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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Bangladeshi alumni building an inclusive world for indigenous communities

Posted: 9 August 2021

Bangladesh, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact, Inclusion,

Each year, the United Nations observes International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to recognise the achievements and contributions indigenous people make to the pressing issues faced by humanity. This day also offers a platform to draw attention to the issues and challenges that confront indigenous people throughout the world.

Over the years, Australia Awards Bangladesh has supported many local indigenous peoples to enhance their knowledge and skills through scholarships and fellowships. Since returning to Bangladesh, Australia Awards alumni from these communities have become leaders for development and have led meaningful change in Bangladesh and globally. To mark this day, we highlight the accomplishments of three such alumni.

Trimita Chakma

A feminist researcher and a human rights campaigner, alumna Trimita Chakma (pictured above) works as the Communications and Campaigns Consultant at Public Services International, a Global Union Federation representing more than 30 million workers in 154 countries. As an independent expert on feminist research methodologies, she has been supporting the work of ActionAid International, Plan International, Oxfam and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.

Trimita completed a Master of Information Technology Management from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 through an Australia Awards scholarship.

“The confidence boost I received from my education in Australia inspired me to go beyond my regular job and become an advocate for indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts [CHT] of Bangladesh, where I come from originally,” she says.

Trimita was also a coordinator of the One Billion Rising global campaign to stop violence against women. In 2012–2013, as a member of the Kapaeeng Foundation, she initiated a feminist research project investigating access to justice for indigenous women and girls subjected to sexual violence in the CHT.

Australia Awards alumna, Trimita Chakma

In 2012, Trimita’s work in combatting violence against women was recognised through Austrade’s Australian Excellence Award for Young Alumni in Bangladesh and also her nomination as an Asia 21 Young Leader by Asia Society. In 2013, she was one of 100 global youth leaders invited to attend the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Education summer school in New York, where she represented Bangladesh.

The following year, Trimita joined Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development. Since then, she has worked with more than 85 grassroots communities across 22 countries in the Asia Pacific region, building their capacity in using Feminist Participatory Action Research. She has helped influence local, national and international policies and practices on the issues of labour, migration, land rights, climate justice and trade/economic justice.

Trimita is currently working with Edith Cowan University in Australia to support Plan International’s ‘Pacific Girls in a Changing Climate’ project. This collaboration aims to build the capacity of adolescent girls in Kiribati and Fiji to address climate change issues in their communities through research and policy advocacy.

“My Australia Awards experience was invaluable to my current line of work in advancing the rights of marginalised communities,” Trimita says. “My strong background in IT has been useful for developing online tools to support human rights campaigns, as well as delivering online training workshops during the COVID-19 restrictions on mobility.”

Ashok Kumar Chakma

Alumnus Ashok Kumar Chakma is the Executive Director at Moanoghar, a child-focused non-governmental socio-educational and development organisation based in Rangamati, a district in the CHT. Moanoghar works to provide formal education, vocational training, health services and support for its students. Ashok’s responsibilities include providing care and support for the wellbeing of students, implementing policies and programs, raising funds, and providing leadership guidance to the staff and strategic guidance for planning.

Ashok completed a Master of Development Practice (Advanced) from the University of Queensland in 2010 through an Australia Awards scholarship. Since returning to Bangladesh, he has been working for grassroots communities in the CHT region as a development practitioner. He joined Moanoghar in 2012 to provide improved education to orphaned and marginalised indigenous children through the provision of on-campus residential facilities.

“My Australian degree and experience provided me with the strategic guidance to tackle real-life situations and take a leadership role in planning and implementing various projects for my organisation,” says Ashok.

Ashok feels great pride in working at Moanoghar, which is known as the ‘lighthouse of the hills’ for its history of spreading education among the disadvantaged indigenous children in the hill tracts.

Australia Awards alumnus, Ashok Kumar Chakma

“To me, Moanoghar is not only an institution. It is a beacon of hope for hundreds of orphaned and marginalised children from all indigenous communities in the CHT region,” says Ashok. He speaks from personal experience: “During my childhood, I was admitted to Moanoghar Residential School for shelter and education,” he says. “I feel it is my moral obligation to work for Moanoghar, which gave me a ‘new life’ during my hard days.”

Beyond basic education, the organisation Ashok heads is also involved in technical education, helping youth to build their leadership skills. Recently, UNDP Bangladesh and Moanoghar have arranged ‘Youth Peace Ambassador Training’ to develop the skills of young people to work as active agents of peace, tolerance and harmony.

Ashok emphasises that Moanoghar will help protect the distinct culture and languages of indigenous peoples by giving special attention in its future program to promoting these indigenous cultures and languages.

He is also the member of the Adivasi Australian Scholars’ Association of Bangladesh where he contributes to the development of indigenous communities and connects with his fellow Australia Awards alumni at home and globally.

Asim Dio

Alumnus and development communication professional Asim Dio is currently leading the Advocacy and Communication portfolio of CBM International’s Bangladesh country office. He maintains close relationships with diverse stakeholders (including disabled people’s organisations) to advance various advocacy initiatives on disability rights. He also works to promote such rights through networking, coalitions and forums. His role sees him deal with topics such as inclusive health, education, marginalised groups’ rights, mental health and livelihoods.

Asim completed a Master of Public Policy from the Australian National University in 2015 with the support of an Australia Awards scholarship. He considers the scholarship to be a ‘game changer’ for his career.

“The course provided me with a strong foundation on policy analysis, advocacy and research that I am applying in my current role,” Asim says.

Australia Awards alumnus, Asim Dio

He now guides the CBM team and the organisation’s partners on technical aspects such as disability-inclusive development and advocacy. He also provides guidance on policy advocacy at the local, national and international levels that influences disability inclusion. He supports inclusive communication, especially inclusive documentation (print and audio-visual).

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is coordinating the CBM country team to review resources and programs and pivot them to be more responsive to the challenges of the pandemic. As part of this process, he has provided input into developing the Bangladesh country office’s COVID-19 response and recovery strategy. He also led the design of the ‘Collective efforts of Organisations of Persons with Disabilities on Inclusive COVID-19 Humanitarian Actions in Bangladesh’ project to directly respond to the pandemic. The project covers access to mental health support, cash assistance for basic needs, and advocacy with government and non-government partners to include people with disability in mainstream response activities.

“Marginalised groups—including indigenous persons and people with disability—face barriers, oppression and lack of capacity, and remain out of reach from service providers and even development actors. Let us put our hands together on this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in building inclusive, resilient and sustainable communities,” says Asim.

Partnerships for Recovery Alumni Support Grants in Bangladesh

Partnerships for Recovery Alumni Support Grants were launched in March 2021, and grant recipients were announced in April 2021. Through such grants, Australia Awards Bangladesh is currently supporting alumni to implement innovative activities to assist vulnerable groups/sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four of these activities are currently being implemented by alumni belonging to indigenous communities. Through the activities, alumni will demonstrate expertise and leadership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and lead meaningful change in their respective communities. The activities cover several different sectors including inclusive development, health promotion, women’s economic empowerment, digital skills and mental health.