A Community Within A Community
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
The room adorned with patriotic red-and-green, walls boasting photos of traditionally dressed youngsters and a serious bunch huddled on a table, excitedly planning their next endeavours. Walking into the Bangladeshi Students' Association (BSA) at University of Toronto (UofT) could not have been more welcoming. The BSAs are a network of student organisations across North America founded in 1997 that cater to Bangladeshi students through various social and cultural activities in an attempt to build a community of mentors, friends and likeminded individuals. Next to organisations that represent one country or the other at different universities, the BSA stands as a unique community that represents Bangladesh, supports charities back in the country and allows students to find a second home.
Together, BSA forms a tight-knit family of young Bangladeshis across North America.
Photo: Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
I met Samiya Anjum Bhuiya, current Co-President at UofT BSA's St. George campus on a chilly November evening. As part of the Executive Board, Samiya and her colleagues Moinul Delwar (Co-President, BSA UofT St. George) and Riasat Ahmed (Vice President, BSA UofT St. George) were busy finalising invitation cards for their upcoming event, a night of fusing traditional beats with Western acoustics to promote Bangladeshi as well as non-Bangladeshi talents.
“I left Bangladesh a while back and finished school here. At my school, my sister and I were the only Bangladeshis and we couldn't relate to the few we met elsewhere,” reminisced Samiya. “After joining UofT, I attended an annual dinner and cultural event organised by BSA, and after a long time, found contemporaries I could relate to. I made friends from Bangladesh or with Bangladeshi roots and this sense of community drew me towards becoming a more active member of BSA.”
“I agree with Samiya,” added Riasat. Having done most of his schooling in Dubai, Riasat is pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Psychology at UofT. “I had trouble coping up with my studies, life and newfound responsibilities, and the fact that I had very few people I could talk to about it. At the BSA dinner in my first year, I bumped into people with similar difficulties, and soon we became friends.”
BSAs often organises cultural and music events to promote
talents from home and bring people together. Photo: Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Moinul, however shares a different story. Although his roots are embedded into Bangladesh, he comes from Botswana and had spent most of his life without having to interact with Bangladeshis. However at BSA, Moinul recalls being more 'connected' than ever. “Subconsciously, I have always been able to relate more to my 'Western' ideologies as opposed to South Asian ones. I have been pessimistic initially, but when I ended up meeting people like Samiya and Riasat, who I could relate to, I became more curious to know more about my roots. For me, BSA is more of a platform for connecting with my origins and doing what I can as someone who is rediscovering his country.”
Saminur Majumder, also on the Executive Board at BSA UofT (St. George) and graduate from SFX Green Herald Int'l School and Mastermind in Dhaka, explains how extracurricular clubs differ between countries. “When we think of a student run club at a school or college, we don't always take it seriously. We rarely have a mandate or procedure, and sometimes fail to be consistent. When I joined BSA, I was overwhelmed with how professional it was. We had to audition to play a role at the annual drama, and everyone needs to be very committed and responsible in order to be a part of it. We not only have events, but we support many charities back home which make our work more meaningful. We are even endorsed by local Counselors and MPs, so unlike our perception of an extracurricular activity, that we often do to get into a good US or Canadian university we have passed that stage of life and are here because we love it.”
Through the conversations, I came to learn about the strong network of BSAs across Canada and the U.S. In Canada only, BSA boasts a total of 600+ members and supports charities, organises festivals and builds a community of young Bangladeshis. Each BSA, as Samiya explained to me, has a unique strength for example, BSA at Ryerson organises sports events to bring people together, while BSA at UofT has performance nights. Members of one BSA often attends events organised by other BSAs, and together, form a tight-knit family where people can come to connect, to share, to communicate, to be at home.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2011