Dhaka depot manager in the spotlight: Rafsan Hoque
Recently the Human Library celebrated its 20th anniversary. Twenty years of challenging stereotypes through personal conversations in over 80 countries around the world. A cause for celebration, but also a moment to put those who help make it all possible in the spotlight! This series aims to do just that, as we talk with our local book depot managers about their work for the community.
Rafsan Hogue is a co-founder and the General Secretary of the Human Library in Bangladesh. He and his friends Mushfiq, Upoma and Rifa started the library with some friends in 2017, after talking about the concept during one of their daily jogs. Since then, the depot has organised eight reading events and has helped giving back to local communities in several ways.
Founding of the Human Library in Bangladesh
“Mushfiq and I used to jog every night. We would talk about different stuff around us, mostly societal issues,” Rafsan remembers.
“Mushfiq always has a keen eye for new ideas,” he says. “One day he introduced me to the idea of the Human Library which he read about online. It felt like it was everything we were willing to do and more. So, we reached out to our good friends Upoma, Rifa and more, formed a team and applied as soon as possible.”
The group was so excited to get started they could hardly wait:
“We were not sure if we would get the opportunity, so we were very anxious. Our application was long and we worked a lot on it. After submitting our application, we became even more anxious. We could not hold ourselves and just ended up calling Ronni before giving them enough time to see the application. We received a positive response and started from there immediately.”
Working to build understanding
Rafsan believes the concept of the Human Library aligns well with his values and interests. Even though he knew little about diversity when he grew up, he became aware of it when he started studying:
“I find Bangladesh to be a relatively homogenous country in terms of ethnic and religious diversity, as 98% of the people are ethnically Bengali and 89% are Muslim. Being born in the city, I was not aware of much diversity around me,” he explains. “However, when I started my bachelor’s on Development Studies at University of Dhaka, I was exposed to a broad forum of multi-cultural groups and students coming from different parts of the country.”
Unfortunately, he also experienced much intolerance at his university. This led him to become passionate about creating the space to help us better understand our diversity:
“While I did find a confluence of diversity, I also found many to have an aversion towards change and towards people who were seemingly different. As I cried for social justice on different fronts, I found the issue of intolerance and conflict to be something that desperately needs to be worked on.”
This passion led Rafsan to become a researcher in development. It is also the reason he and his friends started the Human Library Book Depot in Dhaka. Rafsan agrees with both the purpose and the method of the library: “To promote understanding and empathy is something that I really believe in and want to pursue. Besides, the one-on-one intimate conversation method is unique and great for impactfully sharing the message.” he says. “Therefore, I like why we do it and how we do it.”
People and their life experiences are the heart of the library
Rafsan’s main function in the Human Library is finding, training and welcoming new books. He likes working with the books, as they are key to what the Human Library is all about:
“I believe the beauty of the Human Library is in its books. The books are the heart of the library and they make our events unforgettable. I have always loved positive stories. I was always intrigued by the posts of Humans of New York and have always wanted to share stories like that. So this has been an amazing opportunity for us.”
He especially loves his own personal experience with the books:
“My favourite thing about being a depot manager is to be able to talk to the books one-on-one. The stories are the heart of the Human Library. I love listening to them. And if I get to sit with them before the event, I get to hear the uncut, unprocessed version of it and ask as many questions as I like. It is quite thrilling to find someone you do not know and have an intimate conversation.”
Publishing stigmatized frontline personnel
Every country in the world has been affected by COVID-19 in different ways. In Bangladesh, the virus has created panic and uncertainty. Mistrust towards those working in the frontline to fight the pandemic has especially been prevalent, according to Rafsan.
Therefore, the Dhaka book depot is working on an initiative called ‘Know Your Heroes’. The goal is to publish stories of those who work to improve the conditions during the pandemic:
“We wanted to highlight stories of these heroes who need to be heard, in order to reduce conflict and create a positive mindset about frontliners and people in general. We felt people needed some positive stories.”
The team is planning to publish ten stories. “Our target is also to ensure diversity in these stories so that people become aware and more empathic of different communities,” Rafsan says.
Among the heroes is a trans woman (hijra) who helped out trans communities in Bangladesh during the pandemic. Another example is the captain of the Bangladesh wheelchair cricket team, who sent resources to disabled people across the country.
This way, the Human Library in Bangladesh helps to uplift the voices of those who are often unheard, even during a pandemic!
To learn more about the Human Library Book depot in Dhaka and our work in Bangladesh, visit the facebook page.
Want to get involved in your local Human Library book depot? Volunteer here