Thursday, 26 May, 2022
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A Laudable Initiative of Aachol Foundation to Protect Young Minds

Zinatul Jahra Oishi

Trayi, who had just left college and entered the university, had been depressed for a few days. Whether in a chat with friends or a family meeting, it seemed as if there was a wide gap between her and everyone which was keeping her separated from everyone. A close friend of hers was quite surprised when she realized sudden changes in a smiling girl like Trayi. On communication with Trayi, she came to know that several things were bothering Trayi. One prominent reason was that she was unable to adapt to the new environment of the university. As a result, she wrapped herself up little by little.

Trayi’s struggle to adapt led her to suffer from some sort of inferiority complex. The struggle continued to grow day by day. Eventually, Tyari lost the battle against depression and drowned in it. The bright, happy girl disappeared and was replaced by a quiet and dull girl.

There are many people around us, like Trayi, who are slowly losing their identity due to lack of people to talk to or just a lack of confidence.  They keep themselves away from others. "This matter does not carry any importance, I will adapt if I stay alone and quiet", they try to reason with themselves but in the process end up upset mentally.

 While thinking about these issues, Tansen, a young student at Dhaka University, thought of an organization that would work on mental health as well as prepare young people as skilled individuals for the workplace. He shared his thoughts with some other university students. The Aachol Foundation started its journey on April 25, 2019, as a reflection of everyone's thoughts.

The Aachol Foundation is a youth-based social organization whose main goal is to work on the mental health of young people and make them proficient in various aspects of daily life.

Just like a mother who always protects her child in her shade, the Aachol Foundation extends an empathetic and innovative arm of self-expression to all the young people who come under its shadow, allowing them to optimize their talents.

Since its establishment in 2019, the Foundation has undertaken several activities. They organized a suicide awareness program at Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Hall of Dhaka University. In addition to that, Shamsunnahar Hall at Dhaka University organized mental health awareness seminars. Not limited to Dhaka University, Aachol Foundation expanded its services to different other places. Moreover, it provided free mental health services at the BYLC Youth Carnival.

While working in the field, the members of the region started to gain confidence in themselves little by little, then the covid period started. This small country of ours was not left out either. Gradually, public life came to a standstill. Everyone was terrified of death and dwelled in fear of losing loved ones. At one stage, the young society which was accustomed to hanging out with friends and engaging in outdoor activities all day faced emotional breakdown due to the situation.

After observing the deteriorating mental situation around them, the Aachol Foundation decided that the work of this organization would be done online. Hence the journey of the Aachol Foundation started online. As part of that journey, several online activities were organized. “Tell Your Untold Stories”, speaking with a teacher, Aachol Adda, a live talk show for students to share their thoughts with others, were among the virtual endeavours of the foundation. It was as though everybody was lost but at least not lost alone. These activities revealed another aspect of Covid impact on mental health, an aspect of anxiety mixed with some frustration. Covid pandemic complicated the mental health issues as everyone was battling simultaneously with a variety of mental issues in isolation. And as mental issues accumulated, at some point, their weight became so heavy that it became unbearable. When conducting online activities, the gravity of the situation hit with full force of realization. That's when the Aachol Foundation decided to reduce the burden. Not only does a person need awareness, but also needs to be alert and dedicated, equipped with practical knowledge. With this in mind, the Aachol Foundation started online first-aid mental counselling.

There was also a workshop called "Lightning up the Mood." Psychologists used to join the Aachol Foundation at this workshop to solve the mental problems of students from different universities.

Apart from Dhaka-centred activities, the members of the region were also keen on creating country-wide awareness and hosted the country's first virtual national debate contest entitled "Suicide, No More." About 32 teams from all over the country took part in it. There is also work to be done on mental health awareness.

Tansen Rose, the founding president, was asked how he handled so much of his area's work. He gave a very honest yet moving answer: "I have with me a group of indomitable young people who know how to overcome obstacles, know how to keep their morale in the face of adversity. My team is my strength. They inspire me to take the region a long way."

 When asked about the plans of the region, he replied that we aspire to reduce suicide rate to zero and strive to eliminate the taboo associated with mental issues which are common everywhere yet hushed by society. At the same time, he wants to take society forward and develop the youth as skilled manpower. The Aachol Foundation has undertaken several projects to create skilled manpower.

They are working on a project called "Project Linchpin," which is a skill-development project. The main goal of this project is to develop some skills needed by individuals in careers. Under this project, skilled trainers from different sectors come and conduct practices in the workshops organized every month.

To enter and succeed in a career, various types of cognitive skills are required. Communication, networking, consistency, anger and stress management are some of the important things that we need to be efficient in the 21st century. With these issues in mind, the Aachol Foundation has launched another project called 'Project Surfaid' where some workshops are organized with an emphasis on mental resilience.

During the Covid period, people of all ages and professions became dependent on the Internet and technology. At the same time, cybercrime increased. With the aim that the members of the area, as well as everyone else, could use the internet and social media safely and comfortably, the Aachol Foundation undertook a different initiative called 'Project Awaj'. Young people are given accurate information about how a student will handle any cyber-related issue.

News about suicide through newspapers or various social media seems to have become very common in today's world. But has anyone bothered about the reasons behind suicide? From that thought, came the 'Research and Analysis Unit' of the Aachol Foundation. The name is the identity of its work. In other words, those who are in charge of this unit do research on various issues related to mental health, deterioration of mental health, finding out the reasons behind suicide, and many other aspects.

A total of five studies were published under this unit. During the Covid period, we collected data on how many people committed suicide in one year all over Bangladesh through strenuous efforts. The organization found out the mental condition of the students and causes of increased suicide rates in youth. In addition, two more studies are underway. Recently, a survey titled "Social-Economic Context of Young Women and Its Impact on Mental Health" was conducted ahead of Women's Day. Even in this age of women's awakening, a depressing picture of the overall position of a woman in our society emerged from this survey. Analyzing the results of the survey, it was found that 85.56% of the participants were victims of sexual harassment. 36.6 percent of young women have been sexually harassed, 64.10 percent children were sexually harassed at buses and bus stands, which are widely used for daily commutes, of which 74.92 percent were subjected to offensive touches. This survey of 1014 women seems to show the pathetic mentality of our society.  

The opinion of 22.29 percent of the advanced society's population is not valued in their family. 47.25 percent of women have to deal with an obligation to mould their opinions. It is this family and relatives who humiliate the young women with their physical appearance. Even in the 21st century, such a situation for women in society is undoubtedly frightening. More than 75 newspapers from home and abroad responded to this survey by the Aachol Foundation.

Just days before the release of this special survey of women, the Research and Analysis Unit of the Aachol Foundation published the results of another survey entitled "Suicide Rises in Universities: Depressed Students", where they dealt with the tragic events of 101 students who committed suicide last year. Looking at the reasons behind the 101 students who committed suicide, they found that the suicide rate among 3rd and 4th-year students was comparatively higher with 36.63 percent.

Presumably, students of this age chose the path of death due to various adverse conditions, including career anxiety, social pressure, uncertainty about the future, and family pressure.

When asked about the personal experiences of team members of Aachol Foundation who conducted these surveys, one member said, "While working on the results of such special studies on women, it seems that we all have a responsibility to make this society suitable for the free movement of women." "It is not that we do not say this, but the survey speaks with figures about the lives we lose. Again, the 101 students who committed suicide are just a number for us today. But these were the living souls. For us, 101 are lost but 101 families have lost loved ones. I realize that life is not so trivial that it has to end in a temporary unforeseen event. Therefore, I feel compelled to live anew. "

Commenting on his work experience, another member said, "Every day, when it comes to swallowing frustration due to academic and various pressures, colleagues in the region become a pleasant breeze that makes breathing easier. Every one of us who is involved here is a student at one of the universities in the country. The life philosophy of each one is the same. But no one comes here to judge anyone, and a friendly atmosphere prevails among all. Every problem is solved, whether it is a personal, family, or academic problem. Whether it is midnight or sunrise, there is someone who can be trusted and found beside them. The area is like another family. "

This Aachol family is not only concerned about their mental health but the mental health of every person in society is also important here. For this matter, the Aachol Foundation is running a special care unit with a group of young psychologists. There are people who are constantly undergoing mental health care.

When it comes to mental health, the first thing that comes to mind is happiness. What is happiness? One by one, everyone came up with their own definitions of happiness. For some, happiness means good results; for others, it means a good career; and for others, it means a special achievement. Happiness, no matter how defined, is somehow confined to extreme materialistic thinking. This materialistic mindset is toxic and worries the Foundation. Therefore, the Aachol Foundation undertook a unique project called Project Happiness. The main objective of this project is to convey the true concept of happiness to the youth and to provide the right idea with the right goal and purpose in their life.

In addition to this diverse project, the Aachol Foundation is launching chapters at various educational institutions in the region to spread the work on mental health across the country and to take the region one step ahead. Institutional chapters have already been opened at Dhaka University, Jagannath University, Eden College, and Home Economics College. Work is underway at other universities to enhance the expansion pace of the region.

There are many ways and areas of human service, why work with mental health? Samira Akhter Siyam, general secretary of the Aachol Foundation, replied to this question as: "The term mental health is not very popular in our country. When there is a disturbance in physical health, we effortlessly share with everyone and we go to the doctor. Although there is sympathy for mental well-being, proper care is not taken for mental health. Going to a psychologist for mental health issues in Bangladesh is like a luxury. Although there is some awareness in the cities, it can be said that there is no awareness in the villages. This initiative of our Aachol Foundation aims to spread awareness by raising a voice against this social taboo. The Aachol Foundation wants to work towards building a mentally and physically healthy nation so that they can contribute to the development of society.

The Aachol Foundation, which was formed in 2019 with a few members to establish mental health as a normal ailment in society, today has a family of about 300 members. The number of members of this family is constantly increasing. Tansen's dream, Aachol Foundation, is moving forward with a passion for work and an entrepreneurial spirit. Although the Foundation came into existence as a realization of one person's thoughts, today it has brought light and hope to the lives of many. It is our wish that many more find their way in the light of this hope.

 

The writer is the Operational Secretary of Aachol Foundation.