Although each is worth only about a tenth of a US dollar, the taka coins that serve as Bangladesh’s currency symbolize two important parts of my life: my heritage and my aspirations. Following my birth in the capital city of Dhaka, my parents and I moved here, to America, when I was only four months old. In 2007, I had the opportunity to go back and visit my hometown. While I reunited with relatives and regained the depth of my native culture, my encounter with some of the world’s poorest people on the streets of Dhaka empowered me.
One morning during our stay, as my family and I walked toward the neighborhood mosque for fajr, the dawn prayer, I was caught off guard by a throng of beggars that approached us, arms outstretched, begging for donations. At first, I was stunned, but I soon reminded myself that I was a Bengali too, distinguished from them only by my American upbringing. Spurred by the values and opportunities I had been given while growing up, I didn’t think twice about handing a fistful of coins to each beggar that advanced.
After talking to my dad about the poverty problem, I learned that those who live in the dingiest slums of Bangladesh often sell their limbs, eyeballs, or gut organs to back alley operations, enabling them to momentarily make ends meet. I made it my goal to address the issue of proper education and medical treatment by creating a checklist for how I wanted to respond; returning from the trip, I began exercising myself as a global citizen by not only volunteering locally, but by contributing to widespread endeavors, including raising money for victims of the earthquake crisis in Japan and even by representing Haiti in the Model United Nations. By developing my ability to instruct and form personal connections with students through a tutoring job at Kumon Learning Center, as an Arabic teacher at the Islamic Center, and as a National Honor Society tutor at my school, I was fulfilling my personal goal to inform those that needed it most.
Both my background as a Bengali and the aspirations that have manifested from it are captured by something as simple as a Bangladeshi taka coin. For me, the coins have more value than many may think.