Mahmudul Hoque Moni*
Reflective Practice and Social Change module at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) inspired me to write a reflective piece on myself. I have been a photographer for the last eight years, and I have made a number of documentary films including a short video on the British Library for Development Studies (BLDS)1 this year. Earlier I showcased my photographs at the event ‘150 Shades of Perspective: A photographic exhibition’ at IDS which mostly depicted my journey at the UK and in the IDS. These activities prompted me towards reflecting on my own life. As a student of development studies, I find it worth to critically think about the impact of development policies on various spheres of my life.
Know thyself2 is an ancient Greek maxim that both Plato and Aristotle used extensively to motivate their dialogues. Well, using reflective methods helped me to know more about myself, and analyse how I grew up. As part of that, here I reflect on how a few particular development policies (mainly focusing on social protection) have shaped my life. Drawing my life experiences including fresh ones in IDS, I shall analyse myself as a subject or a case of development and social change. While reflecting I also use my critical understanding (that I have achieved while studying at IDS) on various development policies, and the journals that I kept for the module. I have divided this piece into three parts- I shall begin with the reflections on my childhood and early university life in the first part , and on my professional life in the second part and in the third part of the life in the UK particularly at IDS. I shall conclude with some implications of these reflections in a broad context.
Me in Poverty: When I grew with development policies
Very often, I tell people that I have never paid for my education. I do not really know how the listener perceives it, but in my understanding, it has two-fold messages. One, I am brilliant and I have got scholarships or stipends throughout my life, or two, I am poor and disadvantaged, and I was lucky to get more opportunities. The latter one is now more critical for me. I lost my father when I was six, and my mother had to suffer a lot to grow the three of us (me and my two elder brothers) with only 5 US dollars monthly pension throughout the 1990s. She hardly could manage two meals a day for all of us. It was really a hard time.
If I reflect on my life experiences that time, free primary education policies were protecting me. I got free books from the school. In grade five and eight, I achieved (or have been given) government scholarships. My mother used to get monthly pensions and I used to get monthly stipends. Both of these social protection policies offered real chance for me to not only continue my studies but to also help myself and my family to be lifted out from poverty.
I want to refer the images (1,2 and 3) that I drew as a part of the storytelling session (part of the module). While reflecting on something from the past in that session, these images of my child livelihood in a remote Bangladeshi village came up. The three images formed a visual Haiku (a very short of Japanese poetry) tell the story of two motherhood in our family. In the first image which sets the context about our house in the village. We had a cow and a baby calf of her. My mother used to send me to cut grass for the cow from the distant green fields. After eating fresh green grass, the mother cow used to give a lot of milk.
The calf used to get milk from its mother and at night, and my mother used to offer me rice with the some of her milk. The interdependence of both motherhood now allows me to understand two things: (i) the family as an institution includes animals and how they are useful to each other for their survival, and (ii) as a development practitioner we really need to apprehend the livelihood of a village family including the environmental aspects.
The storytelling played an important role to grow me as a better human being all through my childhood. My mother used to force me to go to school regularly and study hard. She used to tell us stories repeatedly about how educated people in the society can create better lives for themselves and how we could get out of poverty through earning skills. Those stories inspired me to try harder for the scholarships that I achieved during that period.
One more childhood thing that shaped my life later is my capacity to imagine. I was too poor to buy a pen and paper to write. While practicing reflective methods with my eyes closed in the classroom and while discussing visual methods of reflection, I reminded how I used to practice writing the alphabets on the ground and in the air. I believe that increased my capacity to see and observe deeply. This contributed a lot to developing my photography skills in latter part of my life.
After passing out from the secondary school, I went to a local big city to stay live with a family. I used to teach two kids of the family for having shelter and food. I was studying in a college while in leisure time I used to offer tuition to some school going kids and started to earn money. I started to come out of poverty and I was contributing towards my family income. I continued to earn much more money from these house to house teaching even when I got admitted to the university.
If I reflect on this, I find that society itself has so many protection policies outside the state. People create opportunities and jobs for other people. These economic opportunities do play a big role in poverty reduction which is to me one kind of social protection policy by society.
Me in Professional Work: When I was implementing development policies
In my professional life, I have done a number of jobs including working as a journalist, a wedding photographer, and as an NGO worker. In 2011, I became a civil servant and since then I have been involved in policy making and implementation. As I focus on the social protection policies here, I will tell the stories while working for the government how implementing these policies shaped my life and work.
In the first session of the module, when we were writing about a particular incident about our lives, I chose to write the moment when I join the civil service as I thought that moment was a turning point in my life. While walking bare-footed on the grass outside IDS, and I was going through all happy and sad moments of my life. I extended the poem in my journal. I knew all my freedom to write and to express my thoughts were about to get a bar at civil service. I wrote the following creative piece in my journal.
I remember the day I joined the civil service
It was one of the worst days of my life
I remember I had to attend a welcome lecture by a high official
He looked so formal and self-satisfied
That the moment I saw him
I knew my good days were over
He was guarded by a policeman standing right behind him
I don’t really remember what he talked about
But I do remember my childhood and student life delightful moments were running through my mind
It took a while to get back to his lecture, he was giving advises
Rule number one: Boss is always right and,
Rule number two: If you believe otherwise, follow rule number one
I had heard this many times
I felt it for the first time
And I realised that my good days were just over
I would never be able to run through a green field
I would never be able to be myself again
It was a strange feeling
I was sweating
I don’t really remember how and when the session ended
I just saw a bunch of people was standing and clapping
I followed them
I was scared; I could hear some noises around me
People were talking and laughing
I felt like I was having a bad dream
Deep down I knew it was real
My life was about to get changed!
This shift of myself from a receiver (which I have been later as well) of social benefits to an implementer was an important time in my life. I came to realise how a state within the society act and interact with social organisations within the practices of citizenship and membership.
I was working at the District Administration which is a district secretariat to represent the central government. I was in charge of the section for education in the district, and I had the opportunity to implement some scholarship and stipend policies on behalf of the government especially for the primary education sector. Due to free primary education policy, thousands of poor kids, especially girls were attending schools and, we achieved a hundred percent enrolment in primary schools in the area of my jurisdiction. But, if I critically reflect on that particular policy, it was a universal approach. Due to its universal nature, the policy did not address the special needs of extremely poor kids in villages. When I was poor, I had the same problem. I wanted to go to school but I had other problems including the lack of food and health facilities. As a result, in the following years, the rate of drop out from primary school in the district increased.
During the four years I worked for the government of Bangladesh I had the opportunity to work for some social protection policies. One particular policy that to a significant extent shaped my academic life lately is the tobacco control policy in Bangladesh. I have smoked once in my life when I was 14 and luckily the friend I smoked with informed my mother about it. My mother became really angry and asked me to promise not to smoke ever in my life. Later I came to know that my father had been a chain smoker and smoking was one the causes of his death. While implementing this tobacco control policy, I came to realise how bad tobacco consumption is for our health.
While working as an Executive Magistrate for a three-year-time (2012-2015), I conducted a number of mobile courts in order to make public places smoke-free. Now, I understand how important to understand positionality within such settings. As a smoker, I may choose to harm my own health, but I have no right to harm other. This is a basic social protection policy that theoretically drives most of our social behaviour. This particular policy also inspired me to look into the politics of tobacco control within Bangladesh and globally, and I am going to do MA dissertation (which I discuss in the next section) on the same topic.
Me in the UK: When I reflect, look back and forth
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the UK government awarded me a Chevening Scholarship to come to the UK and study MA at IDS at the University of Sussex. As a kid when I received a stipend from the government, it was more or less a regional scheme, but the Chevening was a global policy and I could see that I was a global development subject. I understand that we all are subject to global or international development, but when I reflect on the stipend money I am receiving now, I have several points to mention. I am quoting from my journal:
‘Firstly, FCO awarded this scholarship, not because of that I was poor; neither had they offered me just because I was super brilliant. I now realise they have a set of criteria that fit me for this opportunity. This fact takes me to the fact that even in my early days when I received a scholarship through a competitive examination; I was actually fulfilling a set of social protection policy criteria. Secondly, I am still getting more and more indebted to the citizens of the UK, whose tax money are being spent for my education here. I have even received scholarships from several other countries meaning that I am not only indebted to Bangladeshi people but also morally obliged to some other around the world. How could I pay them back? Finally, many people argue that due to the fact that the Great Britain had colonised Bangladesh (a part of the then Indian subcontinent), the UK government is offering a stipend to the citizens of their formal colonies. I personally reflect on this critically. One, I am receiving this stipend as an individual and I am again obliging myself to serve my own country people, after getting educated. Hopefully, my knowledge will be useful once I go back to my homeland. Two, I always try to apprehend what are the implicit interests that I am bearing here, both individually and while representing the UK in Bangladesh.’ (April 25, 2016 East Slope, University of Sussex, UK)
Getting back to my life in IDS I am in short of words. I have learnt a lot not only about governance and development but also so many other things including about life. The most wonderful people I met here have made my life more meaningful and helped me grow as a better human being. As this opportunity is also a result of a development aid policy (scholarship), I can reflect on it and realise how this shaped my life lately.
While practising various reflecting methods, I came to see and realise a lot of things which I could not do in other courses. In that sense, this unique module has enabled me to plan how to use the reflective method to repay some of my debts towards the people who have contributed towards my life. I mention two particular events here.
First, as part of the Global Ambitions conference at the University of Birmingham, I presented a paper on my global ambition which is to create a tobacco-free world. In the UK, every day two people die out of tobacco-related disease and according to World Health Organization 1 billion people are expected to die this century due to tobacco-related disease. I believe we can save these lives. I advocated creating a tobacco-free world, which is, of course, difficult but I want to act for it. I am also going to write my dissertation on this issue. In Bangladesh, every ten minutes one person die for tobacco and in every three minutes, another gets paralysed. I want to work to save these lives.
Second, inspired by the reflective practices, I along with some of my colleagues at IDS organized a event ‘150 Shades of Perspective: A photographic exhibition’ (Image 4) where I showcased 193 photographs taken by me in order to let people reflect and engage with their own lives as well as on some development issues. This event was very successful and we could raise 700 pounds for a local charity organisation ‘Takeaway Heritage Project’. I believe this event has inspired many of us to do good things in future and make many more poor and vulnerable people bring within a protected and safe society.
Conclusion: How I shall utilize reflective skills and methods
As I also discussed with my reflective classmates in the last session, I have plans to utilise my reflective skills and methods in future. Firstly, when I shall go back to my country and work for the government again, I shall not only be aware of my position in the setting but also attempt to wear the shoes of the people I am serving and working with. Secondly, I shall use a lot of ‘I’ words in my writing to own and feel the subject matters. I shall try to adopt the story-telling method. Thirdly, I shall practice some methods myself and with my colleagues and friends including spirituality, dances, walks, listening, journal writing, theatre, and storytelling. I can also utilise some of these methods while conducting workshops and training particularly capacity building learning, communities of practice and open space. Fourthly, I shall continue to reflect using visual methods like photography, drawing, and filmmaking. Finally, I shall try to touch the hearts of my audience along with the minds.
The reflective methods have helped me to understand a lot of things, some of which I mentioned in this write-up. I believe I can continue to reflect and learn more about life and development in future. I am grateful to my peer group members for listening and sharing to me, to my classmates for their helpful and empathetic attitude and to my facilitators for their outstanding guidance. I am really proud of being able to earn reflective skills and looking forward to using them to make good changes in people’s lives including mine.
*Mahmudul Hoque Moni is the Co-founder of Say for Development. He is a Chevening Scholar studying MA in Governance and Development at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK.
 I made the video on behalf of the MA students at the Institute of Development Studies for the farewell of BLDS staff. The video ‘When Words Are Not Enough’ can been found and seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIUgWRklRd4
 To know more, visit http://www.betterworld.net/quotes/know-thyself-quotes.htm
 The photograph is a part of a blog written by Sarabe Chan and Chimwemwe Manayozo for the FCO. The blog can be found at http://www.chevening.org/scholars/blog/2016/collective-chevening-action-for-fundraising-through-a-photographic-exhibition
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Feature Photo: Mahmudul Hoque Moni