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Penn State Grad Wins 2020 Diana Award For Service Work In Bangladesh

Shah Rafayat Chowdhury always knew he wanted to help people in need. However, he had no idea where that ambition would wind up taking him.

In 2013, he created a social venture named Footsteps to help solve community issues and empower others. Now, Chowdhury is receiving global recognition for his work to bring clean drinking water to Bangladesh’s people.

The inspiration behind Project Trishna, Chowdhury’s award-winning venture, came to him in 2015.

“I came up with the idea for Trishna in the summer of 2015 after an experience I had with a rickshaw puller,” Chowdhury said. “He was drinking water out of a water container that was placed outside of an apartment building.”

With this image stuck in his head, Chowdhury decided he wanted to create safe water systems outside of homes and offices so people didn’t need to worry about getting sick from drinking. The plan was to have local companies’ logos on those clean water systems so everyone who passed by would know who was supplying clean water.

By 2018, Project Trishna’s mission had evolved. While the project was originally focused in three districts of Bangladesh, one phone call changed everything.

“In 2018, a teacher reached out to me sharing the water condition in his school for which many children were missing classes due to waterborne diseases,” Chowdhury recalled. “Seeing this, we expanded Project Trishna into schools and understood the value of ensuring safe water in marginalized communities.”

Now, Project Trishna is providing safe water for 14,000 school children and 75,000 total people across three districts in Bangladesh.

Chowdhury began working on this venture while a student at Penn State. He graduated in 2018, the same year Project Trishna expanded to schools in Bangladesh.

“I used my class assignments to work on my projects back home,” Chowdhury said. “Everything was a learning experience, and I remember how I used to sit at the library beyond midnight working on Footsteps after I completed my homework.”

Chowdhury is now one of the 2020 recipients of the prestigious Diana Award. The Diana Award is a charity organized to honor the memory of Princess Diana of Wales and recognizes young people and their charitable actions towards others. Chowdhury was one of six people from Bangladesh to receive this award in 2020.

“It’s a humbling experience to be recognized for such a prestigious award, especially when it’s associated with someone that was loved by everybody around the world,” Chowdhury said. “I hope to justify winning this award by working even harder to ensure people have access to basic rights such as safe water and are empowered in the long run.

“I did want to dedicate this award to my mother, without whom going forward with Footsteps wouldn’t have been possible,” Chowdhury added. “She’s been such a huge support as she not only let me pursue my dreams but also looked after Footsteps while I was at Penn State for three and a half years. This award is for her.”

Chowdhury made sure to note this was not the end of the road for Project Trishna and Footsteps. There are plans in place to address issues like hand washing, menstrual hygiene, and gender equity bathrooms. He also has goals of ensuring communities in need get necessary health products like vaccines and building climate-resilient housing.

If you would like to learn more about the other projects Chowdhury and Footsteps (now officially named Footsteps Bangladesh) are working on, or if you’d like to support their projects, click here.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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