Shomy Hasan Chowdhury and Rijve Arefin, who have made it to ‘Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2021’ at the age of 26, are the co-founders of Kuala Lumpur-based NGO Awareness 360.
However, their paths toward this achievement were not as easy, as they had to go through immense adversities on the way.
These two young entrepreneurs shared their stories in an interview with The Business Post.
Loss of her mother changed Shomy’s view towards life
Shomy lost her mother on the first day of Baishakh in 2014. Her mother died just after a day of suffering from diarrhoea. The sudden loss shook Shomy tremendously. No matter how hard she tried, Shomy could not get over her mother’s death as she died of a disease like diarrhoea. This prompted her to start studying the disease, and she came to know how fatal it actually could be.
Without wasting any time, Shomy arranged an awareness workshop with cleaning staff at one of their residential colonies in Dhaka just after four days of her mother’s demise.
“I didn’t want anyone else to lose their loved ones due to a lack of awareness. Cleaners are highly neglected in our society. I believed that they should know about washing hands properly and drinking safe water. So, I went and told them about the loss I suffered. That’s how it all began,’’ said Shomy.
Shomy expanded her activities from there. She co-founded an NGO named Awareness 360, which is now a globally recognised social organisation and is collaborating with the youths of 23 countries.
She also marked her success in education. After completing her O-level in Dhaka, she finished her A-level studies in the USA and later completed her graduation from the Putrajaya University of Malaysia.
Apart from sanitation and hygiene, her organisation also worked with issues like climate change, gender equality and quality education.
The organisation works on the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations in several countries. However, its main objectives are to ensure safe drinking water, clean toilets and cleanliness. It also works to enhance the efficiency of youths, sewage cleaners and sex workers.
Shomy’s advice to those who want to follow in her footsteps is: “Don’t ever wait for the right time. Sometimes we think that we’re not prepared to tackle a certain situation. But I believe there’s no such thing as a right time. We must jump into action just as the incident occurs.”
“It’s not as though we have to succeed at the first attempt. But we have to start with small steps and we must start now. We’ll learn as we go,” she said.
Shomy suggested exploring one’s own interests. Otherwise, a person cannot succeed in life.
“We don’t have to fix all the problems we face. We just have to focus on what we really want and work with that,” she added.
Shomy dreams to take her initiatives further and wishes to ensure human rights for all.
Childhood trauma changed Arefin’s life
“During my childhood, I was subjected to a number of unexpected and traumatic events that resulted in psychological distress. I did not get the support I needed at that time. Talking about mental health is not welcomed in our society.
“This drove me to do something different. I experienced self-satisfaction unlike any other by getting myself involved in social welfare activities. These activities gave me a chance to interact with people from other countries.”
This is how Awareness 360 co-founder Rijve Arefin opened up to The Business Post about himself.
He wanted to provide the support to others in need that he could not get himself, which ultimately resulted in the creation of a platform like Awareness 360.
Arefin is currently working as a youth development consultant at a South Africa-based organisation named Civicus’. He completed his graduation in Economics from Malaysia’s Universiti Putra Malaysia. He also worked at the Commonwealth Youth Programme.
He admitted that he and Shomy did not get much support for Awareness 360 at first. During then, he used to work several jobs at the same time to keep the project running. He had to face immense difficulties to continue his study and run the project simultaneously.
In many cases, the people they work with do not tend to take something like washing hands seriously.
“They deem such things as a ‘waste of time’,” he said.
Moreover, as all activities of the NGO are voluntary and unpaid, project members of the organisation often get demotivated. Arefin described this as a huge challenge.
At present, their activists and volunteers are serving in 23 countries, where they run awareness campaigns on personal health issues including hand-washing, water purification and sanitation.
The plan for Awareness 360 is to run their activities in the rest of the countries as well. Shomy, Arefin and their team also aim to play a pivotal role in achieving the UN’s SDG goals and empower youths in society.
They have so far succeeded to provide assistance to 150,000 people.
“There will be many hurdles in the beginning,” Arefin advised the youths, “Walking ahead will be difficult. But success will be yours if you keep moving forward leaving all those struggles behind.”