Eana Shah’s family immigrated from Bangladesh to the United States more than 20 years ago, but much of the family still remains in Bangladesh. Hearing about the poor conditions and quality of life that many children face — particularly poor and underserved slum youth — while Eana leads a privileged life in the United States, made Eana reconsider what she could do to help. She knew she had many opportunities to make change, which is why she started Be Desi Children’s Foundation (BDCF), a youth-led nonprofit organization, two years ago with the support of her family and friends.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Definitely what inspires me is hearing my family back home talk about their lives and what happens in their villages. It has become almost normalized for children to be working most of the time at factories and farms rather than be at school, which is deeply rooted in inequality and socioeconomic status. I recently lost my younger cousin to arsenic poisoning. This affects millions of underserved people in Bangladesh. My connection to the underserved youth community in Bangladesh and my passion for change inspire me to continue working towards my organization’s mission.
Describe your volunteer role with Be Desi Children’s Foundation.
I am the Founder and Director of Be Desi Children’s Foundation (BDCF), which has over 115 high school and undergraduate volunteers from 4 different countries. I oversee and approve all goals, plans and budgets for various volunteering teams, which include: Tutoring Team, Fundraising Team, Marketing Team, Journalist Team and BDCF Ambassadors.
Be Desi Children’s Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the well-being of underprivileged children in Bangladesh affected by climate disaster and other risk factors. We serve more than 7,000 children across rural and slum regions of my home country. We deliver school supplies, blankets and rice, and offer temporary formal schooling via a 3-year accelerated model.
To date we have raised nearly $9,000 for our 100% student-led nonprofit!
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Being able to actually make changes in the quality of life and educational access for underserved youth in Bangladesh, which is an area with tremendous amounts of need. Despite there being organizations like UNICEF Bangladesh which work to improve life for underprivileged communities, the need will always exist. Supporting even a classroom of 30 students with daily school lunches and teaching materials makes a big difference.
Additionally, we are facilitating a Cross-Culture Pen Pal Program for youth around the globe to connect with the Bangladeshi youth we serve, which creates amazing connections and learning. Seeing our kids light up when they receive a letter from their American pen pal, for example, makes it worth it to us.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I learned about what values I hold dear to me, such as service and responsibility. I learned first hand what it means to be a leader and how to rally people towards a cause.
What I think is unique is finding a passion that resonates with you and making the choice to do good in the world, so that each of us have footprints of goodness.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I’ve always been really interested in engineering and biomedical applications of science, and I started the conversation about areas of growth in Bangladesh with BDCF. I was quite passionate about advocacy around clean water, since millions die from arsenic contamination in water in Bangladesh, which is exacerbated due to climate change. I created designs for a water filter that is cost-sensitive rather than expensive, making it accessible for underserved communities. Many people reached out to me, including environmental scientists and current undergraduates at Harvard and the University of Michigan, about helping me out with this project. After a couple months, we finalized our designs and received a design patent, and we’re planning a field study in Satkhira, Bangladesh. It’s exciting to see the real world applications that we are moving towards at BDCF.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
Service is something that we are all raised in being comfortable with — whether that is cleaning up a park in elementary school or working at a food bank in high school. However, being mindful of our responsibilities as citizens in the world is so important, and I stress that finding a type of service one genuinely cares about is so important. It will be rewarding not only on the receiving end, but giving as well!
What do you want people to learn from your story?
You are never too young to give back to your community! I am only 16, but that does not necessarily mean what I am doing is more impressive than someone that helps out at a shelter or food bank. I hope that people are inspired by my story to find this passion and make change.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Eana? Find local volunteer opportunities.