From messenger to human rights ambassador

Feb 13, 2014

Rasel, the office messenger who has transformed into a human rights ambassador. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh.

Five years back, 15-year-old Rasel Hossain had to leave his studies to earn an income in Dhaka to support his family.

Rasel, who has been working as a messenger for the Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission Capacity Development Project (BNHRC-CDP) since 2011, was awarded the ‘UNDP Initiative of the year 2013’.

Earlier in 2013, while visiting his home town, Rasel had distributed educational materials including posters to stop child marriage and stickers and flyers on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to students in two schools, different households and exhibited these in tea stalls and local marketplaces.

He also talked to 300 people in his community about child marriages and the consequences it has on the psychological and physical development of children. For child marriage cases, he invited all to alert the local administration so that such marriages can be stopped.

Also, Rasel briefly introduced to members of his community the NHRC mandate. He invited members of his community to report human rights violations to the National Human Rights Commission via the website, post or in person at NHRC’s office.

When he returned to Dhaka, Rasel narrated his experience and showed photographs to BNHRC-CDP officials, who in turn shared this with the UNDP Country Office, proposing his name for the UNDP Initiative Award for this year.
Eventually, Rasel was nominated for the Award Initiative of the Year 2013 and received the award from the UN Resident Coordinator  Mr. Neal Walker and the UNDP Country Director Ms. Pauline Tamesis during a year-end event on February 13, 2014.

Referring to his different qualities, the BNHRC-CDP project manager Mona M’Bikay Boin remarks, ‘He is eager to learn, enthusiastic and has the capacity to do different tasks. His spirit of openness and commitment has led him to advocate the respect of human rights.’
Rasel thinks that awareness is an important aspect for protecting people’s rights. ‘Citizens from my community are not aware about their rights. How can they claim them?’ he asks.
He strongly believes in the importance of spreading human rights messages to each and every single household of Bangladesh. ‘I just blew a whistle to grab attention and asked people to come along with me to be an actor of change,’ he said.

Rasel’s reflection about lack of awareness among the masses about human rights is echoed through the findings of the Baseline Survey on Human rights conducted by the National Human Rights Commission in 2011. The study had revealed that less than half of the respondents have only heard of the term ‘human rights’. Thus, there is a considerable challenge for human rights promoters in the country to ensure greater respect toward human rights by informing people, especially from the rural population, about their rights.

Born in 1992 in the village of Uttar Tafalbari of Bagerhat district in Bangladesh, Rasel had to stop going to school when he was in Class seven, after his father abandoned the family. Rasel moved to Dhaka in 2009 looking for a job. Currently, he is working for the Cleaner’s Associates Company.

The 22 year old has to support his mother and sister with a monthly salary of BDT 7,000. He has been supporting his sister’s education expenditure as he says, ‘I regret not being able to complete school. I want my sister to complete her education as it is extremely important to fend off life’s challenges.’

Pointing toward Rasel’s struggle and eventual progress, Mona M’Bikay Boin says, securing the right to education, a fundamental human right, is key for building a democratic State as well as to ensure the human and economic development of the country.

The BNHRC-CDP project appreciates the manner in which Rasel has transformed from the traditional role of a messenger to a Human Rights Ambassador carrying out human rights messages.