When I was in college, I knew that I wanted to do a year-long program after graduation to get experience in digital media, my field of study. More importantly, I realized that I have been given so many opportunities and blessings in my life, and it was time to start giving back.
Initially, I looked into programs within the US, because the idea of serving internationally for an entire year seemed like something only other, braver, more confident people did, not me! But when I heard that Mennonite Central Committee‘s one year service program for young adults (SALT) had a social media position open in Bangladesh with an organization called Basha, I was intrigued. When I learned that Basha works with women survivors of trafficking, I was convinced. Using my digital media skills to serve an important cause was clearly an opportunity I was meant to take. Ten months later, and I can say it was absolutely the right decision!
My role includes social media, filming, photography, and graphic design, and matching saris for the kanthas! I love my work at Basha, but living in Dhaka has not been easy. With an estimated population of 20 million, Dhaka was a huge shock coming from a small town of 2,000! Going through culture shock is a difficult and ongoing process, but I have surprised myself in my ability to be flexible and to adapt to circumstances. Now the thought of navigating the city alone by bus or rickshaw seems normal rather than terrifying!
During my time in Bangladesh, I have learned that I can make do with so much less. I don’t need more than 7 sets of clothing. I don’t need air conditioning, even when it is 100 degrees for weeks. I don’t need most of the “necessary” things we spend money on in the US. I have also found what I do need. I need my family. I need friends. I need people to worship with each week. I need a time and a place to exercise. I need to see the sky.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is trying to understand the lives of the women who work at Basha. Their lives have been different from mine in every possible way, full of poverty, exploitation, and indescribable trauma that I have never experienced in my sheltered, privileged upbringing. I have no reference to be able to understand their anger and their pain. I don’t know if I can say that I’ve overcome this challenge, but perhaps I have gotten a little better at having an attitude of compassion rather than one of judgment.
Young people, if you’re considering volunteering internationally, DO IT! Even if you have doubts, concerns, or fears. You don’t have to be particularly brave or qualified. Service isn’t about changing the world but about being changed yourself by joining the work that is already being done in the place you serve. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do and one of the best things as well.
When I go home, I will tell the Basha story to everyone I can. I will share the stories of women who have gone through so much hardship, yet have changed their lives with little more than a bit of education and a safe place to work. I will share about the children who would have grown up to be exploited themselves, but are now thriving and planning for bright futures. I will share about these beautiful kantha blankets and the women who are keeping their traditional craft alive and pulling themselves out of poverty at the same time.
About the author
Karla Hovde is a member of Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis and works as a communications specialist for the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church. She is still using the skills she developed at Basha to serve God. She still tells anyone who will listen about the amazing work Basha does to provide dignified work to women who want to leave a life of sex work and exploitation. You can support Basha and shop kantha blankets online at shopdignify.com!