Just reading the “Facts” section of the Brighter Dawns brochures found around campus is a sobering experience. There are more than 8,000 villages in Bangladesh where 80 percent of all wells are contaminated. Water-related diseases are responsible for 24 percent of all deaths in Bangladesh. Up to 77 million people in Bangladesh have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic from drinking water, described by the World Health Organization as “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.”
Still, Tasmiha Khan ’12, is working to reverse these harsh realities through her organization Brighter Dawns, which she established just this past fall. Brighter Dawns (BD) works to provide health treatment and prevention, as well as improve slum conditions in Bangladesh.
Khan established BD after visiting Bangladesh this past summer. Her trip was made possible through the World Peace and Cultural Foundation (WPCF), a group that promotes awareness of various health issues in the country, as well as Do Something, a youth community service organization of which Khan has been a long time member and board member.
Khan’s trip to Bangladesh this summer was not her first visit to the country.
“In 2008, I went to Bangladesh and did a case study with one of the child clinics in the capital Dhaka,” Khan said. “I saw the conditions there, and although I wasn’t actually in the slums, I was in a pretty poor urban area.”
Based on the destitution and disease she saw on her first trip, Khan made the decision that she wanted to come back to Bangladesh in order to help to alleviate the ills faced by the destitute South Asian country.
“I didn’t know when I would be coming back,” Khan said. “But I knew I wanted to do something more drastic than interviewing women and collecting data.”
With the help of her advisor, Khan began to formulate a plan about what she hoped to accomplish during a second trip to Bangladesh.
“I wanted to go to the poorest areas and see the conditions and then find out what I could to do help,” Khan said.
In mid-May 2010, Khan traveled to Bangladesh to begin her two-part project with a grant from Do Something to provide impoverished citizens with food and medicine. Through a contact at the WPCF, Khan had the opportunity to work at Bangladesh’s only school for children with mental disabilities, located in the capital city of Dhaka.
Alongside this, another focus of Khan’s trip was to help combat the country’s diabetes epidemic, specifically in the Khalishpur slums outside of the capital. According to the Diabetic Institute of Bangladesh, diabetes affects between two and five percent of Bangladesh’s population over the age of 15. The Bangladeshi Office of the World Health Organization reports that 90 percent to 95 percent of those afflicted have Type 2 diabetes.
“We offered a free diabetic screenings for the members of the community and held multiple seminars directed at women and children because children’s healthcare is basically absent,” Khan said.
Other seminar topics included hygiene procedures, food preparation techniques, as well as safe sex practices. According to Khan, females in Bangladesh are largely unaware of how to practice safe sex.
“Many Bangladeshi women do not want to go through the process of practicing safe sex controls,” Khan said. “In fact, many women do not have the choice to practice safe sex and rape is pervasive.”
While education was the goal of her time in Bangladesh, Khan credits the personal interactions with slum residents as being monumental in her decision to found BD.
“I had been working with this woman and her children for quite a long time and eventually I had to tell her I would be leaving,” Khan said. “This woman was 15 years old, married, and had three children. Her parents were too poor to take care of her so they just married her off.”
The woman asked Khan to visit her house, which was located in the inner portion of the slum. Upon visiting, the woman apologized to Khan for not having any place for her to sit down. The conditions this particular woman lived in were nothing short of destitute as she was living in a tiny two-room house occupied by 12 other family members. The house was filthy and had no running water or electricity.
“The door separating the rooms in the house wasn’t even a door,” Khan said. “It was a piece of cloth.”
Despite the woman’s dire situation, Khan told her to have hope for the future, that it was possible for dismal circumstances to improve.
“The woman said, ‘People always come to Bangladesh and they give us advice, but how are conditions going to improve if they don’t provide the means?’” Khan said. “She said, ‘You’re giving me advice too, but are you really going to be coming back to Bangladesh?’”
Khan cites this experience as the turning point that led her to establish Brighter Dawns.
“I didn’t think I was fair for Americans to be lounging around on our comfy sofas watching TV while people halfway across the world were dying because they don’t have food to eat,” said Khan of her realization that she needed to return to Bangladesh and continue her work on a broader scale.
Thus, Brighter Dawns was born in the fall of 2010. Currently, the organization is based at Wesleyan, although Khan, a Chicago-native, is working to establish a chapter at UChicago.
In addition to the experiences in Bangladesh and her work with Do Something, Khan credits her mother as her inspiration to start Brighter Dawns.
“My biggest inspiration and motivation and strength after God is my Mother,” Khan said. “Without her constant guidance, support and feedback, I wouldn’t have been able to take the steps to come this far.”
For Khan, the name of her organization embodies its mission.
“Brighter Dawns is about the sunrise, a new day and a new beginning,” said Khan of her choice of the organization’s name. “Metaphorically, it means improving situations for people so that they will have something to look forward to.”
To become involved with Brighter Dawns, please email the organization at email@example.com, or follow BD on Twitter at twitter.com/brighterdawns.