Championing the Cause of Adolescent Health and Nutrition in Bangladesh
By Anthony Consigli
Originally published by Um So Planeta in Portuguese: Link
Dipty Chowdhury is an extraordinary teenager. She has achieved a lot at a tender age of eighteen, from driving local movements on adolescent nutrition, to representing adolescent voices in international fora.
Act4Food Act4Change supportAct4Food Act4Change supporter Anthony Consigli sat with Dipty, who is one of the youth leaders of the Act4Food Act4Change global youth movement on food systems transformation, to discuss her motivation and to share her message with other young people.
Anthony: Dipty, tell us about yourself and your work.
Dipty: I am Dipty. I am 18 years old, and I am from Bangladesh. I got into this work [promoting adolescent health and nutrition] when I was 13 years old. When I started, I worked for SKNF, a network of adolescents working to prevent child marriage and support nutrition, adolescent rights, reproductive health, and gender equality in Bangladesh. We started by making several clubs in secondary schools across Bangladesh. Under our network, we established nearly 1,000 clubs as a space for adolescents to talk about their health, nutrition, and rights. In 2016, there was a competition involving 5,000 leaders of that network, and I came in first. From there, I started working nationally and then globally.
In 2018, I got involved in the GAIN Bangladesh campaign BKBT (Eat Well, Live Well), led by adolescents who pledged to eat well and live well. I was a youth leader in that campaign which accomplished gathering one million pledges from young people around Bangladesh to eat healthier for healthier lives, in a record time. Since then, I have worked with many organizations, including UNFSS Action Track 1 in 2020, as a youth leader. Together with other youth leaders in the UNFSS, we created a campaign globally about transforming food systems. We want youth involvement in transforming food systems, giving them the platform for policymakers to hear them. In May 2021, we launched the Act4Food Act4Change campaign with youth leaders from different countries. Now, I work on that campaign as a core group leader.
A: What is your favorite subject at school?
D: My favorite subject is Civics. In this subject, I learn about how laws and policies are made, and how our country has become free through liberation. From my studies in Civics, I have learned that youth have done a lot throughout history. In many turning points in history, youth have been the main strength; youth have come forward to take their roles and change the times. However, there is no stage in policy making suitable for the youth; policymakers cannot hear their voices. In our system, there is no scope to listen to the youth. When I read about civics, I wonder why this happens. It inspires me to make space in policymaking for youth to be heard and change the system so that everyone’s voice is heard, especially the youth.
A: You recently wrote a book about healthy living for adolescents. What motivated you to do that?
D: I noticed that there are very few books about adolescents. Even the few books that we have are written by adults who are well past that stage of life and do not fully understand adolescents. As an adolescent girl, I thought that I could fill that gap by writing for my peers about what was going on, what we needed, and what we should do. I have written about the importance of nutrition and good mental health and preventing child marriage and suicide. It will be very effective for them because it is easy for them to understand, and it will motivate them because it comes from someone who is from their age group. I put all of my emotions into the book, and since I am one myself, other adolescents can relate to it. I wrote it as a way of saying, “This is how I feel. Do you feel this way too?” It is very powerful, as it gives them the motivation to act. Now, adolescents have a book that I did not have when I was looking for it.
A: You were very active in the BKBT campaign and then in launching Act4Food Act4Change. Why is it so important for you to have your voice heard?
D: Youth is the most critical part of one’s life, and it is the most prominent force of the population in the world. If we don’t make them aware, it is not possible to imagine a healthy future. Youth that are mentally and physically strong are essential to a beautiful future. Developing a strong population begins with the youth at the roots. Only after that can we expect a better future. The decisions that are taken today affect youth the most. What happens today will cause youth to either suffer the most or be the greatest beneficiaries. That is why you must hear about what they want and think about their present situation and future. Shutting down youth for years and then finally listening to them when they are adults leads to too much responsibility and a lack of solid decision-making. Leadership is a practice, and we should give youth a chance at an early age to practice leadership to have good leaders in the future.
A: What are your thoughts on climate change and its link with food and nutrition in Bangladesh?
D: I am very worried. It feels like a tsunami coming for us, but we can do nothing from our side. As a youth, I cannot do anything alone. However, if we work together, we can be a force for change. It should start from me, from you, and our families. We should be thinking big. COP26 recently took place, and our scientific experts and policymakers came together. This is important, but as individuals, we can start small – with our families and friends. There is a close link between climate change and our food systems. When considering climate change, the economy, and other factors, changing our food systems is so complex. It is a challenging, long process. While food is vital to our health, so is the climate. We must not only think in the short term. We cannot destroy our planet for only two days of betterment. Ensuring nutrition and safe food systems is essential, but we must also think of the climate because there are no food systems without a healthy environment. While our health is important, so is our world’s. If our world is not well, we cannot do well. That is why we must do everything we can.
A: What do you wish more young people in your community were aware of?
D: In my community, one-fifth are adolescents, and half are youth. I don’t believe that youth are ready to be a part of the policymaking process because they were deprived of these rights for a long time. We should give them time so that they are prepared about their leadership and their voice. I want policymakers to hear me. I want them to ask me, “What do you want? What problems are you facing? What do you want to happen in a few years to solve these problems?” This is how we engage the youth.
I am from a middle-class family in a very small village in Bangladesh, a developing country. I want to say to all the youths and activists that it is possible to work and make a difference if you have dreams and determination. Although it is not always possible to make a significant change in the world, you can start with your families and friends. Changing yourself and the society around you will contribute to the shift of the global system and situation. As a girl, I know that women and girls can do everything. We are all human beings that can make change, and we have the responsibility to do so. Take that responsibility and do your duties. Do your part. Even the smallest actions will contribute to enormous success.