July 01, 2024

Brooklyn teens launch fundraiser for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

A group of high school students and their nonprofit, Beyond the Waters, are spotlighting issues facing communities in South and Southeast Asia and raising money to make a difference. Meet the students and discovered what inspired them to take action.

Beyond the waters teens

BY DAVIS CONNELLY

 

Meet Noor, Hailey, and Meher — three of the students behind Beyond the Waters, a youth-led initiative they founded to support South and Southeast Asian communities that are facing adversity. As children of immigrants, the students and their youth collective aim to shed light on under-discussed crises across the region through compassion, solidarity, and proactive engagement.

Their first major fundraising push has raised more than $1400 (and counting!) to support BRAC’s efforts to aid Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh.

The students recently visited BRAC’s office in New York to meet our staff and share more about their work. Read on to hear directly from these inspiring students.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

 

Davis Connelly, BRAC USA: What is your mission, and what inspired it?

Hailey: Beyond the Waters is a youth-led initiative dedicated to providing aid and solidarity to individuals who are facing adversity, specifically in South and Southeast Asian communities. This includes promotion, awareness, and fundraising to support innocent victims of ongoing crises.

The inspiration for starting Beyond the Waters stemmed from a lack of widespread emphasis on global issues in general. A personal experience that inspired me was during my recent visit to Vietnam. It is my parents’ homeland, and while the country is beautiful, you can’t help but notice that many people are poor and their quality of life is compromised. I visited an orphanage, where kids lived because their parents were too poor to pay for their medical bills or support them in their homes. For me, it wasn’t possible to say, “Oh, I feel bad for these kids, but let me just go home and go back to living my comfortable life.”

So, Meher and I had this idea to do something about it. We started Beyond the Waters and assembled others in our school who share our empathy. We are building this organization to make a tangible impact for people who share our cultures but not our opportunities.

 

Davis: As teenagers, you are already highly knowledgeable and concerned about social and economic issues. Do you think that is common within your generation or among your peers?

Noor: I think that among today’s youth, a lot of social injustices are getting a spotlight. Young people are there on the front lines. We are always trying to spread awareness and educate ourselves and others. Especially in the 21st century, there is a lot more opportunity to learn about injustices, how to stop them, and how to send aid around the globe. Although our group founded this nonprofit, our peers are very supportive. And, there are many other young people out there creating their own organizations to also help people experiencing poverty meet their needs.

With social media, we can easily find out about under-discussed issues, like the Rohingya refugee crisis. I learned about the Rohingya through social media, having not learned about it as a mainstream news issue. This is why we decided to focus our first efforts on supporting families in Myanmar and Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingya, and the people living in host communities in Bangladesh, deserve more attention and widespread support.

 

Davis: What led you to support BRAC’s work with Rohingya refugees?

Meher: I’ve known about BRAC for much of my life, because of its origin in Bangladesh, where my family is from.

I recall first discovering BRAC through its clothing store and social enterprise, Aarong, as well as being well known for its impact in Bangladesh. I later took time on my own to look into BRAC’s mission, and was really interested in the many issues BRAC works on, such as microfinance, education, and women’s health.

BRAC stood out to me when I was researching efforts to support the Rohingya people, which was perfect. The refugees migrated to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where it is already very overpopulated, and where BRAC already had programs. My family talks about this a lot, and so it stood out to me.

 

Davis: So far, you’ve raised over $700 through grassroots efforts in your community, and secured a match from one of our generous board members, totaling more than $1,400. What did you do to raise money?

Hailey: It honestly started with bake sales in public areas. We baked our own goods and bought our own table, and we spent a bunch of time planning. Honestly, it was a slow process, as these bake sales were held outside when it was pretty cold!

We also got kicked out of the park once because we had no vendor permit. We had to break down all of our stuff and set up somewhere else. We still raised a lot of money that day, but it was kind of a letdown to be kicked out of the park! (Laughs)

Not only that, since we are all in our junior year — the most stressful year of high school — we have to balance our academics while raising money, then go home to stay on top of our homework. With all we are juggling, we still managed to raise more than we expected, and partnering up with BRAC USA has been amazing.

Once we received the news that a board member matched our donation, it kind of just shocked us all. We received your email, and we all texted each other in our group chat, saying, “Yay! Oh my gosh! This is so amazing!”

We worked so hard to get any money at all, and the fact that somebody was willing to help us this much and double the amount that we raised, it was really something that we were all grateful for.

We frequently talk about how we are so grateful to be connected to BRAC because of how big the organization is, and how much you have been able to help us — coming to our school, talking about the crisis, and just helping to promote our mission. So the amount of help that you have given us is just beyond anything we can ask for, and it has really motivated us and helped us to stay afloat in our efforts, even though fundraising has been challenging.

Beyond the waters team

The members of Beyond the Waters (left to right): Noor Hyat, Hayley Lee, Hailey Nguyen, Dylan Bhasin, Meher Niger, and Lenna Townend (not pictured).

 

Davis: There are about a million Rohingya people sheltering in Bangladesh and more than half of them are children. Many are dealing with health emergencies such as respiratory infections, diarrhea, and malnutrition. Because of a gap in international funding, some of the health facilities reaching these children are in danger of closing. How would you feel if your grassroots efforts helped catalyze a larger movement to help keep these facilities open?

Meher: It deeply troubles me to know that health care facilities are at risk of closure, especially considering the significant number of children at risk. Seeing even a small improvement in the lives of these children would bring us immense pride and joy and would validate the impact of our efforts.

By raising awareness together and encouraging others to join us, we can make progress on this important cause. It would make us so proud and happy even to make a small change in any of these children’s lives.

 

Follow these students’ great work through on their website, or follow them on Instagram at @beyondthewaters.

Are you inspired? We sure are! Join the students behind Beyond the Waters in supporting families in need. Give now to support Rohingya refugees.

Want to do even more for families in need? Just like these students, you can make an even bigger impact by launching your own fundraiser. Learn more at bracusa.org/fundraise.

 

Davis Connelly is the Manager, Individual Giving at BRAC USA.