Students and eminent leaders share inspiring stories on human dignity recognizing their own self-worth and the dignity in others
Hundreds of thousands of young people around the world participate in Global Dignity Day on the 3rd Wednesday which is an annual celebration organized by international non-profit Global Dignity. Friendship has marked the Global Dignity Day in Bangladesh by hosting an event featuring anecdotes and personal reflections about dignity from students and eminent personalities, at the KIB Convention Hall, Dhaka.
Global Dignity’s mission is to unite everyone with the belief that we all deserve to live a life of dignity. The celebration of the day is to support human dignity; and that everyone, everywhere, regardless of gender, ethnicity, orientation, religion, nationality, caste, creed, or physical ability should be respected and treated equally, and given equal rights, privileges, and opportunities in all aspects of life. By having their dignity intact, people can realize their self-worth, and be assured of equity and respect regardless of how they self-identify, or how they are labeled by anyone else.
60 educations institutions in Bangladesh participated this year by conducting workshops, rallies, service projects, storytelling, inspirational speeches, musical performances and other activities that help the youth to tap into the dignity values: self-worth, empathy, and compassion.
At the national-level event in Dhaka students from Delhi Public School (DPS), Leaping Boundaries, Jaago Foundation, Ideal School and College and Friendship Schools shared their own dignity stories that promote the values of understanding, equality and love. With these values at their core, individuals can go on to create communities that honor and practice peace, inclusion, and justice.
Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) graced the occasion as the Chief Guest. Runa Khan, Global Dignity Bangladesh Country Chair and Founder and Executive Director of Friendship and Parvin Mahmud, Board Member of Friendship were also present on this occasion.
Rubaba Dowla, Founder and Managing Director, Pulse Healthcare Services, Naveed Mahbub, Founder & CEO, Naveed’s Comedy Club, Shabnaaz Zahereen, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Bangladesh, Mohammad Mohasin, Captain, Bangladesh Wheelchair Cricket Team and Md. Sohan Haider, Founder & CEO, Smartifier Academy were among the guest speakers, each sharing their own take on dignity, why it is important, their own experiences and how it has impacted their lives.
Ubuntu – Sohan Haider
Many delightful, inspiring or poignant anecdotes were shared by the speakers, such as the concept of “Ubuntu”, by Sohan Haider. Meaning, “what I am, is for everyone”; he spoke of the mindset observed in rural parts of Africa where every individual’s actions were for the benefit of the community; and that they believed that the betterment of society leads to the betterment of every individual. This concept of consideration and cooperation, he said, was one that leads to a sense of dignity and pride that is not self-serving, and thereby respects the dignity of their fellows.
He also spoke of a friend from childhood who would struggle in school, and is now a software engineer at Google, thereby proving the ills of external or standardized metrics for validation that people use to judge one another.
Dreaming Impossible – Md. Mohasin
Md. Mohasin shared a story from his childhood, of being stricken by polio and slowly losing the use of his legs, and yet crawling to the living room TV to watch his favorite cricketers play the sport that he adores. He decided one day, that he should not be deprived of the chance to participate, legs or no, and not only founded the Wheelchair Cricket Welfare Association Bangladesh, but went on to scout, recruit and train 32 players for the new wheelchair cricket team; then lead them to multiple victories and runner up positions in national and international tournaments. After that, he turned his attention to forming a wheelchair team for women.
He stated evocatively that nothing and no one should stop someone from chasing their dream, and that the ability to pursue one’s happiness is the greatest dignity that one can have.
Age is just a number – Naveed Mahbub
Naveed Mahbub spoke good-humoredly about his hecklers and hate comments on YouTube that deride him because of his age, segueing to ageism and how that too, infringes on one’s dignity. He spoke of how, during his corporate career in the US, questions regarding age, religion, marital status or orientation were verboten, because they were considered irrelevant. An elderly person could be an intern or continue to work as long as they wanted, because, despite their old age, they had something to contribute. Indeed, he decried the enforced retirement age in Bangladesh, and how that should be banned.
Alternatively, there is a reason to think that just because someone is young, they are inexperienced or incapable. In fact, if they have a senior position at a young age, it speaks highly of their efficiency, capacity, and merit, and should, in fact, be encouraged. People seem to have an issue working for someone younger than them, said Mr. Mahbub, and that is ironically, a very aged concept. He joked about how lively and nigh-juvenile antics his aged father and his friends often display, stating that “age is just a number.”
Stop bullying – Shabnaz Zahreen
Shabnaz Zahreen spoke about bullying; how almost everyone has been bullied at some point, about their height, weight, complexion, disability, background, financial status; anything that they had no control over and made them even marginally different from the rest. She said that bullying had now taken an ugly, new form – of bullying and harassment online, and those who had not experienced it themselves, especially guardians, highly underestimated the effect it has on children.
She spoke of the measures to take against such bullying, and how, what may seem like a harmless jab or just friends having fun, would often have lasting effects on one’s mental health; a subject that should no longer be taken lightly. She urges that everyone, regardless of how they self-identify, or how they are labeled by anyone else, deserves to be treated equally; and that they cannot have their own dignity otherwise.
Believe in Yourself – Rubaba Dowla
Rubaba Dowla talked about joining Grameen Phone early in her career, a then-nascent private telecom company that has since become a ubiquitous giant and the model for telecoms in a developing country. She said how in those initial days, her desire to join what she saw potential in was met by nothing but negativity from naysayers. People belittled her experience, her knowledge, her capability, her gender, or whatever they could find to quash her ambition, but she refused to let it keep her from becoming an eminent personality in the corporate world. She then decided to start a telemedicine platform, to give back to the people, using the successes that she had garnered.
She stated when she was a child, she was taught her school lessons, how to drive or swim or play sports in equal measure and at the same time as siblings, male and female, and saw herself as no less capable. And then afterwards as a mother herself, she was asked by her infant son why the gifts he received were wrapped and the ones she would give to street children were not. A child’s eye is perhaps, she observed, the clearest from the judgment and the artificial, arbitrary labels and barriers we create for ourselves.
It’s Their Right – Runa Khan
Runa Khan herself agreed, stating how her background and relative privilege is to this day used to downplay her success, stating that she could not have achieved it else wise. A poignant perspective that she shared, that many within and without the NGO community seem to miss, was of gratitude. She said how people told her that the beneficiaries she assists “don’t seem to show enough gratitude”, but she emphatically disagreed.
“They have no reason to show us gratitude. They get what they are supposed to get. Healthcare is a right. Education is a right. Safety, hope, dignity are rights that they are owed, by society, and by us who have the power to give it to them. They have absolutely no reason to be thankful for it. Instead, they should demand it. That is when we know they have realized their self-worth, and that they have thus, attained dignity.”
Hope and opportunity ensures dignity – Parvin Mahmud
Parvin Mahmud was requested to come on stage to share her thoughts, and aside from being incredibly moved by some of the stories that she had heard that evening, she shared one of her own. She spoke of a young woman, who unfortunately lost her legs to an accident, and subsequently had doubts about ever working again, much less having a job that preserved her dignity.
It just so happened, however, that through Dr. Kholikuzzaman’s efforts, she not only found herself a job but one that she was incredibly happy with, having a life that she felt, was worth living despite her circumstances. Ms. Mahmud then entreated the audience, and everyone to do the same – and give people less fortunate an opportunity to make something of themselves. Dignity, she said, can be found by providing people hope and opportunity.
Ahead of the Global Dignity Day, over 4,000 students from Friendship schools and over a 1,000 people from the local communities joined in rallies, discussions sessions and cultural events in the NGO’s work areas, to raise awareness about the importance of finding dignity, despite lack of access and infrastructure; reinforcing the fact that privilege and dignity are not one and the same.
Friendship envisions a world where people, especially the hard to reach and unaddressed, will have equal opportunity to live with dignity and hope. Friendship has developed a set of Code of Ethics to promote and uphold the principles of Dignity that reaches to more than 400,000 people every month.
In addition to Bangladesh, Global Dignity Day celebrations are expected to take place in over 70 countries reaching a million people.