It’s Spring (semester)!!

As we dive well into the semester, I can’t help but emphasize the value that practical learning has had on my experience as a second-year Biology major and Health Studies minor. During winter break, I worked as an extern at the Neuroradiology department of University Hospital, Zurich in Switzerland. Over a period of three weeks, I was shadowing a neuroradiologist on his daily rounds from 6 a.m.-6 p.m., scrubbing in to see surgeries that made me realize how critical the science of the nervous system is and how strong communication and apt stroke management can help conduct critical neurointerventions effectively. Owing to how busy my schedule was, I only ever went out into Zurich during the weekend, but I was able to immerse
myself into a world of Swiss chocolates during the duration of my trip!

The Confiserie Sprüngli is a Swiss luxury confectionery
Sprungli is internationally known for its signature macarons called “Luxemburgerli”









My father decided to surprise me because I was unable to go back home to meet my family. We spent a wonderful weekend at one of our favorite cities – Lucerne.  The quality father-daughter time during the last week of my externship made me more focused going into the spring semester. The experience not only helped me to relax by allowing me to work in a different country, but it also planted in me a newfound respect for neurologists and the meticulous manner in which surgeries are conducted. 

Lake Lucerne
I would spend my afternoon breaks here




Old city, Zurich












This semester, I am mostly taking science-heavy courses and I am also getting EMT certified. One might think that I rarely ever have time for myself to do the things I love, and although that may be true, I have taken up journaling as a hobby.  Not only does it help me to organize my thoughts and provide space for introspection and reflection, it helps me keep track of my progress throughout the semester.

I have also made it a point to go out into the city more, and I do so by volunteering at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). I volunteer at a surgical unit and assist the full-time staff with the day to day operations of the hospital.

I am currently in a Human Physiology class and am absolutely enjoying the lab component of the class. We had to dissect frog legs in order to gain a better understanding of muscle composition in the frog’s legs.  Organic chemistry lab is also taking an interesting turn and we are embarking on a 5-week long independent synthesis project where we aim to synthesize warfarin analogues.

The South Asian Students Association had their cultural showcase during the first week of February this year. The theme of the show was “Shakti” – a Sanskrit word meaning female energy and power. The performances were powerful and empowering. The show also featured “fajjr+ali” – an indie based duo from New York City. There was a fashion show towards the end – highlighting the colorful plethora of South Asian traditional wear – it was truly a good start to the weekend. 



The fashion show
A dance piece by Mayuri






As mentioned in previous blog posts, I am a student coordinator for the Body Image Council. This year’s peer leader training workshop will be happening soon! My fellow coordinators and I are excited to share our vision of a more inclusive Bryn Mawr with interested participants.

It’s a very busy time for all of us, but Spring 2019 is proving to be the most dynamic semester yet!


An eventful weekend

As a student coordinator for Bryn Mawr’s Body Image Council alongside Emily George’ 21 and Iris Liu ‘ 19, it is my responsibility to strive towards making Bryn Mawr a more accepting campus towards all body types. On Thursday, 8/11, BIC collaborated with EnAble (the accessibility club on campus) to conduct a joint movie viewing of Margarita with a Straw – a heartwarming story of a girl suffering from cerebral palsy who makes her way to pursue higher studies in the United States. The movie tackles themes surrounding sexual orientation, disability, self-discovery and relationships between a mother and her daughter, lovers and friends. There was a brief discussion followed by the movie screening. We spoke of the different resources that are available to students on campus and also highlighted the various ways in which Bryn Mawr can strive to be a more accessible campus to its students. I started working towards a more positive Bryn Mawr experience for myself and for my peers when I became a peer leader for the Bryn Mawr Body Project. Now, as student coordinators of BIC, Emily, Iris and I work alongside the Health Centre and Student Athletics in hopes of making this college a more accepting and acknowledging place of various bodies. I personally liked Margarita with a Straw. Laila’s strength and resilience, in embracing life and its various intricacies left a mark on me and perhaps gave voice to my reason for being so actively involved with BIC. 

Last Friday also marked the joint Eid/Diwali celebration hosted by the MSA, SAS and the DSA. Students all over campus gathered together to join us in celebration of our respective religious and cultural observances. It was a great night – a wide variety of Indian food catered from Tiffin Indian Cuisine was served, a lot of the South Asian students on campus dressed in their cultural clothes (either the salwar kameez or the sari), and we danced our hearts out to the blaring Bollywood music. 

I have previously mentioned that I am taking a Social Epidemiology class at Haverford College. As part of our total grade, we were instructed to take the route 23 bus between 11th and Market Street from Center City to Chestnut Hill in order to observe the built environment around us. It was particularly interesting because as someone who is generally not particularly receptive to her surroundings, I started to view Philadelphia in a new light. We had to relate our observations to readings that drew a positive correlation between neighborhood conditions and health outcomes in communities. After soaking up ample material to talk about in our reports, by classmate and I walked around Chestnut Hill for a bit. It was a dainty town – with cobbled streets, fancy boutiques and an overall Bryn Mawr-esque vibe. We spent a good portion of our time on the way back talking about what we had seen around us and how we could relate them to the demographic characteristic that each place encompassed.

Today, I attended a volunteer reflection meeting for Holisticare Hospice. We talked about all the patients that we have been assigned and it felt great to sit back and reflect on our actions as volunteers for families that are experiencing the “end of life” experience.

As a very busy week ends and we are on our way to a new one, I am once again thankful for the place and the people that I continue to be surrounded by.


Sophomore year of an aspiring academic

I declared my major in biology earlier in the week after much debate. The human body and its various intricacies have never failed to amaze me ever since I was a three year old trying to convince her micro-biologist grandfather to let her look through his microscope. I came into college thinking that I would be a biochemistry major and molecular biology major but owing to the diverse list of courses that Bryn Mawr offers, and with my interest in health systems, I started to develop an interest towards public health. Although Bryn Mawr does not provide public health as a major, the Bi-Co Health Studies minor is a good alternative.

As I have mentioned earlier, in order to get approved for study abroad next semester, I have decided to focus more on some of major and college-wide requirements this semester. Hence, the decision to take on five classes seemed like an impossibly possible task. I have a wide array of courses this semester that range from STEM to the humanities and an intersection between the two.

Organic Chemistry I – the academic life of a pre-med in their sophomore year seems to revolve mainly around this course (a trend that I’ve seen amongst most upperclassmen and my fellow classmates). My instructor for this course in Dr. Maryllen Nerz-Stormes and is probably the entire class’s biggest source of motivation. We have an exam coming up on conformation analysis, acid-base reactions and resonance – and like for any other exam, my study group sessions are in full swing. This course also has a lab component that undergraduates can do with post-baccs. Orgo lab is fun – I’ve learned several new techniques this year and have made my fair share of mistakes while attempting to conduct my experiments. 

Topics in the British Empire – this 200-level reading and discussion based history class taught by Professor Madhavi Kale, focuses on the history of colonised India and the different perspectives/events that led to the birth of independent sovereign nations as a result. As a Bangladeshi, my knowledge regarding the matter is not as broad as it should be and it’s very interesting to see why things came to be the way they are now and how history aids us in being able to understand that. We’re reading accounts by James Mill and a book by Romila Thapar currently and are analyzing the various ways in which a historian chooses to contextualize a given time period in history. 

Introduction to Health Studies and Social Epidemiology (at Haverford) – Both of these classes are to be counted towards my minor in Health Studies. The intro class, taught by Dr. Susan White,  focuses on the mechanism, representation and social structures of various diseases – currently, we’re going over influenza. Visiting professor Anne Montgomery, teaches Social Epidemiology and it is probably one of the most interesting classes that I have ever taken. We try to analyze various social determinants of health and read extensively in order to gain a better understanding as to how they may contribute to the theoretical model of how the social world gets under our skin.

Introduction to Neuroscience – this 200-level biology course taught by Dr. Karen Greif is probably my favorite amongst all the courses that I am taking this semester. Although very challenging in terms of the depth of material that one has to remember, it is fascinating to see how the smallest of neurobiological processes tend to have such complex mechanisms. I personally like writing bi-weekly blog posts that discuss a neurological topic highlighted by an assigned Scientific American article. Not only does further research on the matter enable us to understand how neurological experiments are conducted, they also assist in making us realize how intricate the the higher-order functions of the nervous system truly can be.

It is very difficult to find a balance between my academics, work-study commitments and off-campus volunteering engagements. However, I have realised that the key to not be overwhelmed by the girth of assignments and responsibilities that I have to live up to (mainly this coming week) is to work happy. If something is worth doing, it really is worth doing well. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who will act as your support system, eating healthy, getting proper sleep, ( 5 AM yoga, in my case), going out into the city from time to time to appreciate what’s beyond Bryn Mawr might make the work load somewhat manageable.

It’s all about taking in the beauty around us
Nitisha Bhandari’22 and I taking time off to play with kittens!









I really do hope that the rest of the semester is a smooth ride for us all. We’re almost approaching Thanksgiving break!





An ode to self-care and self-growth

We’ve reached a point in the semester where the wheels are in full motion, midterms are in full swing, cups are filled with caffeine and the general adrenaline around campus is high. As someone who is currently enrolled in five courses this semester, it is natural to become overwhelmed with how fast paced my days are. To top it all off, I was sick throughout fall break and my productivity hit an all-time low. I do not recall ever sleeping as much as I did during that week – an indication that I was not tending to my body’s needs (self-care is SO important). Thankfully, although I did have a lot of assignments due for the week following fall break, I managed to take some time off for myself in order to appreciate the things that continued to happen around me.

On Friday, after three hours of organic chemistry lecture plus problem solving and two hours of hospice volunteering, I needed a breather. Don’t get me wrong. I love organic chemistry and the patient that I’m currently spending time with; but it is essential that I take some time out of my busy schedule to reflect and plan ahead.  Hence, I took to my favorite place during times like these – Manayunk, PA. It is a small, trendy town located approximately fifteen minutes away from Center City. Mainly known for its famous eateries and bars, this town generally tends to attract a younger population. I love walking around the streets of Manayunk and that is how I came upon Safa – a cosy Persian tea place. I am always on the hunt for good tea and it was pleasant to see the wide selection of teas that this place offered. I went with the classic Persian tea and got some pastries to go along with it. The ambiance of the cafe makes for a great study spot and the change in work space was refreshing for both my friend and I.

Persian tea with an assortment of sweets
A gem in the heart of Manayunk








The past weekend also marked Halloweekend. I serve as a classroom aide in the Phebe Anna Thorne School and spent my Thursday carving pumpkins with kids and talking about costume ideas for Halloween. Some of my hallmates in Brecon decorated their doors with stickers and signs in celebration of Halloween. There were several social events on campus during Saturday night which felt nice given how stressful weekends tend to be for most people at this time of year.

Sunday marked my favorite Bryn Mawr tradition – Lantern Night. Each class has its own color – green, light blue, red, and dark blue. This lantern night welcomed the incoming dark-blue first year class to Bryn Mawr. The lantern is symbolic to knowledge and wisdom and it is said that the passing down of the lantern is representative of the passing down of knowledge from upperclassmen to first-years. I volunteered to be a ticket taker this time and witnessed the magic of Lantern Night unfold before me – dimmed cloisters, dark blue lanterns, first-years adorned in our “cult-like” black robes.

The dark blue lantern
Getting the lanterns ready for the Class of 2022






Upperclassmen and first-years take part in step sing afterwards

It truly is a humbling experience. I was ticket-taking with a current senior and after completion of the event, we went on to discuss what the event meant to us. Something they said to me will perhaps stick with me forever, “I realised how much I have changed, how much I have grown since my first lantern night.” There was so much truth to their words. Bryn Mawr does change you, at least it changed me. It pushes you to reach new heights, leads you towards self-discovery, makes you experience community via decades worth of traditions and I hope that by the time I am a senior, I too will have learned and loved to appreciate the things about me and around me.

Welcome, Class of 2022.

A picture from my Lantern Night last year. Pictured Tanjuma Haque’21 (left) and Hilana El-Mekkoussi’21 (right)



Cherry picking the good, leaving behind the bad

The past week has been interesting. I had to sit for two midterms for my neuroscience and organic chemistry classes, write an essay for my history class while having to maintain my other on-campus commitments. As you can already tell, I was extremely overwhelmed by the time it was Friday afternoon and I dragged myself out of lab lecture. To top it all off, I spent a good portion of that week sleep-deprived and sick. My caffeine yield for organic chemistry lab was terribly low and as someone who tries to set a benchmark for her work, I was extremely demotivated. However, I decided to treat myself at the Cheesecake Factory as I finished the final episode of my favorite show “Parks and Recreation.” The next day, my hell mom, Ariella Gifford ’19 took me apple picking. It was something that I had never done before and naturally, I was indifferent to the hype that was going around campus about Linvilla Orchards. 






In what seemed like the cutest little town, Media, PA, Ari and I drove our way into the orchard. It was a Saturday morning and we were greeted by a hoard of families. What I probably adored the most from the day was the little children who would frolic around the orchard with wonder in their eyes. Ari made it a point that I had my first ever funnel cake and it completely blew me away.

Funnel cake!! (Featured Ari Gifford ’19)

Our first stop was at the hay ride that drove us through the orchard – we saw pumpkin patches, a vegetable patch, strawberry patches, corn fields as we paved our way through the magnificent orchards. The wind blowing against us was probably the highlight of the ride because being the romantic that I am, with every breeze that hit me I felt more liberated.

All aboard the hay ride!

Having entered a somewhat “zen” mode we made our way to the apple fields next. I was lost in a myriad of granny smith and fuji apples for a good hour. We ended the day with picking out a pumpkin to carve and with apple cider doughnuts.

That evening, the Asian Students Association at Bryn Mawr and Haverford arranged a cultural night showcasing Pan-Asian, South-Asian, South-East Asian and East Asian cultures. The evening was filled with relearning to embrace my cultural roots as the dancers in Mayuri and Afreen – two prominent Bi-Co South-Asian dance groups – graced the floor with various genres of Bollywood Music. There were performances by Choom Boom, several solo artists who danced to traditional Chinese music and by a very talented gymnast (who is currently a freshman here). Alex Lu – a spoken word poet from Los Angeles spoke to us about the struggle of immigrants in order to make a life for themselves in America, about the the need to fight not only for ourselves and our dreams but for our families too and most importantly about belonging. The night ended with a fashion show highlighting the traditional/ethnic wear all over Asia. 

This week, I have a literature review due for my Social Epidemiology class and am doing infra-red spectroscopy in my lab for organic chemistry. I will also be organizing the Pre-Health Society’s first meet-and-greet for the semester. Organizing events, and acting as outreach really does strengthen one’s ability to coordinate themselves in a group. Thankfully, the upperclassmen who are on the e-board for this club are the nicest of souls. Going forward, I am excited to welcome fall break with open arms. I will be staying on campus because I intend to catch up on readings and to work at the Phebe Anna Thorne School. I am looking forward to rediscovering Bryn Mawr in a good light again because although academia can be hard, it is broadening my horizons in ways that I never thought was possible.

Hello Sophomore Year!

Studying in the brand new Park Science renovation. If you look closely, you’ll see the words “I’m excited” written by me on the board.

As we dive deeper into the semester, I am reminded of the beautiful summer that I had not so long ago. I went back home to Dhaka, Bangladesh and worked alongside two incredibly talented researchers in a neurobiology lab (unfortunately, laboratory based work is not for me). I had ample free time to spend with my loved ones, spent lazy afternoons beside my mother and carved my own way along the busy streets of Dhaka for the umpteenth time. Last year, freshman year, has left me feeling tired but empowered. I often found myself marveling at the things my body allows me to do, and let myself absorb every experience that life put me through. This year, I am trying not to be my usual worried self – and how can I? With the beautiful facade that is Bryn Mawr, even the most dull days seem to come with a silver lining.
Over the summer, I came into contact with a representative from Doctors Without Borders – an international humanitarian organization that acts as first responders to global crisis. Having been inspired by the super-humans who put their lives on hold simply so that they can tend to the needs of vulnerable populations made me want to do something for the organization. I was told that they’ve started establishing student chapters in colleges all over the U.S. This was an excellent opportunity to let the Bryn Mawr community become well acquainted with current global health issues and to also serve as a platform for advocacy for those in need. Now that the student chapter has been officially registered as a club here at Bryn Mawr, I am extremely excited to contribute whatever I can towards the organization’s mission. Pictured below, is our “swag” gear sent by Doctors Without Borders HQ in New York.I decided to take a social epidemiology class at Haverford this year and the past week, we talked about adverse child exposures and how that may lead to poor health in adults. It’s a very reading-based class, and hence, it was interesting to analyze the different studies that researchers published pertaining to the topic. One would say that it was pure coincidence when a close friend of mine introduced me to an organization named – Playgrounds for Palestine. As the name suggests, the organization relies heavily on donations to build playgrounds for children all over Palestine in hopes that amidst the conflict between Israel and Palestine, these kids will grow up with a place to play. Since 2007, the organization has successfully managed to build 42 playgrounds for children all over Palestine. I jumped on the bandwagon with my friend as we went to volunteer at the organization’s annual gala held at the University of Pennsylvania on September 22, 2018. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that persisted within the Middle Eastern community as everyone came together clad in traditional wear to support a noble cause. Dinner was traditional Palestinian food, and serving it turned out to be a fancy affair for us volunteers. Comedian Amer Zahr kept the guests’ mood cheerful throughout the evening. The day was a learning process for me because I picked up some common Arabic phrases, learned more about Palestine, and had my first shot at volunteering at a fundraiser. However, one moment of the event will stand out to me the most: while my friend and I were busy at the registration table, an elderly woman wearing earrings and a shawl that reminded me of home chanced upon us. She had a few questions about the schedule for the evening. One thing led to another and the three of us soon found ourselves lost in tales of travel. Turns out, she is a Mawrter! 

As our conversation about the places we’re from and the places we’ve been to escalated, our newfound Mawrter friend told us about her last visit to campus. It was to take part in the“ear-whispered artworks” by Tania El Khoury. She spoke of how deeply the Gardens Speak instillation had affected her and having shared the experience, we took to sharing our perspective of Tania El Khoury’s work. Gardens Speak was an experience that left me feeling broken yet empowered. I would strongly urge anyone who hasn’t been a part of her live art performance yet to participate in their free time.

I finished my training to become a hospice volunteer for Holisticare today and am currently swamped with work. As I try to be the best possible version of myself this year and am striking a balance between five classes, work and in all the endless opportunities around me, I am looking forward to a good year.


Done Is Good

I decided to share some of the pictures that I have been taking of the beautiful flowers outside Canaday, Great Hall and the Rock arch in this week’s post for they perfectly resonate with my current state of mind and showcase the appreciation that we all harbor for changing seasons from winter to spring or from sorrow to joy. Self-care is something that I have struggled with for the longest time and it was only when I was well into my second semester did I truly start to act upon it.

Here’s how my life was during my first semester at Bryn Mawr :
I thought I liked living in a messy place but too much chaos in my room meant unwashed clothes all over the floor, misplaced exam papers, lost books and note cards etc. I even resorted to not shower on a daily basis and to never make the walk from my dorm to the gym. I put away my tasks and was no longer the punctual person that I used to be. I suffered from reader’s block and writer’s block. I was homesick and thought that without my mother pushing me to work hard, I would be able to do nothing. I did not go out of my room and chose to be miserable. My grades went downhill and I felt trapped in this beautiful place. I wanted to leave.

So what did I do? I made use of the many resources that were made available to us. I went to talk to Stephanie Nixon – Title IX coordinator, went to a counselor in the Health Centre, sought help from Rachel Heiser regarding study strategies, and I talked to my Dean. I would still say that all of that was secondary to what seemed like the hardest thing I ever had to do – I had to stand on my feet and come to terms with the harsh reality of my situation. My life was in shambles and only I could fix it.

It took everything in me to wake up and go to my 9 a.m. French class every weekday. I did my best to pay attention in all my classes and to not distract myself with my phone. I participated in class and started feeling a lot better by doing so. I set out short-term goals for myself and I worked accordingly. I told myself that it was alright to mess up sometimes because the realization that follows is what matters the most. I gave myself time to spend the weekend with friends, I started interacting with people in the dining hall (where I work) a lot more, I did my laundry and tried my best to keep my room clean.I became a peer leader for a body positivity group on campus. I talked to my mom and told her I was scared to adult without her. In a few weeks time,  I was on my way towards accepting Bryn Mawr as home. This semester has been kind to me. I realised new academic interests and will be working towards them in the coming years. I joined a group comprising of the most supportive individuals on campus. I took the time to know my classmates outside an academic setting and can feel strong relationships starting to form. I went out of campus into Philadelphia – found my new favorite restaurant. I attended several lectures on campus and was awed by how everyone is doing their own part in contributing to a better future. But above all, I let myself make mistakes and when I fell, I learnt to accept them and let them teach me what not to do from next time onwards. I almost made it to May Day and the beautiful flowers around me act as an reminder that change is inevitable and no state of mind can ever be permanent. The point that I am trying to make here is that there are plenty of reasons to not feel your best and there are ample resources to ensure that you do feel your best. None of us are alone here. It takes a lot of courage to take charge of your life but then again, that’s why we’re all here! Get involved! Get active! Start living! This life has so much to offer and only you can ensure that you’re living it to the fullest! It’s absolutely fine to be scared, to hit rock bottom and not comprehend where your life is going, to be immersed in a completely new place and to not know how you’re supposed to act. With time, it all gets better. 
Here’s to conquering finals week and to completing my freshman year here at Bryn Mawr!


Celebrating the Bengali New Year, 1425 (Bryn Mawr edition)

The 14th of April, 2018 marked the first ever time that my roommate Tanjuma and I were away from home for Pohela Boishakh (the first day of the Bengali year). In Bangladesh, Pohela Boishakh serves as the biggest cultural celebration in Bangladesh. Thousands of Bengalis dressed in red and white welcome the new year. My homesickness hit an all time low that morning as my newsfeed on social media was filled with people celebrating this eventful day with their loved ones. However, the weather proved to be very nice on that Saturday (I soon learned to not take spring for granted because we had rain showers for the next two days), and my roommate was not one to sulk around in a corner even though we were halfway  across the world from the New Year celebrations.
We tried our best to satisfy the red and white color code and spent an entire hour trying to take aesthetic pictures in front of Rock arch. After all, if taking fake candids with a breathtaking backdrop was the closest thing to celebrating Pohela Boishakh at Bryn Mawr College, then so be it. Jokes aside, the trees were in full bloom and the magic of spring’s arrival touched my heart. I started to realize that it was going to be a good day.

Starting this fall, Tanjuma and a few other Mawrters will start an internship under  artist Tania El-Khoury. I for one, was never into art and was clueless of my best friend’s new obsession with this artist who is based in Beirut and London. A week earlier, she had convinced me to go into Philadelphia to attend a discussion featuring El-Khoury and a senior from Bryn Mawr. I readily agreed because I would never turn down a free trip to the city! Coincidentally, the event was on that beautiful spring day. Without having any prior knowledge of El-Khoury or her work as a live artist, I let my roommate tag me along to the lecture. It was being held at Twelve Gates Art Studio, and for the first time ever, I entered Philadelphia’s artistic wing. I saw streets filled with art exhibitions and people walking hand-in-hand, happy to be part of this world on that beautiful day. I never considered myself as much of an artist and was low-key wondering if this two hour Q&A session with this artist would be the perfect way to spend Pohela Boishakh.

When we entered Twelve Gates, I saw a beautiful curly-haired woman flaunting a neon orange dress. She smiled at us when we walked in. The art studio eventually got a bit too crowded as the event was open to the public.

El-Khoury performs art in which the audience is made to live through any given experience mostly pertaining to ethical and political encounters. The majority of the conversation revolved around her work in Gardens Speak, an interactive sound installation containing the oral histories of ten ordinary people who were buried in Syrian gardens.

Each narrative had been carefully constructed with the friends and family members of the deceased to retell their stories as they may have recounted them. They are compiled with found audio that accounts their final moments. The audience, in groups of ten, were directed towards ten headstones each containing the story of one Syrian who had died during the uprising. The audience was then asked to dig the soil under their feet to uncover a headphone and a pillow. They were then requested to lie on the pillow as the account of one Syrian played in their headphones. El-Khoury told us that their letters built a striking contrast between what the uprising was built around versus what is happening in Syria today. I was awestruck because this was probably the closest to death that I could ever imagine coming across in my lifetime.

El-Khoury explained another live art performance in which she asked refugees to paint the hands of members in the audience without looking at them. Here, she tried to establish a connection between the audience and the refugee, hoping that somehow they would understand the struggle that the painter’s hands bear.
El-Khoury was a pleasant mixture of spice and sass; she seemed unapologetic and was very unbiased in her opinion regarding being labeled a feminist. I found myself staring at her with so much wonder, and taking in everything she had to say about the world, and how important it is for us to know about the struggle of surviving in places where it is very difficult to do so. She is an avid humanitarian, and from what it seems, she is clearly doing her part for this world. At the end of the presentation, I promised myself that I would be the first in line to watch Gardens Speak this September at Bryn Mawr. My heart was filled with hope and joy because this world still has strong, smart and sensible women like El-Khoury – what a wonderful end to the first day of the Bengali year!

Follow Tania’s blog to learn more about her work. 

Of space and belonging – Part 1

NOTE: The following serves as a personal account during my work in a refugee camp and what to me is an aftermath of genocide. Individual’s consent has been obtained prior to taking photos.

After what seemed like the longest few months ever, I went back home for winter break upon finishing my first ever semester of college! I was excited to be a part of Dhaka city again.  Two long flights and a long layover in Qatar later, I was finally home.

I have heard that the word home supposedly refers to a feeling and not always a place. While I was still getting over jet lag and was lying on my bed of roses, my country – my home – was in shambles. The most densely populated nation in Southeast Asia was facing a massive influx of people from Myanmar – our neighbouring country. There has been an ongoing genocide in Myanmar specifically targeting an ethnic Muslim group called the Rohingyas. They have been rendered stateless and have not been officially recognised by Myanmar since 1982. Originally inhabitants of Rakhine – an impoverished state in Myanmar that has lacked hygiene and basic amenities from as early as the 12th century –  the Rohingyas have had to escape due to widespread persecution by the Burmese military.

One of many Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh in hopes of a better future. The man in the above picture, hopes to open his own tailor shop someday.

The crisis at hand:

After Myanmar’s independence from British rule in 1948, an Act enlisting which ethnicities would receive citizenship was passed. This Act ruled out the Rohingya Muslims who were then given foreign identity cards which hindered them from pursuing proper jobs. Many Rohingyas lacked proper documentation of being present in Myanmar before 1948 as a result of which, their presence in the land was questioned and several crackdowns were carried out in order to eliminate them from the face of  Myanmar.

However, it was not until mid-2017 that the persecution took its toll and gained international attention. On 25th August, Rohingya insurgents armed with knives and homemade bombs attacked more than 30 police posts in Northern Rakhine owing to decades of communal violence and persecution carried out by the military. The Burmese troops backed by local buddhist mobs then began burning their villages and attacking the civilians.   The United Nations has termed the violence against Rohingyas to be the hallmarks of a genocide. Nearly 500,000 Rohingyas fled and thousands were trapped in the no-man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Bangladesh took immediate action and managed to set up refugee camps in order to provide a living space for the thousands of refugees that set foot into the country although most of these refugees still remain undocumented. I reached out to a program manager in a domestic NGO when I made up my mind to visit and work in one such refugee camp. I dragged my jet lagged body to Cox’s Bazar (located in the southern region of Bangladesh) five days after I landed in Dhaka. If you had asked what I thought I would see back then, I wouldn’t be able to answer you. Images depicting the refugee crisis on Doctors Without Borders Instagram page was the closest that I had gotten to the refugee crisis.

Enroute to Balukhali, D5 Rohingya Camp:

The camp that I worked in and some of the children that I taught. Most of these kids were camera shy.

For four weeks, I worked in a day care centre and taught the most wonderful group of kids English and Bangla. They’re fairly well versed in Arabic. I would also assist in translating for foreign officials who would work in the distribution of relief goods and medicine. Sometimes, I would help the doctor-in-duty keep record of the patient’s history. During one such instance, I chanced upon a 20-year-old girl. She was pregnant – said her husband had been taken away by the military as they were trying to escape. Their first child was a still birth and this was their fifth attempt at having a baby. Her face full of hope was soon replaced with tears of confusion when the doctor told her she was HIV positive. They referred to it as a “sickness” that she might pass on to her child for she did not possess the ability to understand how detrimental HIV AIDS is. The very same day, I also learned that hundreds of Rohingyas are HIV positive indicating that this is a prevalent problem in their community. I believe that I hit my breaking point that night. Let me tell you why – we live in a world where we obsess over 20-year-old celebrities getting pregnant as opposed to coming together to help this 20-year-old refugee and hundreds like her. I continued to work around diphtheria-stricken people, cried with mothers who had lost their sons, daughters who were raped and left to rot, fathers who failed to keep their promise of a better tomorrow. The living conditions in the camps are terrible and I’d fall almost once every day as I tried to tread the “stairs” to the day care. Toddlers would clutch onto the ground in an effort to climb from one piece of land to another. The huts that they reside in are primarily made of wood and plastic (see below). During monsoons, Bangladesh – especially the southern region tends to be a victim to the worst floods ever. Imagine what will happen to those plastic houses then? Imagine how it will feel to see the  life that you’re trying to rebuild, crash in front of your eyes yet again.

What now?

We are receiving help from the United Nations. Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross, UNICEF and so many other international humanitarian organizations. The Bangladeshi army has set up additional camps to be able to provide a living space for the thousands of refugees that are escaping from Myanmar. And why shouldn’t we help them? If our 147,570 km of land can support 163 million lives, surely we can support 700,000 more.

This experience changed me. I don’t know if it’s for the better or the worse. Surely my belief in humanity was initially tarnished only to be rekindled again by the passion for mankind that every single aid worker in the camps possess. But my real question to you is – when, if ever, will we learn?
Continue reading “Of space and belonging – Part 1”

The Body Project

As a freshman in college, one may find it quite difficult to find their “people.” For me, it was no different. It was the first time that I had set foot on America and it was also the first time that I was present in a community that was so accepting of its members. I grew up surrounded by the “thin ideal.” Simply put, you had to have fair skin, be just the right amount of curvy with sleek straight hair and pearly whites. I was repeatedly reminded of my flaws and spent a fair amount of time struggling to accept my body. Eventually, that got into the way of my relationships with my friends and family because we were all victims of this supposed thin ideal and failed to recognize the individuality that we all encompassed.

I started feeling more comfortable in my own skin here at Bryn Mawr because I stopped hearing comments regarding how much weight I gained since the last time individual X saw me. I let my walls come down and managed to connect with my inner self for the first time ever. I was getting acquainted with a version of myself beneath all those layers. However, it wasn’t until a cold February weekend with ten of the kindest faces that I finally started to master self-acceptance.

The Bryn Mawr Body Project has been Assistant Athletic Trainer Laura Kemper’s “baby project” for the past three years, and is comprised of approximately thirty peer leaders. An email from her seeking applications for peer leaders for the Body Project served as the key to my new world. I submitted my application and was initially fairly nervous because I had just put that uncomfortable aspect of my being on paper. I never felt so exposed before. The day I heard back from the Body Image Council, I was over the moon. My story was finally heard by someone and they were willing to give me a chance.

Pictured – Peer leader training, 2018

The peer leader training was divided into two extensive workshops that lasted for a weekend. Ten of us were divided into three groups that took turns facilitating each workshop scenario. We talked about the media’s portrayal of an individual’s body and how it affected us and younger generations. We let everyone else get a glimpse of the insecurities that shaped our personalities. We thought of ways to overcome statements that promoted fat talk, and lastly, we spoke of the many ways in which our own bodies fascinate us. I found myself being able to breathe oh so steadily underneath the safety of Laura, the peer-leaders and the other facilitators. I never felt so empowered before; it was extremely rewarding to see that there were people who thought the same way I did, who realized that a change was necessary if we are to become a more inclusive community, and most importantly, who appreciated my sense of humor!

Our first very official workshop was presented in Bryn Mawr’s 2018 Community Day of Learning. We were armed with our custom-made t-shirts and were ready to change stereotypical damaging notions of the body one step at a time. I found the experience nerve-racking yet humbling because it was the first time that I had to present myself to a group of people who were not the other peer leaders. Our mini workshop was a success and in the end I couldn’t help but admire the strong army of individuals who were in this fight with me. I knew that with them by my side, I could be anyone I wished to be and could choose to do whatever I wanted to do.

Pictured: The peer leaders during 2018 CDL

The Body Project’s spring workshop is coming soon – stay tuned! We will also be hosting various events around campus to give everyone an open platform to speak about body image and self-esteem issues. I am so glad that I participated in this program because it changed how I view myself. It helped me believe that despite race, skin and gender, we are all uniquely beautiful and deserve to be reminded of that every single day!