When she was just 13, now 17-year-old Tahua Tura of Bangladesh started expanding her theater troupe to include street children, including Dalit children living in closed-off communities once referred to as “untouchable”.  Her early experiences accompanying her aunt, Ashoka Fellow Safura Begum, to poor communities and interacting with the children had helped her see that, like her, they enjoyed creative arts but simply didn’t have access to them.  She also saw that without such access, many were more vulnerable to violence and drug use on the streets.  By age 14, Tura had set up an organization to build self-esteem and mitigate risk among marginalized children in Bangladesh that made national headlines.  Last month, after being recognized as a Youth Venturer by Ashoka, Tura sat down with Ashoka staff to share what factors contributed most to her early changemaking experience.

Ashoka: Tura, you used to go around with your aunt to visit communities she was working in and started spending time with the kids there. Can you tell us more about that?

Tura: My aunt runs an NGO. Because of her work I once visited the Harijan community in Bangladesh. [Note: Harijan is a term popularized by Mahatma Gandhi for referring to Dalits.]  I was ten years old at the time. I used to notice that the children there are extremely shy in nature. According to family traditions, their understanding and experience of life was limited to just three things; work, food and drugs.  Most of their parents were sweepers or taking part in various odd jobs. This is when my interest to work with children was sparked.

Ashoka: How did that early experience help you think through the theater program you began a few years later involving street kids?

Tura:I was involved with the theatre from my early childhood. When I came across underprivileged children I thought that they may have a lot of undiscovered talent. Some were good with singing, some at dancing and others at poetry recitation. But they were not aware of this. So I realized the only way to make use of the treasure chest of talents was through theatre; the platform where these qualities can be demonstrated. Theatre is an amalgamation of all arts, an avenue for the individual to express themselves and for their talents to be realized.

Ashoka: How has that work evolved today?

Tura: Currently, in the Narsingdi district I have organized about forty children and incorporated them in my theater group.  My friends and I are practicing theater with these underprivileged children during our time between studies. We are informing them about their rights through this art form and educating them about responsible citizenship, character, and morals. Besides these, we are trying to ensure that they don’t abuse drugs, become victims of sexual assault or get derailed in any way. Now I am 17 years old. I want to emphasize the fact that there are many street children in Bangladesh. If we can integrate them in our society through theater, and give them a chance, each one of these kids will be a shining star in the future.  

Ashoka: Besides bringing you with her, did your aunt provide other support to you as you started your initiative?

Tura: Yes, my aunt supported me a lot, especially providing mental strength that is required to accomplish something like this that I struggled with at the time. She provided me with courage and inspiration, which took me further down my trajectory and closer to my dreams.

Ashoka: You said your parents resisted you working with street kids. Why was that?

Tura: Initially, my family did not want me to associate with any such work.  They used to believe that this involvement would deter me from my studies and my grades would slip, and that my future would be doomed. Besides, the residents of my own neighborhood frowned upon my work. This is why I could not work out in the open.  Even when my family has accepted my work, my community hasn’t really changed its’ mind. Despite these challenges I was not unmotivated and did not stray from my vision.  I continued my work and plan to do so for long into the future.

Ashoka: What advice would you give to parents, aunts and uncles of young children today? What advice would you give to kids themselves?

Tura: I want to tell all the families in Bangladesh to give sufficient importance to the opinions of their children. I urge them to help children realize their dreams in as many ways as possible. I want them to give street children a chance (too,) to provide a little support and kindness with which we can create an enabling environment for them. They will surely make promising changes in the future and solve all kinds of social problems in the status quo. To the kids, I would say, refine your own talents as much as you can. You will achieve wonders!

Zefroon Asfray, Abdullah Chaudary and Claire Fallender contributed to this piece.

This article was originally published on 1 May 2017
Related TopicsChildren & Youth, At risk youth, Child exploitation, Child protection, Early childhood development, Youth development, Youth leadership


Author: Zefroon Afsary
Zefroon is Co-founder of Sporshok, a nonpartisan consortium of youth, organizations and network, working to ensure social and human rights in Bangladesh.

Her middle school and senior years saw her grow as both an academic leader and role model for all those she came into interaction with. She engaged positively with all her peers.
As the youngest member of the year group committee, she used her role and her reach to shed light on various problems her school community faced. As recognition for her work, she was eventually promoted to being Literary Editor in her senior year. While in this role, she continued her efforts to improve the school lives of her companions with renewed energy and vigor.

In the ninth grade, Zefroon was nominated to represent The Aga Khan School Dhaka at Salem International Summer School, Germany on a merit based full tuition waiver. As her first international setting, this really broadened her perspective and gave her an acute insight into the lives of people from across the world.

One of her great passions was debating. In 2013, marking her final year in school, she was ranked 1 in the country’s biggest national debate tournament; Pre- World Schools Debating Championship 2013 organized by Bangladesh Debating Council. She was also awarded the position of the School Prefect and put in charge of the Community Service Club. During this time she raised funding to support many of the vulnerable groups in our society, including the homeless, disabled youth and elderly population residing in old homes.

In her very first semester at Brac University, Zefroon continued on her trajectory of attaining higher goals in debating. She attended The World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) Chennai in 2014 and then consecutively in WUDC Malaysia 2015 and finally WUDC Greece 2016.

Now she works across Dhaka to embed Empathy in learning, following a 5 year roadmap. She aspires to integrate marginalized groups such as transgender, homosexuals and differently abled bodied individuals into the mainstream society.
Claire directs Global Venture and Fellowship, Ashoka’s core program to identify and support leading social entrepreneurs. Claire initially joined Ashoka in 1998 as the Latin America program officer, evolving to take on new leadership roles as Brazil Venture Coordinator, interim Brazil Director and Youth Venture Brazil pilot leader. During her hiatus from Ashoka, Claire led a UNICEF initiative resulting in the first inter-agency programming guidelines for adolescent girls and served as Country Director for Mozambique of Oikos-Cooperation and Development between 2006-2009, launching innovative programs at the intersection of livelihoods (agriculture and fisheries), HIV prevention/mitigation and disaster risk reduction.

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