YES Programs



Alumni Spotlight: Samiur Rahman and Uma Shatabdi Halder

Samiur And Uma smiling

By Samiur Rahman (YES 2013 - 2014, Bangladesh, placed by CIEE in Rush Springs, OK) and Uma Shatabdi Halder (YES 2013 - 2014, Bangladesh, placed by AIFS in Camp Hill, PA)

When the YES Voices Podcasting Workshop was announced, we immediately started brainstorming and looking for ideas for our project theme. We saw a news report about an incident in which 150 Hindu families in Noakhali, Bangladesh were attacked by extremists during Durga Puja, an annual Hindu festival. Although this was a tragic incident, we were not surprised, because this sort of event often happens in Bangladesh due to a lack of interfaith dialogues happening in our communities. When we saw this, we began discussing our own interfaith experiences. Uma thought about her sister, who had an interfaith marriage with a Muslim man and experienced a lot of bigotry and hate because of it. For Sami, it was a culmination of things. Growing up in a Catholic community in Bangladesh, he noticed the hate his Christian friends received on a regular basis and during his college years, he noticed the complete opposite situation in the U.S. where Muslims face regular discrimination. Through this discussion, we came up with our podcast theme, Interfaith Dialogue in Bangladesh, and the topic of our first episode, “Interfaith Love Stories”.  We wanted to participate in the podcasting workshop because we wanted to learn how to use podcasts as a tool to counter bigotry and hate. Learning how to effectively create powerful podcasts helped us share stories that our communities are deprived of, and we hope people will start to think differently about those who are different from them. 

Group of people working on a computer

Before diving into our podcast story, we want to discuss our roots in community development work. In 2013, we were selected for the Youth Exchange and Study Program. Uma was placed in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and Sami was placed in Rush Springs, Oklahoma. We had a vibrant exchange year, where we both lived with Christian families who introduced us to Sunday church services, church youth groups and community service programs. Our host families were open about their religion and we frequently had discussions that helped us learn about each other’s belief system and appreciate each other’s religions. Uma learned the value of community improvement through frequently attending community service events that were held by her church. Sami participated in church service programs, where he bonded with his host community through worship ceremonies.

Samiur And Uma in Albania

When we returned to the US, we both remained very involved in the YES community through implementing alumni projects and participating in workshops, such as the YES Voices Podcasting Workshop. We began planning our first episode with the help of the workshop facilitators, and decided to focus on Adittya and Laurien, a Muslim-Christian married couple from Bangladesh, and discover how they built a successful interfaith relationship, the challenges they faced in their relationship, and their suggestions for couples in a similar position. For six weeks, we learned the basics of podcast creation, script writing, audio editing and storytelling techniques. In March 2022, we attended the workshop in person in Albania, where we met the 18 other participants and worked together to create diverse sets of podcast stories. Through the workshop, we feel prepared to tell even more dynamic stories in the future. 

Although the podcast workshop is over, this is just the start of our interfaith journey. We plan to produce more interfaith-themed podcasts that will discuss scripture, interfaith peacebuilding, storytelling from religious conflicts and more. We want to create a safe space for people to listen to stories that fight against the religious bigotry and racism that is present in Bangladesh and other South Asian nations. If all goes well, we hope to create a non profit organization, which can serve as an educational leader in interfaith peacebuilding and dialogue, with podcasting as a core tool to build leadership skills and media literacy. 

Thank you to the YES program and the U.S. Department of State for sponsoring such impactful programs.