There’s a school of thought that people never help each other for purely selfless reasons. That every act of kindness has an ulterior motive, its roots in personal gain.
The truth is that you really cannot help another without helping yourself in the process. 1° Initiative (One Degree Initiative) recently carried out a series of events aimed at improving the school-life experience of underprivileged students at a variety of institutions in Dhaka.
Our motivation? It’s simple. To motivate the students who attend these schools. To give them something to enjoy, to hold on to and to draw inspiration from in order to overcome the adversities of life our society generously heap on them. In short, to continue their schooling despite their desperate circumstances.
To be somebody.
We truly believe that educated, skilled people never get exploited. It’s only the illiterate, the dependant and the desperate that get used and abused. 1° Initiative launched its own small effort into achieving this aim. One degree of hope, one degree of happiness.
Placed under the banner ‘1° of Learning’ and led by different project leaders at different legs of its becoming, our motive has reached out to children all over Dhaka and even, to areas outside the urban boundaries. To put it all inside a nutshell, the project was divided into two segments. One, to set up libraries at schools for underprivileged children and the other, to host a series of quiz competitions in order to build a healthy, interactive knowledge bank amongst the students.
The roots of the movement had its beginning in mid August with the basic premise to collect books. Donations came from manifold sources; people in 1di, friends, relatives, anyone anywhere who got our message and wanted to help – mostly old books and some new ones. They were of every type and subject matter ranging from compilations of classical folk tales and Aesop’s fables to the likes of Leo Tolstoy paperbacks and hardbound course material for PhD students.
The books were sorted according to what is most delightful and worthwhile reading amongst the children, and ones that could not be used were sold to buy more appropriate ones. In less than a month, we had – in our collection – over 1000 books; our houses and bedrooms turning to pseudo storerooms packed with cartons!
Setting up mini libraries seemed like a walk in the park once the books were sorted and packed. Each carrying the 1° seal on the flap, 300 paperbacks were arranged neatly inside cartons and libraries were set up at Ekmattra – a shelter for underprivileged children in Mirpur and Aalok Shishu Shikkhaloy – a sister concern of Afzalunnessa Foundation at Agargaon. The books were of a variety from Sherlock Holmes to encyclopedias to Zafar Iqbal fictions. Much to our surprise and thrill, we also managed to add books to the library at Abdur Gofur Secondary School in rural Jessore (in tandem to the 1° Initiative Leadership Training Workshop conducted at the school). It was all about spreading knowledge, but more importantly, encourage reading and give the children an opportunity to explore a world outside their own through the writings of people all over the world.
When you put it all into perspective, 1000 odd books does not seem like a lot. People ask, often skeptically, “Did we make a difference? Can we say we changed anything?” Those people have not seen the faces of children light up with joy at their new found reading material. They have not seen bookworms in the making, frowning and giggling and asking a dozen questions a minute over their new books.
Yes, we did make a difference. Perhaps, not a huge one that shakes the earth and changes the lives of masses. But as Bruce Springsteen once said, “You can’t start a fire without a spark”. This is our ember of hope that we wish to see snowball into something greater, something that reaches out to children across the country and inspires. These are the first steps of a very long journey.
Moving onto the second segment that commenced sometime in mid November, the 1° gang visited the same schools at Agargaon and Mirpur to conduct quiz competitions amongst the students. Added to the list was Surovi – the school with bright red uniforms that we often come across in Dhanmondi. A general written quiz on colorful papers comprising of 50 questions, the top scorers from each class were then selected to compete at an interschool quiz competition. It was no common surprise that we found a brimming pool of potential in these children during our visits, scoring up to 49 on 50 at the quizzes or entertaining us with skits on social issues.
The grand final was held at the premises of The Ark International School in Dhanmondi on 8th January this year, hosting a total of 50 finalists from the three participating schools and 30 volunteers. While the younger children participated at an art competition, judged and awarded by Shameem Ahmed; the seniors were divided in teams of three and contested in a mind-grilling first round. The top five teams proceeded onto to the semi finals, which was held in the international pub quiz format. Ultimately, two teams – one from Ekmattra and the other representing Aalok Shishu Shikkhaloy – remained to participate at the eagerly awaited final round. Meanwhile, the remaining three teams from the semis were asked to come up with a skit against reckless littering and perform in front of an audience to determine who scoops the place for 2nd Runner-Up.
The final round was held outdoors and witnessed by all present. Two teams, one bell in between – whoever rings the bell first get first chance at answering the question. It was incredibly enjoyed by the audience and instilled the very feel of school spirit that we had aimed to so from the very beginning of our project. Ekmattra, after much anticipation and cheering, won the Champion trophy, while Aalok Shishu Shikkhaloy took home both the 1st and 2nd Runner-Up prizes. Meanwhile, a grinning youngster from Surovi won the Art Competition. However, the most important thing was neither the end that led to the winning nor the trophies they bagged. It was more about the chaos that made each child smile, the activities that taught them the importance of teamwork and school spirit and furthermore, an experience that can spark twinkles in every eye.
Coming back to where we began, that school of thought is still very apparent. That doubt is still unanswered. We aimed to instill the spirit and pride of representing one’s school to these impoverished children. In turn, to motivate them to continue attending school, so they become a better, more informed generation for us all.
That is our ulterior motive. To achieve a self dependent future generation so that WE may get to live in a better country. That is our personal gain.
We could come up with a dozen different quotes from old philosophers who lived, mused and passed before any of us were born. But we just don’t want to. What was once thought and said does not effect our actions and aspirations. This is our way of helping the country and our way of going about it.
1° of caring.