Adhunika: Young Women Determined to Dream
By Shahana Hanif
My path crossed with Shahnaz Apa’s in 2015 at a conference in Washington DC. We didn’t get in touch until after the summit and have since been crossing paths because that’s just how sisterhood works. In fact, it was she who messaged me on Facebook initiating friendship and encouraging that we meet as soon as possible. From her I learned about the importance of transnational organizing and bridging sisterhood across borders. From her I learned that visions for change and justice require long-term commitment, even if a fundraiser yields more volunteers than guests and donors. From her I continue to learn that there is no rush in growing up, that the journey to growing up and the people we meet on the way are to be treasured.
Without Shahnaz Apa, there is no Adhunika Women’s Centre (AWC). As the organization reaches its 15th year of empowering and transforming the lives of young, working-class women, most from poverty-ridden households, through skills-based trainings focusing on technology, career and psychosocial counseling, and women’s bodily autonomy, it was just this year that the group organized a fundraiser event in Dhaka, where the Centre is located. Previously, all funding for the courses and programming at the Centre were and continue to be pulled collectively from its supporters in the US, while the Sajida Foundation manages and oversees the maintenance and funds dissemination in Dhaka. When Shahnaz Apa, based in USA, discussed with me her ideas for a fundraiser in Dhaka, I found her initiation to be bold, especially because she wouldn’t be flying in for it. Through my time at the Centre, I learned that the organization doesn’t revolve around her physical presence nor does it idolize her leadership at all, it is wholly about the young women it serves and their leadership development.
Housed in Dhaka’s Azimpur, I visited the Centre during its Saturday morning classes to get acquainted with staff, students, and programs. My tour guide was the Centre’s manager, Nazma Khatun Apa, who walked me through the modestly-sized office and introduced me to current students, many who live in nearby hostels and attend public colleges including the prestigious Eden Women’s College, seated for an English speaking class through Skype followed by a Graphic Design course taught by Ayesha Akter Apa. Nazma Apa and I also workshopped how to deliver an effective presentation and pitch for a fundraiser, two skills that improve only with practice. The harder of two is getting people to believe your visions for social change are worth their money. I asked Nazma Apa, “how will you ask me for a donation?” With scores of social change causes and a cooptation of women’s rights and access to education by large corporations and foreign aid agencies, why should I become a long-term donor to a small grassroots initiative in Dhaka? This is when she loaded the screen with clips of young women dreamers who shared being raised in a large, low-income family, congested apartment, father’s occupation as a rickshaw puller, having to do part-time work to support herself and the education of younger siblings, and no access to affordable and accessible spaces beyond a tutoring center. They shared stories of how Adhunika provided and continues to deliver what no one else has given them including diligent preparation for the job market, scholarship opportunities to continue Adhunika’s courses, and other skills not taught at home nor in schools. With love and care, Nazma Apa also shared that the Centre’s students are brilliant to get placed in competitive, top universities but lack positive mentorship, equal work opportunities and placement, and empowerment to dream and fulfill those dreams. Nazma Apa herself has been a part of Adhunika Women’s Centre for four years and has seen the growth and success of every young woman who’s connected with organization.
On Saturday March 11th, 2017, Adhunika Women’s Centre’s held an impressive first-edition Dhaka fundraising event in Gulshan’s Cadet College Club. Each guest was greeted with Bangladeshi hospitality and souvenirs: a fresh rose, folder containing all there is to know about AWC, and an I SUPPORT ADHUNIKA badge pin. Nazma Apa delivered her presentation with clarity and eloquence, highlighting confidently the Centre’s programs, personal narratives, and how funds are allocated within programs and student scholarships. Several current and alumni students shared their testimonies of the lasting impacts of AWC. The evening concluded with musical brilliance by Armeen Musa and her all-femme band. I was surprised to learn that Armeen had previously performed in many Adhunika Foundation’s benefit events in NYC for AWC; it’s touching to know the deep and lasting commitment of volunteers to the organization. During the debrief, there was collective disappointment that the turnout was low and money raised was not nearly enough to sustain all that was presented during the event. The feedback is important, but we mustn’t give up nor overlook the success of a first-time fundraiser in a city not too comfortable donating to small, women-led, women-centered, grassroots initiatives. We will organize harder.
To continue providing a centre for young women, duplicate this model in other more remote areas (currently, Adhunika is a single entity in Azimpur, Dhaka), and admit more students, AWC needs committed individual donors. Tremendous labor of love from volunteers in the US and the Sajida Foundation (a special shout out to Zahida Fizza Kabir Apa, Executive Director at Sajida, who manages the Centre on the ground) go into making what Adhunika stands for: nurturing young women to actualize her own power and autonomy through a grassroots platform built on sisterhood and progressive values. My narrative is more than a fundraiser elevator pitch, though I am interested in your money for Adhunika. If any of the above resonates with your values for a just world, consider becoming a donor or volunteering at Adhunika.
Ways you can donate: http://www.adhunika.org/donate
To volunteer in US, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org