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“Visiting a site of a natural disaster is difficult, because you can truly feel the misery of the people affected by it. Documenting such a site, however, is even more challenging and heartbreaking”, says Md. Naimur Rahman, a 18-year old youth from Kuripaika, Patuakhali.

In 2020, Naimur was one of the four volunteers that UNFPA supported by providing training and equipment to document the stories of women and girls affected by natural disasters in Bangladesh. As part of the initiative, UNFPA, together with its implementing partner, Concerned Women For Family Development (CWFD), trained four young people in photography to document UNFPA’s humanitarian response efforts in their villages.

No disaster is strong enough to stop the circle of life. A young mother cuddles her newborn in Patuakhali. (Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh/Naimur Rahman)

The aim of the initiative was not only to train the young people on basic photography skills, but also to build their life skills, such as empathy, through capturing and sharing the stories of others. By doing so, the young leaders would contribute towards raising  awareness on the challenges faced by communities affected by natural disasters, which would ideally also result in their needs being heard and addressed. In addition, the young volunteers would serve as positive agents of change by inspiring others in their communities to support those in need.

Sumaia Akter, one of the volunteers, felt that participating in the project significantly changed her outlook on life. “When I communicated with new people everyday and learned about their struggles, I felt so grateful for the things I have in life. People barely had food to eat or a house to live in, but they were still so cheerful and welcoming to me. Some even offered us food!”

Sumaia was inspired by the resilience of this family in Patuakhali Sadar who continued to stick together despite their house being destroyed by the cyclone (Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh / Sumaia Akter)

Rujina Sikder, another volunteer, was also moved by the generosity and resilient positivity of the people she encountered:  “After this experience, I am much more empathetic and understanding of the situations other people are going through. It is amazing how people can manage to smile even when they are struggling with meeting their basic needs. It is a lesson for me to always appreciate and be thankful for all the little things I have.”

Looking for a better harvest this year. A young girl plants vegetables near her house in Patuakhali. (Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh/Rujina Sikder)

Despite the gratifying experience, the young leaders  also faced different challenges on their journey. Depicting people who had been severely hurt by the disasters was a difficult task. Md. Tajbit Ahammad recounts the tragic story of a pregnant woman he encountered in one of his trips:

“I met a pregnant woman who walked miles everyday to use a toilet that the family had built before the cyclone. However,  the cyclone eroded all the soil around the toilet area and now the tin-shed boundaries they had built are merely covered with cloth. The lady told me that on days when ships or boats sail by, she feels very insecure and wishes to get it repaired. However, since the family has been living from hand to mouth after the cyclone, even doing something this small is not possible.”

Tajbit was moved by the story of a woman in Patuakhali Sadar who walked miles everyday to use a toilet built by her family. After the cyclone, not much is left of the construction. (Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh/Tajbit Ahammad)

Each of the youth volunteers emphasized how such encounters inspired them to make a change for the better in their communities and wider society. By capturing these emotional stories and sharing them to the world through the art of photography, the four young people also act as an inspiration to other youth leaders in Bangladesh to take action to contribute to the wellbeing of others.

This spirit of youth action is precisely what Bangladesh needs as it aims to build back better from the setbacks caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The future of Bangladesh depends on its youth and adolescents, and the earlier they get accustomed to taking leadership to address issues around them, the more prepared they will be to take on the enormous task of spearheading the development of the Bangladesh of tomorrow.