The Diana Award is one of the most distinguished honours presented to the youth as a recognition for their social or humanitarian work. The award was established in the memory of Princess Diana and holds the same credence over youth empowerment as Diana, herself. It is supported by Princess Diana's sons, The Duke of Cambridge Prince William and The Duke of Sussex Prince Harry.
On July 01, 2020, six change makers were recognised for their relentless and passionate efforts invested on community development of Bangladesh through environmental enhancement, female empowerment and youth development. This article showcases the dreams, plans and moving moments of these winners.
Founder, Wander Woman
Sabira Mehrin demonstrates a story of inspiration through travelling and aiding travelling. She mentions, 'There is always an experience to take home when we interact with a new culture or community." She is the founder of Wander Woman-- a female centric travel platform that provides access to travel information and curates affordable travel experiences. After graduating from IBA, University of Dhaka, Sabira joined several multinational companies demonstrating her business acumen.
Sabira has represented Bangladesh in four continents for winning global awards for her social entrepreneurial ventures. She is a humbled alumna of GIST Network, UNLEASH LAB, Aspire Academy and US Department of State. Beyond tourism, Sabira has worked in the fields of quality education, climate change and health sector to bring positive change in society.
Rafiul Haque Anter
Organising Secretary, Dhaka Division, Volunteer for Bangladesh, JAAGO Foundation
Rafiul Haque Anter has been working with JAAGO Foundation for the past seven years, battling against poverty and creating provisions of education for underprivileged children. He has led and monitored youth development projects, accentuating water pollution, eco-friendly transportation, fund collection to tackle the crisis associated with Covid-19, etc. Rafiul develops initiatives for the enhancement of society while centralising his focus on the youth. On receiving the Diana Award 2020, he says, "I dedicate this award to my parents for their consistent support, patience and respect they have for me and my choices." Alongside his passion to bring impactful changes for future generations, Rafiul also loves music. A talented musician, he has performed with local bands and has also represented Bangladesh in the International River Festival in Shillong.
Shah Rafayet Chowdhury
Co-founder and President, Footsteps Bangladesh
Shah Rafayet Chowdhury is an internationally recognised environmentalist and social entrepreneur based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His current initiative, Footsteps Bangladesh, is a social enterprise which addresses social challenges in the fields of environment, health, and education with a view to transforming communal mentality from aid dependency to self-reliance. His work is impacting over 100,000 people in Bangladesh through 13 different social ventures and campaigns. Shah was mentored by the former US Vice President Al Gore on Climate Leadership. After completing his degree on Environmental Economics and Policy from Pennsylvania State University in 2018, he came back to his country to chase his dreams of empowering communities through Footsteps Bangladesh. Shah was nominated by the European Commission as one of the 16 inspirational young leaders from around the globe in 2018, and also represented Bangladesh as a youth ambassador at the United Nations in 2012.
When asked about his goals, Rafayet mentions, "Footsteps will be focusing on innovation by bringing in ideas like harnessing water from unconventional sources, integrating artificial intelligence for water monitoring and creating redundant portable water filters which can be deployed to convert flood water into drinking water. Other than this, we will expand our focus towards addressing other WASH agendas such as hand washing, menstrual hygiene and gender equity bathrooms; designing a venture where vaccines can reach last mile children and creating more climate resilient housing to safeguard people's homes during a cyclone or flood."
Co-founder, Travelettes of Bangladesh
Sakia Haque is on a mission to empower and educate women through travel. An explorer herself, she noticed that in Bangladesh, women's desire to explore has always been faced with a dearth of opportunities and an air of patronisation. This led her to co-found Travelettes of Bangladesh in 2016. In her words, "Travelettes of Bangladesh began with a simple mission- encouraging women to see the world." This encouragement has come a long way since she started this community as a student at Dhaka Medical College. From a small group of about a hundred women, her initiative has grown today to become a community of 51,742 women. In addition to encouraging women to see the world, Sakia uses her platform as an opportunity to educate young girls. With a project called "Narir Chokhe Bangladesh", she has travelled to 64 districts of the country on a motorbike trip and has conducted sessions in different schools on self-defence, the Liberation War of Bangladesh, and particularly on menstruation, which is often considered a taboo topic in this country.
Sakia currently serves as a medical officer in Disease Control at the Civil Surgeon Office in Cox's Bazar. She remains committed to her mission of empowering women through travel and has some exciting prospects for the future. "We plan to continue our efforts with an aim to prepare women for the challenges in alignment with Vision 2021," she shares.
Muhammad Jahirul Islam
Founder and Chairman, Ignite Youth Foundation
Muhammad Jahirul Islam, founder of Ignite Youth Foundation (IYF), is an example of how a little power of will can change lives for the better. A student of the Canadian University of Bangladesh, he started with his initiative to teach street kids voluntarily, Muhammad's will has carried him quite far in his quest to end the hardships that prevail in our society. Since IYF's establishment in 2016, the organisation has set up a school with 67 children, empowered 100 unemployed men and women, donated blood to almost 2,000 people and has engaged 23,000 volunteers working across seven districts in Bangladesh. Additionally, he had 200 international volunteers, 85 university ambassadors and 26 team members by his side. Currently, his organisation is actively supporting those in need in these critical times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Muhammad is passionate about inspiring young people to engage in social actions. He intends to establish Ignite School in every district of Bangladesh and gradually turn it into secondary, higher secondary and university. He delivers motivational speeches and promotes volunteerism. All the while, he continues to dream big. He mentions, "I plan to open an IT centre with a vision to simplify and promote awareness of modern IT-based education for the students of rural areas, prioritising the girls and women. I shall strive to create a sustainable livelihood for the unprivileged, work for women empowerment, climate change and environment protection."
Founder, Study Buddy
Sheikh has always been a problem solver and he credits this trait of his as a driving passion for choosing Computer Science Engineering (CSE) as his major in Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology. When he was in his third year of his graduate programme, Sheikh lost his sister to autism. Since then, he has been compassionate about the welfare of the disability community. It was his attempt to combat rampant learning struggles of children in need. Sheikh created a platform for children with learning disabilities named "Study Buddy"- this platform was amongst the 10 initiatives that were shortlisted. The outlet was further accelerated with the help of Zeitgeist, Toru Impactor, Undp Youth Collaboration and Startup Bangladesh by ICT division.
He mentions "We conduct personal assessments to match each child with unique learning methodologies and additionally we organise social campaigns and school activation programmes to raise awareness, motivation and break the taboos regarding learning disabilities." As a highlighting note, Sheikh informs about being able to help more than 1,000 children with learning disabilities along with coaching 1,500 plus parents. His initiative is in context to SDG goals 4, 8, 10 and 11. For the upcoming times, Sheikh plans to build a contextualized and interactive school for kids in Bangladesh along with a distance learning platform to cover all grounds of learning disabilities. Sheikh wishes to serve at least one million people by 2030 through Study Buddy.
The writer, an aspiring storyteller, studied at BRAC University. She can be reached at [email protected]