Voluntarism all the way from MIT

Adnan Akib writes about House of Volunteers – a youth-led initiative – formed by students of Massachusetts Institute of Technology to contribute to the development of the country

The greatest boxer of all time Muhammad Ali once stated, ‘service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.’ That is what drives human to turn the bad to good for humanity. From humanity comes the idea of voluntarism.
Following a similar concept, House of Volunteers (HoV) was co-founded at MIT in 2007 by a then PhD student, Sudipta Sarkar. Subsequently, Aminul Haque, Ashirul Amin, Adnan Haider Yusuf and Ahsanullah Khan Faisal joined the group. As a recent graduate from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Faisal had contacts within the student body at his alma mater, thus providing HoV with its first group of volunteers.
Currently, there are at least five Bangladeshi students who are part of the MIT chapter of HoV, says Jafrul Hassan Shovon, member of professional wing of HoV. The founders divided the voluntary organisation between professionals and students. The professionals, who were once students of the same initiative, provide guidance to the existing students who volunteer in different programmes for the organisation across the country. HoV currently has at least 300 volunteers from three universities: University of Dhaka, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology.
HoV began with an Open Source Computer Education Programme (OSCEP) to provide basic knowledge about technology among rural and underprivileged students. Since its inception, HoV has established five computer learning centres in at least one school each in Comilla, Dinajpur and Sylhet.
‘Students get both software and hardware support from the labs. HoV also provides designed curriculum for introducing skilled teachers to the students,’ claims Shovon.
In 2012, non-resident Bangladeshi students shipped 10,000 books of medical science among others home to be distributed to 20 institutions including medical colleges and public libraries. HoV facilitated the shipment while distribution was carried out by volunteers of HoV from Brac University at the time. It was a project they named ‘book drive’ also known as ‘Books for Bangladesh’.
‘Collecting volumes discarded by libraries in the US and distributing them among universities in Bangladesh is what Book drive is all about,’ explains Adnan H Yusuf, one of the founder members of HoV.
Around the same time, the organisation also ventured into another humanitarian project which sought to provide earthquake awareness for school goers. While the pilot of the programme began in 2012, the organisation carried out campaigns in the old part of Dhaka throughout 2013. During the year HoV hosted 10 earthquake awareness campaigns in nine schools at Old Dhaka including Armanitola Government High School, Ahemd Bawany Academy School and College.
‘An earthquake can cause a massive disaster and if we can talk to most of the students then we will be able to reach their families as well. In this way we can leave our message to the maximum number of people,’ says Shovon.
Sadly, despite such great initiatives the organisation has not followed up on the impact of its projects. Shovon says that it is really difficult to follow up on the activities that are operated somewhere out of Dhaka city. ‘Usually the volunteers like to go out once or twice. But routine visit is really difficult. But we have talked to some local students to take care of the OSCEP,’ says Shovon.
Recently the organisation has hosted the Stockholm Junior Water Prize in Bangladesh. This competition is open for school students who presented their science projects on water issues and its solutions. The best idea from Bangladesh gets a chance to visit Stockholm, the capital of Sweden for the final round of the competition.
‘I really like the way this organisation works. I have heard about it from my university mates and seniors. I have included myself with them even though my family doesn’t know yet. But I am hoping for a smooth journey with HoV where I will get the opportunity to do something for the society,’ says Umme Habiba Prapti, a first year student of Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology who has recently joined HoV.
While professional wing sets out the guidelines and concepts and student wing takes care of the implementation and field activity that strives for the success of any initiative taken by the organisation.
‘As we are students and still need proper guidance we work with the professional wing. It helps us to perform the task better,’ says Rafiul Chowdhury Faysal, a first year student of Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology.
‘HoV was and is all about volunteerism,’ says Yusuf. He continues, ‘The core premise was that students have boundless energy: if channeled properly, it could be harnessed to do immense good in society while imparting a sense of accomplishment to contributors.’
Any financial contribution in the development efforts is project-based, says Shovon. The Dinajpur computer learning centre for instance has been set up with Global Education Fund of the MacEwan University that was first provided to MIT and later relayed to HoV.

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