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From the exterior, Faruque School and College in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, looks like your typical school in the region. There are classrooms, a field for playing on in break time, and newly constructed toilets and washing facilities by Concern. It also serves as a cyclone centre during disasters. However, the school holds something else very special…
Welcome to the Adolescent Forum.
The Adolescent Forum
Seven committees from various schools in the area work together underneath the umbrella of the Adolescent Forum to encourage young people to become more active in their communities and help spread important information. 19-year-old Rizrad Shakis is the president of the forum, in which there are 80 members overall.
The forum emerged from nutrition workshops ran by Concern’s CRAAIN project (Collective Responsibility, Action and Accountability for Improved Nutrition) in the area, which focusses on improving maternal and child nutrition in Bangladesh. Committee members took part in the workshops, learning about breastfeeding, malnutrition awareness and antenatal and postnatal care. Now, they disseminate this information around their own communities, to all ages.
The group is particularly impressive because, despite their young age, they’ve established themselves as pillars of knowledge and trust within the community. 15-year-old Lamia Aktar explains: “People are aware that we are young, but are also aware of this committee. We are informed and confident. The community reach out to us. Even in my family, I give advice on primary level treatments to my mother.”
Thanks to the group, there are now 264 more people taking part in Concern’s CRAAIN project. However, they haven’t stopped there. The group are already preparing how they can continue their good work when the CRAAIN project ends: “We are planning to work with the Children and Women Affairs Ministry so that we can be even more effective.” – Rizrad.
The committee and Covid-19
During the pandemic, the group continued to work with their communities. Rizrad explains: ‘We didn't stop ourselves from doing what we are doing. We have identity in this community. People can tell that we are a member of this group, and that means people know that we are working. First we learn ourselves - first know yourself and then tell others and teach others what to do.”
The group members learnt about hygiene and best practices such as using masks, and then spread the information around their communities. They were also involved directly with the government and other service providers to whom they reached out to on behalf of others, in particular, vulnerable people.
“We supported a lot during Covid-19. We reached out to vulnerable people who do not have the needed facilities such as soap. We explained how people could make soapy water in bottles to use it in the most effective way. We also helped people buy masks, as many people could not afford them.” – Rizrad
Meet the members
19-year-old Rizrad is the elected president of the Adolescent Forum.
Rizrad explains that he initially joined the forum out of curiosity: “Mostly I was curious because everyone talks about child marriage and other issues, but we barely talk about nutrition at a local level. People are very shy, even the adults. There are limitations for them to be able to talk about these issues, such as menstrual hygiene and WASH. People don’t use this form of language. So I was especially interested as because of this, we can work on these topics and because we are young, we can talk more and we can work on this. We can get more skills and knowledge and I’ll be connected with a lot more people – older people – that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”
Rizrad believes it is important for young people to get involved in this work because of the vulnerabilities the communities face: “This area is especially vulnerable for disasters - different form of cyclones, floods and everything is pretty common here, and people don’t have the right facilities to cope. With this group, there are a lot of changes. We have a good relationship with the government on the level of service provider too.”
Rizrad was a scout and wants to be a doctor when he is older. “I am dreaming of being a doctor. I got the medical admission test the day before yesterday, but in the meantime, beyond being a doctor I want to help people. I have been doing this for a long time as a scout.”
“I feel lucky I got this opportunity.”
15-year-old Lamia is an elected member of the Adolescent Forum. She works closely with Rizrad who she describes as very dynamic and talented.
Lamia wants to be a teacher when she is older, and already serves as a peer educator at her school. She joined the Forum in 2019: “We were especially focusing on the menstrual hygiene. At first, we were so shy - we never talk about those issues. But then, as a peer educator we started working with the students and slowly people started talking more.”
Lamia explains that previously, students hadn’t received this type of education. “I explained that changes in your body is normal and that you have to learn about it – about your body and what you should and should not do. The whole class had a different opinion. But now I can see changes. Now everyone can talk about this and it's easier.”
“We work with dedication, sincerity and honesty, and we just jump into for any work for the development of people in the community. That's how we want to work and people should engage with us.”
Lamia and her peers have achieved a lot in their community. Lamia explains that the health clinic used to open for just a few hours a day and was not providing the best advice for health treatments. She met with authorities and had a discussion. Now they’ve put some recommendations in place, particularly to help malnourished children, and the health centre runs better: “With our recommendation, there is a breastfeeding corner and the doctor is more available so everyone can be seen.”
The CRAAIN project
Concern’s CRAAIN project focusses on improving maternal and child nutrition in Bangladesh. It adopts an integrated and multi-sectoral approach, using different techniques involving the community, government departments, private sector and civil society.
It aims to target just shy of 500,000 people in Bagerhat District, Bangladesh.
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