About the Author: Atul Keshap serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.
Eighty percent of Bangladesh's 160 million citizens are under the age of 40. During my visit to Dhaka this week, I met with U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Lauren Lovelace and some of the stars of Bangladesh's impressive youth population. Over an informal lunch of dosas (a crepe filled with rice and lentils), youth community leaders ranging in age from 17-24 shared their ideas and vision for Bangladesh.
Korvi Rakshand, the founder of JAAGO Foundation, talked about his organization's mission to "Break the Cycle of Poverty through Education," specifically by offering free English medium school education to children from urban slums. Korvi is an inspiring community leader and will travel to the United States next month as part of the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
Alaka spoke about her experience as an alumna of the U.S. Embassy Dhaka-funded Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). She has worked with other students from English-medium, Bengali-medium schools, and madrassa schools to promote basic health care for kids throughout Dhaka. She declared, "You don't need a government job to be a leader." In addition to her community service, Alaka is also a promising poet who will enter Princeton University as a freshman in September.
Several youth leaders spoke about their experiences as alumni of U.S. leadership, youth exchange, and English education programs. Diya recently traveled to my alma mater, the University of Virginia, as part of Study of the United States Institutes for Student Leaders (SUSI), a State Department-sponsored student leadership program. Diya is a driving force behind the local youth empowerment organization "One Degree Initiative" that promotes leadership training and education for the country's youth. I asked Diya if she and her colleagues ever face resistance to their efforts. She replied enthusiastically, “Yes, all the time! But if everyone is telling you that you are doing it wrong, you are probably doing it right.”
As I conclude my first-ever visit to Bangladesh, I am deeply impressed by the energy of young Bangladeshis and their dedication to democracy, rule of law, diversity of opinion, and mutual respect. I am also impressed by the two decades of sustained economic growth that Bangladesh has enjoyed. This is a country clearly poised for broad inclusive growth working in partnership and friendship with the American people.