By Shomy Hasan Chowdhury (YES 2011-2012, Bangladesh, hosted by PAX in Cheboygan, MI)
The YES program was the turning point of my life – a life-changing experience that is still impacting me. This brilliant YES network, turned family, is a constant source of positive energy and inspiration. I developed skills during my exchange year that I find useful even today, and YES gave me lifelong friends and a family who I am still as close to now as I was nine years ago.
In probably the biggest lesson of all, YES taught me why it is important for young people to identify problems in our community and take action to address them. I always carry these lessons with me wherever I go; so when I moved to Malaysia for college, I decided to continue my fight on an issue I greatly care about. Being an agent of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I often brought up these topics during casual conversations with university peers. But when I raised concerns about single-use plastic in our university cafes, for example, I was disappointed to find out that many of my fellow students could not relate to these concerns. I came to realize that many university students in Malaysia are so focused on assignments, exams, and grades that they lack knowledge on world issues or a sense of global citizenship. Some did not even know what SDG stands for. And of those who did, most thought addressing the SDGs is something governments, world leaders, the UN, policymakers, etc. need to deal with – not ordinary citizens. And that’s the problem.
Malaysia is an exemplary country in many ways, and I believe its young people can be a driving force to bring significant change to the country. Therefore, I decided to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to implement a project to make Malaysian university students aware of the SDGs and the critical role we young people can contribute to realizing the global agenda. As it was not feasible for me to hold this project for a large number of students, I designed the project around a Training of Trainers (ToT) approach in the hopes that the 50 student participants will go on to teach others about the SDGs. And that is how my project “Score Your Goals!” evolved.
My project team and I selected 50 competent and eager students from various universities in Malaysia and brought them together for an intensive two-day workshop in November 2019, where they learned about each of the SDGs from distinguished local and international speakers. After the workshop, participants were given two months to conduct similar workshops and disseminate the knowledge they gained at their respective universities. The ToT project teams directly trained approximately 160 additional people, and it is our hope that these students will further spread SDG awareness among thousands more students at their university campuses.
We held the project closing ceremony in February 2020, and each team presented on how they raised SDG awareness on their campus. A winning team was chosen by a panel of judges, and, as a reward, that team had the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in conducting a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) awareness campaign for 100 orphans between the ages of four and 14 in Ampang.
Pre- and post-workshop surveys found 90% of participants reported an increased level of SDG knowledge, increasing from “very limited/basic” to “very good/excellent.” One participant shared, "The sessions were very informative. Now I have a clearer picture. It will now be easier for me to identify which SDG I am passionate about and inspire me to work on that." A volunteer shared, "As I volunteered, I also learned a lot about the SDGs and now am interested in finding out more." One of the speakers shared, "I absolutely loved how engaged the participants were. They asked thought-provoking questions which really shaped the discussions." One of the winning team members shared after the WASH campaign at the orphanage, "I developed my presentation and communication skills through this project. Normally, I am used to giving presentations only in university classes but communicating with the children of varying ages was quite challenging yet rewarding. I want to do more now."
All the project feedback and evaluations point to it being a success; however, although the project has ended, I believe the impact can continue. I hope this project will continue to activate participants to work towards the global agenda. Although I am now back in Bangladesh, I am connected to the participants via a social media group which is an avenue for me to follow up, support, and mentor participants in the future.
This project was certainly a learning experience for me. I faced quite a number of challenges, most notably the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and poor weather conditions, which caused delay and changes. But I learned that no matter what barriers come your way, everything will work out with determination and perseverance, even though it may not be exactly how you planned things initially.
Without my team’s support, I would not have been able to manage everything. I am extremely thankful to my team members and volunteers for spending their valuable time and effort on this project. I must also acknowledge everyone else associated with this project, including the judges, speakers, participants, orphanage staff and children, the Royal Commonwealth Society, Global Changemakers, the Commonwealth Students’ Association, Awareness 360, the YES Program, American Councils for International Education, and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for all their support in making this project happen.
Are you ready to score your goal?