Boris Johnson, phone booths and crazy weather: London through the eyes of Bangladeshi teens

Al-Amin and Tanzim spent one week in London, where they took part in the Youth Commonwealth Forum.

Two youth leaders from Bangladesh - Al-Amin Bepary (19) and Tanzim Tabassum Tithi (18) - spent one week in London, taking part in the Commonwealth Youth Forum in April. The two teens are members of youth organisations that aim to tackle challenges facing children in their country, including early marriage and child labour. Their community work is supported by World Vision Bangladesh, and they are also part of World Vision International young leaders programme.

Here is what they wrote after spending seven days in the British capital.

By Al-Amin and Tanzim

London is an amazing city. Its different types of food, monuments, rich multiculturalism and the kindness people showed simply overwhelmed us. Not to mention the unpredictable weather, which left us puzzled.

This was our first time in Britain’s capital and we consider ourselves privileged and honoured to have been here. We visited several parks as well as touristic sites, including the London Eye, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace – places we have learned about in our schoolbooks.

London is very different to our home country, Bangladesh. Here, people spend time in parks and restaurants, and take public transport, particularly trains and the tube. Streets are dotted with telephone booths and letter boxes, something we don’t see in our country anymore.

What really impressed us, was to see young people singing, dancing, and taking part in stand-up comedy sketches along the streets. These are talented young people who raise money by simply showcasing their skills. We wish youths in Bangladesh, where poverty and unemployment are rampant, could do the same.

However, the main purpose of our trip was not tourism. As youth leaders, we attended the Commonwealth Youth Forum, where we shared our thoughts and shed light on issues that affect children and young people in Bangladesh. The experience was amazing. We met youth leaders from all the Commonwealth countries. We caught a glimpse of a few famous people, including singer Ellie Goulding at the welcome UK reception, the first day of the forum.

We also had the opportunity to meet MPs and policy makers. For example, we compared and contrasted mental health problems in Bangladesh and in the UK with Sir Desmond Swayne MP. We also discussed with Liz Mclnnes MP about youth entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and her concern about the Rohinga crisis.

It was very interesting to meet UK Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, who listened to our concern that children under the age of 18 are not able yet to take part in this kind of event. The Commonwealth Secretariat classifies people aged between15 and 29 as “Commonwealth Youth”. However, young people below the age of 18 have been excluded from this year’s forum. We believe that only children can understand the feelings of other children, so they have a right to participate in national and international events and have their voice heard.

We also held a meeting with Harriett Baldwin, UK Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Talking to her was fascinating, as she is very committed to young people. Ministers usually don’t have time to listen to youths, but she was very interested, and she engaged with us. We talked about several issues, including mental health problems affecting vulnerable children, particularly girls, and the importance of listening to young people’s voices.

Our week in London was simply superb; a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We learned a lot, we had a chance to be heard, and we met a lot of people from different nations.

As we head back to our home country, we hope that we will use what we learned to improve as youth leaders and continue to work to bring about social changes that will free children from violence and poverty. We will work hard to ensure that we reach a global audience, so that more people will learn about our work to give children a dignified life.

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