeze to the morning fog; I sneaked outside to the window that led to the boys’ room. My peeping face, coughs and clattering teeth was a wake-up call for the men. In a rush of three-quarters of an hour, the gang was ready at the breakfast table. Sohail Bhai from Phulkuri joined us there and fifteen minutes past eight, we were swinging and singing our way on a remodified nosimon to Abdur Gofur Memorial Secondary School where our grand event would be taking place.
With Tazin on the buckets, Zeeshan with packets, Russel with certificates and Zabir with stationery; the team paraded down the green field, all set for the day. Some of the students had already come and my short briefing needed to be cut shorter. I found a whistle from the Sports teacher at the school, which gave me the liberty to get attention faster than anyone else in the ground. As I briefed the students on what they were about to expect in the next two hours, the 1° gang was busy putting up banners and posters, setting tables and chairs and running around on errands. It was a frenzy of activities, a burst of energy that addicted everyone and carried us through an event we would all remember.
After registering 237 students, our grand event began from the gates of the school auditorium. Grades 9 and 10 will be attending the Leadership Training Workshop, which constituted nearly 80 students; while the rest would be painting flags in teams. The 1° gang split into three parts with Hiya, Russel and Sohail Bhai on flags at one end of the field; and Tushmit, Mubina and Tazin arranging a snake-game for the older classes. Zabir, Zeeshan and I ran through the classrooms, setting up things, signing certificates and monitoring field activities. We were pressed for time and needed everything in perfect order in less than 30 minutes.
And thankfully, we managed to keep up to our schedule!
The snake-game was a team-building activity that was aimed at encouraging students to work in a team. It was necessary for the students to ease up to our presence, so when we move to the classrooms in the second segment of our program, it would be an interactive session of ideas and perspectives. It worked beautifully! Around 11am, the 80 students were divided in groups of 40 (boys and girls combined) with the boys from each group calling themselves after the poets Tagore and Nazrul and the girls’ lot named after Sufia Kamal and Begum Rokeya respectively. Each group of 40 was ushered into the two classrooms – ‘Health and Lifestyle Management’ conducted by Zabir, Mubina and Sohail Bhai, and ‘Education’ conducted by Tazin, Tusmit and me.
The classrooms were scheduled for 30 minutes each. Team Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sufia Kamal would first attend the ‘Education’ lecture while Team Begum Rokeya and Rabindranath Tagore would be doing ‘Health and Lifestyle Management’ lecture. After 30 minutes, the teams would swap classes. While Zeeshan stood guard with a massive metal bell and excited youngsters to announce the end of each lecture; the classrooms fired up discussions ranging from opportunities for all to arsenic-free societies. We talked about how they could expand their ambitions from the stereotype doctor-engineer-lawyer-teacher boundaries and opt for things more similar to their interests. Teamwork, career building, healthier lifestyles, disease prevention – each topic jumped from one place to another as questions were thrown between the 1° facilitators and LTW students.
Meanwhile, the flags were getting wonderfully ornamented in two colours. The students were divided into ‘Laal Dol’ (Red Team) and ‘Shobuj Dol’ (Green Team) as planned and were instructed to dip their hands in paint and stamp on the white cloth. This again was another team-building activity that would encourage them towards teamwork. If any student failed to comply with the one before or after him or her, the flag would be a mess of colours, so they needed to maintain discipline and work together. As nearly 160 kids ran around with colors over the flags, it was no common surprise that Russel and Hiya were painted in the process!
It all came to an end with Zeeshan’s “Dong! Dong! Dong!” at mid day. The 80 LTW participants were instructed to go to the auditorium, while the flag painters were done for the day and on their way home with Butterscotch chocolates. As the flags dried under the inconspicuous winter sun, the 1° team gathered inside for the closing ceremony. Hands with yellow wrist bands penned with the words “1° Initiative LTW 2008” raised to vow in teamwork and building communities for everyone, while names were called out and certificated distributed. The messages of the day read: “Amra Shikhbo Ebong Shekhabo!” and “Dosh’e Miile Kori Kaaj, Haari Jiti Naahi Laaj!” The chaos had finally ended.
It was when some of the students came up to me after the event and thanked me for opening their eyes to newer possibilities that we realized it had all gone well. In a span of less than two hours, the first ever 1° Initiative Leadership Training Workshop was able to inspire, encourage and instill hope in youths and live up to the organization’s motto set three years ago by nine teenagers.
Impossible was just another word for new beginnings.