By WorldTeach Bangladesh volunteer Quidsia Ishaq, 2016
From the moment I arrived in Chittagong, Bangladesh to the time I was leaving a year later, I felt as though my life was in perpetual motion. From the overwhelmingly crowded and busy streets of the city to life as a WorldTeach volunteer at the Asian University for Women, nothing was static. I arrived at AUW thinking I was going to be a Public Health Teaching Assistant and part time English TA; however, on arrival I discovered that AUW required the WorldTeach Volunteers to work on their pilot project, Pathways for Promise, which required teaching English full-time to young women who had mostly not been in school for a while as they had been working in garment factories to support their families. This sudden change of plans was a challenge, yet the orientation and the support WorldTeach and the other senior teachers provided were elemental in turning me into a confident and enthusiastic English teacher.
Working as an English teacher with the Pathways for Promise students turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I got to be a part of something new. Everything was in constant revision, from the books to the classroom. However, the one constant was the phenomenal student body. Over the course of the year, I had three different classes and I was amazed by how much these young women taught me. Their thirst for knowledge, their dedication to education, the challenges they have faced to arrive to this place and their courage were truly remarkable to witness. Their constant enthusiasm was inspirational.
Working with the Pathways for Promise students provided me the opportunity to not just work on extracurricular activities but to also help establish many key components of this new program. I had the great fortune of working with the social mentors for the Pathways students. Creating and running workshops with my fellow WorldTeach volunteers. Not only did we have a successful year of peer mentorship, we took the program further by initiating a talent show organized by the social Mentor. Considering that it was a first of its kind Pathways event, I was amazed by the fact that we had 25 performers representing over six countries. I feel grateful for all the student mentors who helped put together the show and so very proud of all the student and staff performers. There was a phenomenal turnout and it was an extremely successful event.
As a whole, the student body at AUW loves celebrations. Whether it is birthdays or new years, anything and everything that can be celebrated is celebrated. Never before in my life had I imagined celebrating New Years over and over again. First there were the Chinese New Year celebrations, then Nowruz, the Persian New Year, followed by the grand celebrations of Pohela Boishakh, the Bengali New Year and the Burmese New Year Water Festival. When it comes to celebrations, everything is celebrated with such pomp and enthusiasm at AUW that at Halloween, I truly felt as though I had entered the alternative reality of the Harry Potter universe. From the detailed decorations to the elaborate costumes, no stone was left unturned to achieve the visual effect of the Great Hall at Hogwarts. The magic and the mastery of AUW students can be surpassed by none.
Being away from home during the important holidays can be a challenge. In September, during the Eid ul Adha celebrations, I felt sad about being away from family and friends but I came to the realization that I was not the only one away from home during this holiday. So many of the Pathways for Promise students were also unable to make their way back to their homes whether they are from Afghanistan, Myanmar or even some from remote locations in Bangladesh. So I decided to celebrate with all of our students left on campus. The Invitations were issued to all Pathways students and they answered. On the day of the Eid party, my apartment was filled to the brim. Fifty-some students and faculty came out to celebrate. There was lots of cooking, tons of food and mishit (Bangladeshi sweets) were consumed, elaborate henna tattoos were created, and dance challenges were issued. It was a beautiful celebration of life, our friendship and togetherness.
I am thankful to WorldTeach for providing me with this great opportunity to volunteer at Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Teaching the students at AUW has been an extremely rewarding and fulfilling experience. This institution has been my place of work, home and life for the past year. Coming to the end of this year, I look back and feel as though time has truly flown by. Reflecting on the past year, I know that I am truly blessed to have experienced life as a volunteer at AUW, to have taught the students I taught, to have worked with the people I worked with, to have made lifelong friendships and to have become the person I have become inspired by this experience. I will miss this place terribly. I will miss the friendships and I will miss my students, I will miss the smiling faces and I will indeed miss the chaos of Chittagong.
Bonus video of Bangladesh footage from fellow WorldTeach volunteer Jessica Obi! Jessica’s personal blog can be found here.