“Jante Chai,” which means ‘want to know’ in Bengali – is a project that connects university students with underprivileged street children with the goal of mutually enriching their lives. My colleague Afra and I came up for the idea for the project when the South Asia Region of the World Bank provided an opportunity for young people to design and implement our own project known as the Emerging TTL Fund.
We not only wanted to conduct a survey on the lives of 200 street children, find about their living standards and access to services, we also wanted to connect them with university students, who are comparatively privileged. This provides an opportunity for the students to engage in practical experience and learn about their communities and for the street children to learn about potential services that are available to them. Our core idea was to include local youth in the development process in their communities which is critical to sustainable and inclusive development.
Right after our arrival in Dhaka, we held a workshop to provide 20 3rd year University of Dhaka Economics students with an introduction of our project as well as instructions on conducting the survey which includes data collection and analysis. We emphasized that our objective was also for them to really interact with the children, talk to them to understand their lives and think about what they could do to connect with them.
Afterwards, many of the students were very empathetic of the difficulties and problems that the street children face. A nine-year-old child said that he had lost his father and has been responsible for the whole family ever since. Another student met a child who had to sometimes go without food when he could not work because of the rain. The children left an indelible impact on each individual student.
Even with the short time frame and limited budget, we feel that our aim has been fulfilled – in more ways than expected. When checking the final data the students had collected, they were eager to share their experiences, learn about how the World Bank is contributing, and what they could continue to do to help.
The students thought about the wider impact of making small differences in the world around them. One said, “If we really want to do something, we can do it.” –they realized their potential to make a difference in their communities. The students are thinking of different ways of helping the street children including providing them with further knowledge of available services, and hosting basic courses that the children can attend free of charge using facilities around the University of Dhaka.
This is just the beginning…