A college student's campaign to aid his native Bangladesh
While his peers in the developed world zapped each other with make-believe ''Star Wars'' lasers in the late 1970s, eighth-grader M. Kamal Ahmad was busy in his native Bangladesh running literacy and self-help programs for 200 youngsters from the slums of Dacca.Skip to next paragraph
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Last year, fresh out of high school, Kamal raised $30,000 for the four schools (now run by his mother) that grew out of his original classroom in a vacant garage.
Now a freshman at Harvard University, Kamal is hard at work on his latest project - organizing a network of university students in the United States to raise money for third-world development projects.
The Overseas Development Network, incorporated last November, now has its own board of directors and includes some 250 students at various universities across the US. Kamal's older brother, Nazir, anchors the western end of the network at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The board of directors includes several prominent professors from Harvard, Amherst, and Stanford.
It is slightly disconcerting to listen to the shy young man in a baggy Icelandic sweater, eyes twinkling behind round wire-rimmed glasses, modestly chronicle his accomplishments in the space of a few years and describe his latest effort.
''There are three aspects to the network,'' Kamal says in measured tones.
* A ''partnership development program'' in which college affiliates sponsor their own development project in Bangladesh and find ways of funding it.
* A Development Education Program which involves setting up a secretariat, eventually putting out a newsletter, and lining up speakers for this spring's symposium on world hunger at Harvard.
* And a data bank at Stanford that will eventually be filled with information on overseas development opportunities. Kamal says students will be able to plug into internships, jobs, or volunteer opportunities in development projects throughout the third world.
The specific development program chosen by Kamal's group at Harvard is ''aimed at raising the general standard of living and increasing the self-sufficiency of the rural poor of Asharkota, a village largely populated by poor fishermen, day laborers, weavers, and landless peasants,'' according to the description in the grant application.
One hundred people will be targeted for financial assistance in five areas: fishing, poultry farming, paddy-husking, net-making, and small trades. The group figures $4,000 will do the trick.
''An agent in Bangladesh collects information about small-scale projects,'' Kamal explains. ''We screen the ideas, and after the selection process, send the project ideas to the affiliates at other universities. When they have raised the money, it will be sent through the Bangladesh Development Service Center (a branch of the Canadian University Service Overseas).
''Regulations on private foreign aid to Bangladesh are very strict,'' Kamal says, and ''aid must be approved by 13 different ministries.'' Since the Bangladesh Development Service Center is registered with the government, Kamal's network avoids the red tape.
The group's fund-raising attempt at Harvard in preparation for the spring symposium on world hunger involves a campuswide food fast. Students will be asked to skip either lunch or dinner in the dining halls. The $1.15 lunches and
Kamal says he has also been ''in touch with (folk singer) Pete Seeger, a former Harvard man,'' to give a fund-raising concert. Kamal expects they can raise some $2,000 from the food fast and some $6,000 from the concert. The Harvard Institute for International Development has already pledged $1,000 to help pay symposium expenses.
But are this charismatic young man and his ambitious project for real?