“The Journey of a Thousand Miles must begin with a single step” – Lao Tzu
I came across this quote at the United Nations ESCAP building in Bangkok, when I was representing Bangladesh as a youth ambassador for a high-level climate change conference in 2012. The writing was boldly engraved on a wall on the second floor and I found myself staring at that wall often during my brief stay there. It made me think about all the great things which happened in the world- the ideas, the discoveries, the mad creativity- all which began with a simple step, by individuals daring enough to change the world. This quote became a part of my ideology and has played a significant role in molding the person I am today.
I was born and raised in Bangladesh, a South Asian nation with a rich culture and history but which burdened with many social problems faced by its people on a regular basis. Now, such conditions would have motivated a rational individual to live somewhere else; after all, who wants to live in a society filled with pollution, gender inequality, nepotism, political instability, etc. But being the crazy person that I am – I decided to work on these problems and challenges that people in my country face. Problems excite me – because creating a solution for it which will help people is a sensation I strive for. Helping people is something which gives a powerful meaning to this short yet exciting life.
In 2013, I decided to start an organization with a couple of high school friends. Young and naïve, we wanted to tackle the social problems head on and help people overcome their hardships in order to make a positive impact in our society. Our organization was named ‘Footsteps’, inspired by the quote I had stumbled upon in Bangkok just a few years back.
For our first project, ‘A Heartwarming Winter’, we distributed winter aid among the destitute in the Northern Region of Bangladesh. Our expectation was met with a vicious reality – even though we had trucks full of aid to distribute, it wasn’t enough for the thousands of climate refugees there. Chaos erupted as people tried trampling over others to seize warm clothing and medicine before anyone else. It was then when we realized that the magnitude of such social problems was much larger and complex then we could’ve expected.
Like the crazy people we are, we were more excited at the prospect of creating a solution than intimidated by the problem. We began reaching out to communities, raising awareness on social issues and designing projects based on the impact that we wanted to see. We focused more on what kind of change people needed instead of imposing change upon them. That’s when we started seeing results of our work, when people effectively began interacting with our projects. Our journey as changemakers were finally making an impact.
Over the years, we have gained tremendous experience working in the development sector. But the most important lesson has been that, in order to deal with a multi-dimensional problem such as Climate Change or Gender Equality, we have to design a solution that takes into account the complexity of these issues.
One of our main projects today is ‘Project Trishna’, a social venture which addresses one of the biggest social problems existing in our society – access to safe drinking water. The project is designed to provide a Corporate Social Responsibility platform for private corporations and entities to set up our filtration system in a community spaces; a youth empowerment platform by training high school and college students on marketing and pitching the project to potential investors; and raising health awareness by conducting water tests for households. Since 2015, the project has set up over 80 community water filtration systems in Bangladesh, creating access to millions of liters of safe drinking water for all.
Although we’ve worked in various fields of community development – such as conducting self defense training sessions for women to facilitating educational workshops on unconventional topics in high schools – our work mainly revolves around the environmental challenges. Global warming and unchecked pollution levels, the people in Bangladesh are facing a tremendous set of challenges. Our goal is to focus on these problems and design multi-dimensional solutions that incorporate other issues, such as women empowerment, poverty alleviation, etc. Along with creating solutions, we also provide training facilities and platform to young people so they can implement their own ideas to make a difference; we began when we were very young, and hence we want to provide guidance to the passionate young changemakers so they also can take their first step towards greatness.
Since our organization’s inception, we’ve grown by both numbers and impact. People have joined in, conversations have been initiated, and ideas shared- all in an effort to make our society a better place. The objective of Footsteps remains simple- address complex problems by designing multi-dimensional and creative solutions. We seek to achieve a world free of the three Ps- Pollution, Poverty, Prejudice, and we can achieve it together with other people.
Inspired by both Lao Tzu and Gandhi, we’ve crafted our own motto, and with it we would like to invite you to take a step alongside us, towards creating a better society.
“Be the Change, Take A Step” – Footsteps Foundation
More on Shah: http://youngleadersfordev.org/author/shah-chowdhury