What exactly art thou doing in the name of Social Work?

With all the colleges nowadays requiring extra-curricular activities as  part of their application, in the past few years all of a sudden Bangladesh has seen a rapid boon in the number of social workers or community service volunteers or whatever you prefer to call them. So, is this good or bad? Before imposing any opinion on you I should like to at first give you some background information about these so-called social activities.

Most of the younger generation Bangladeshis prefer to go to college. Thanks a lot to the government’s repeatedly unfailing initiatives to raise the country’s literacy rate and also to the rise of educational institutes in the private sector. Now, with the overwhelming population of Bangladesh it is virtually impossible to give seats to everyone in a college and thus the colleges have decided to be highly selective. The country’s renowned medical college, Dhaka Medical College has had an acceptance rate of 0.4% in recent years, much less than that of Harvard(5%). And it is not at all easy to disseminate the best from the so many talented Bangladeshis out there so the better private colleges, following their American and British counterparts, have decided to ask for extra-curricular activities in their applications. In addition to this, a large number of newer generation Bangladeshis, whose families have accumulated enough wealth to waste them, prefer to go abroad for their college. Hence extra-curricular activities have become an integral part of everyone of our lives  as college-bound students. And since this is an under-developed country we are talking about the easiest thing to do here is to begin a volunteer organization.

Obviously starting a volunteer  organization is way better than wasting your time dating or lingering around—-things which teenagers nowadays find really ‘cool’ to do—–but the point is most of these organizations serve only one selfish purpose for their founders and members: extracurricular activities to talk about in their college applications. Almost all of these organizations were begun by grade 11/12 students in  a desperate attempt to ‘work for the society’ although I have serious misgivings exactly what the words in the aforementioned quote mean. And most of them do work towards their purpose initially but once the founders have secured awesome positions in American colleges the blogs never get updated, the websites never get opened and the plethora of road-marches and other volunteering acts never get reenacted. That is just one hard truth to digest but it is true. I was going through these articles at umnotablogger about the recent volunteering scandals in the Universal Children’s Day 2011 and could not help but applaud the writers for bringing up this highly controversial but veritable issue in front of the public.

Pictures like these of Jaago members whiling away their time when they were supposed to work for the Universal Children's Day fundraiser were strewn all over the web

The thing is I am not at all antagonistic towards these volunteer organizations but I just hate the pretense involved in all of them. I think like this. The founders and members are all privileged people living lavish lives in big cities and dreaming big. All their plans are centered around a college education and perhaps a life in a developed country. Most of them are essentially using the deprived and the impoverished in the society to achieve their purpose. You might argue that they are doing something at least, not writing a stupid blog to demoralize them like me but the truth is, these things are diminishing the independence of the poor. The poor will feel less incentive to work and will rely more on these rich brats to come up with regular one day-long plans to feed and clothe them. A quick look around the streets of Dhaka will assert to that fact. The number of people coming to the city from the villages to become beggars is rapidly rising and recently there have even been scams about terrorist groups who amputate hands and legs to turn healthy, absolutely perfect individuals into physically-handicapped beggars (The stuff in Slumdog Millionaire was not made up you see). When the country’s economy is booming with the leadership of an extremely young average working population is it all right to deliberately coerce  healthy, active citizens  into permanently-disabled beggars just so that they can earn a decent amount of money and sympathy everyday?

And moreover this trend has even been turned into some sort of ‘gang fights’ as well. A member from one group is not allowed to join another group. Blogs are pressed everyday  by members from each organizations to tease and deride new actions or activities undertaken by opponent groups. A girl from one is not allowed to date a guy from another(all right this one is a made-up). In short these volunteer activities, in spite of their positive media coverage, have begun a trend the authorities should quickly look into.

Some of these awe-inspiring volunteer organizations have even been accused of money-laundering. I cannot confirm the source but smoke is in the air that the founders of  Organization X(which obviously is a pseudonym), one of the most famous of its kind in the country, have bagged exorbitant sums of cash from foreign donations in the name of developing their ‘school for the poor’. Given the ostentatious nature of these people coupled with our highly-corrupt in our society I will not at all be surprised if now money to the poor gets robbed.

You might accuse me of being partisan, or a mawkish nut but it is just that I cannot tolerate all this any more. Why is it that every good deed we undertake has to have a purpose? Can we not find at least one self-less deed? Is it truly not possible to do something totally for the sake of the socially-deprived? Can we not take more measures along with the government to make the poor self subservient instead of increasing their reliance on us, the privileged few? Can we not work more actively towards making Bangladesh a middle-income country by the end of 2015, as per the government’s plans?

I seek solace in the fact that this is the land that has bred people like Professor Muhammad Yunus and Sir Fazle Hassan Abed and their world-famous institutions Grameen Bank and BRAC. This is the beautiful region that has inspired achievers like Professor Amartya Sen and Rabindranath Tagore. Even after all the inspiration we receive everyday do we  still have to resort to such low extents and transgress our moral and ethical values just so that we can get into the college of our dreams? I know many of you will read this and think about it but my advice is do not get daunted by whatever it is these volunteer organizations are doing. If you really want to do some good and you are really a social worker, believe me you will not have to look far.

Image taken from socialworkers.org

PS: At the time of writing, the writer himself is a college-bound senior for Fall 2012 and he also suffers from a dearth of extra-curricular activities like most of you Indian subcontinentals out there (unless of course you are good enough to win International Math Olympiads or something) . But he has successfully betrayed his temptations and refused to join or create any of the pretentious organizations mentioned above just so that he can impress the admission officers. He firmly believes in working for the society but not for his own gain; for the people out there who really deserves his help.