by Kimberly Muellers
On a stifling July day in Baltimore, I found myself in a room full of people – doctors, their husbands and wives, their children – and I suddenly felt the weight of the real world fall on me. I was there, at the Bangladeshi Medical Association of North America’s annual conference, to represent Brighter Dawns and present our cause to an audience. My colleagues and classmates at Wesleyan University had given dozens of presentations, ran plenty of booths at lectures and conferences, so this should have been old hat. But as I looked around the room at BMANA, full of medical professionals from across the continent, I realized that this was different. I wasn’t at Wesleyan anymore, and though the cause was the same, I had to reflect on how Brighter Dawns fit in to this new situation.
Although Brighter Dawns has been a registered charity for over a year and a half, our existence as an organization has always been tied to the student status of its founders, for better or for worse. While many in the non-profit world laud the enthusiasm and originality that comes with youth, our identity as a young organization has also hindered us at times. Donors, partners and advisers are skeptical of our ability to make a positive impact, concerned that we don’t understand the complex world of international development. I have been told, often by those who mean well, that other non-profits have tried to tackle the issues of poverty and health disparity for years and had found all the solutions.
But at BMANA, I came to understand the importance of our position as a young organization, and the potential for us to grow now that we have graduated. While many organizations run by college students remain in that demographic, we set our sights on a broader field from the beginning: we wanted to reach as many people as possible, and improve as many lives as we could. We reached out to college students, businesspeople, academics, doctors and many others, and discovered that people from all walks of life are compelled by a good cause. The people I met at BMANA were all working for the same goals as us: to improve the health of others in whatever way they could. Generosity, compassion and a connection to Bangladesh’s rich, cultural identity inspired many people to offer us advice and support. Seeing that these professionals had confidence both in me, a nervous young person in a room full of experienced doctors, and in us, a fledgling organization, my own hopes for Brighter Dawns were reignited.
It’s true that we are young, and we are still learning; but this is what gives us the potential to change the world. As Americans doing non-profit work in Bangladesh, one of the most important things for us to succeed is to gain an understanding of the people we seek to help. And as recent college graduates, learning is an essential part of our lives: every day we seek knowledge in classes, at a new job, in a new place. This hunger for knowledge has driven us to keep working with Brighter Dawns after graduation, since the more we know, the more we feel compelled to find solutions to the water and sanitation crisis in Bangladesh.
For some, it would have been easy to walk away and leave this work behind as a relic of their college years. But with the help of the countless advisers, volunteers and supporters who have guided us along the way, I feel confident that Brighter Dawns can continue to thrive through the energy of those young and old who have been drawn to our cause. With this energy, thirst for knowledge and the spark of innovation, we can fight the specter of waterborne disease in ever more effective ways, and bring brighter days to Bangladesh.