YES Programs



YES Alumna Receives Distinguished Princess Diana Award

Headshot of Shomy

Shomy Hasan Chowdhury (YES 2011-2012, Bangladesh, hosted by PAX in Cheboygan, MI) is a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activist from Bangladesh, with a vision to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for everyone. Shomy was recently awarded the Princess Diana award, a world renowned award that recognizes exceptional young people who have demonstrated an ability to inspire and mobilize new generations to serve their communities and create long lasting change on a global scale. Shomy received the Princess Diana Award for dedicating her life’s work to ensuring clean water and sanitation for all. Shomy had a moment to sit down with us and share some of her thoughts on receiving this distinguished award. 

Congratulations on receiving a Diana Award! What does receiving this award mean to you and to forwarding and bringing awareness to your cause?
Princess Diana has always been someone I look up to. She was empathetic, had positive energy and inspired others to give back. She believed in the young people’s power to change the world. She is a big inspiration for social workers. For me to receive an award in her honor is extraordinarily elevating and provides solace that I am doing things right. This award will motivate me to continue my work and also inspire other youths to take up the journey of volunteerism, particularly in the WASH sector.

Shomy leading WASH activities with young children
Shomy leads youth in WASH activities.

We are impressed and inspired by the work you have done as a WASH activist, can you tell us more about your inspiration, current projects, and some highlights of the impact that has been made towards this cause? 
After losing my mother to diarrhea, I realized how critical WASH is in saving lives. I turned my pain into purpose and reached out to vulnerable communities to raise awareness of different aspects of WASH among sex-workers, sewage workers, slum dwellers and underprivileged people. My WASH Talks include sessions such as how to filtrate water at home, maintaining good personal hygiene, breaking the stigma around menstruation, proper hand washing techniques and food safety. Over the past 7 years I have benefited over 70,000 individuals through my WASH talks, ultimately saving lives. My organization “Awareness 360” is mobilizing young people in 23 countries to do community service projects in line with the UN SDGs, particularly SDG6, Clean Water & Sanitation. Last year, we have done several projects on Menstrual Hygiene Day, Global Handwashing Day, World Water Day, World Toilet Day, etc.

The Commonwealth Secretary General Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland invited me to be an International Election Observer as a part of the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) for the Pakistan General Elections 2018. Being a part of such an esteemed group was beyond my imagination. My recommendations successfully made its way to the Commonwealth Election Observation Report, and it was the first time ever that clean water and toilets got a spot at the said report.  

How has participating through the YES program influenced your current pursuits?
Honestly, it all began with YES! I can never deny that the YES Program shaped me to who I am today. It is during my exchange year when I got exposed to a lot of community service opportunities and truly found my zeal in it. After receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award (Gold) by President Barack Obama, I felt inspired and confident to return and give back to my homeland. I still utilize the skills that I have acquired during my YES year.  My YES family have always been supportive of my work, and I could not be more grateful!

Shomy standing next to Hugh Jackman holding the Bangladeshi flag
Shomy meets Hugh Jackman.

Through your activism, you’ve been honored by many organizations and invited to attend high-level events around the world. What have been some surprising or fun parts of these experiences? Who have you been most excited to meet? 
I am not really a movie person, and not very good at remembering celebrities’ names. Once I could not recognize a world-renowned singer, and ended up asking the person to take my photo! It surprises me to see how humble people can be despite their stature.

I have been very excited to meet Hugh Jackman, who is not just a superhero in movies, but also in real life. His work and passion in sustainability and poverty alleviation always galvanized me. It was an incredible opportunity to have been able to share with him about my work in person. He exemplifies a global citizen!

Congratulations, Shomy, for this well-deserved honor!