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3 January, 2008

Interview with Zakwan Chowdhury

In November Zakwan Chowdhury was awarded a prestigious Beacon Prize in recognition of his pioneering work against bullying.

Zakís commitment to anti-bullying began in 2003. Aged just 13, Zak and fellow students from Central Foundation School trained with Youth Act to set up an anti-bullying campaign and programme at their school. Following the success of the school-wide campaign, Zakwan Chowdhury has continued to make an incredible contribution to combating bullying both in the UK. and overseas. In November 2007 he was awarded the prestigious Beacon Prize for his pioneering work to prevent and raise awareness about bullying. As one of 13 carefully selected prize-winners, Zak joins the ranks of previous Beacon winners Bob Geldof, Jamie Oliver and environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, for his tireless campaigning work.

Youth Act were honoured to interview the victorious Zak minutes after he received his award.

What does winning this prize mean to you?

Zak: Itís amazing to be here, the atmosphere is incredible and for me, winning the Beacon prize is proof that if you start somewhere small, like Youth Act and your community, you can actually get somewhere. I wish everyone could see this and know that if someone else can do it then they can too.

How do you feel differently now compared to four years ago training with Youth Act?

Zak: Iíve improved my skills immensely over the past four years. I wasnít a confident speaker before. Standing next to someone else making a presentation, I'd usually be the one holding up a poster! Now I love the challenge of presenting and I can stand there myself and speak up with confidence. Itís just communication after all - talking to people, listening to people, learning this alone has been a huge experience.

What took you from there to being here receiving the award?

Zak: All the training together - Youth Act and IPower I - has brought out my confidence and made me see myself differently. Iím much more motivated, like last year when I took the stage at the anti-bullying conference. I kept thinking even if just one person thinks, ĎHeís 16 and heís up there, I can do that!í and then they go on to make a difference in the world we live, that would make me extremely happy and keeps me committed to making a difference.

Has being so active affected the other parts of your life?

Zak: Not really. If you organise everything well any thing is possible Ė I allocated my time for studies, for the anti-bullying work and for my family and I managed to get 4 As for the first half of my A levels. I feel really proud of what I have achieved.

You are about to embark on a world trip to promote anti-bullying and peace. Tell us about it.

Zak: I am so excited, I canít explain! It seems like a dream to me. I was telling my teacher, ĎThatís going to be something to tell my grandchildrenÖthat I travelled around the world to stop bullying!í Iíll be seeing so many things and meeting people every where to talk about and promote anti-bullying initiatives. I know already that some things will bring tears to my eyes, others will make me laughÖIíve travelled all around this country meeting really inspiring people who are making a difference supporting people who are bullied and thatís great but seeing the world is just on another level. Different cultures, traditions, the jungles, the desert. Itís going to be really important to me.í

What was it about Youth Act that worked for you?

Zak: Having your friends there made it fun...it was a laugh but all along we all felt that we were learning some thing really important whilst having a good time. The art of advocacy was one of the biggest learning points for me - I still remember Chris the trainer teaching us that. It gave us as a team a lot of inspiration and put us in a position where we could take our campaign forward on our own, it really made us believe in what we were doing and that we could combat bullying, some thing which, at the time was a massive issue for lots of people at Central Foundation School.

What is the best thing about receiving the award today?

Zak: Iíve come so far! This is just the end of the beginning. The award has made me very happy. Do you know what I did the other day? I showed my deputy head the statement I wrote ready for my interview for University [Cambridge] and she saw all things that I have been involved in as part of the anti-bullying campaign and she said, ĎAre you sure youíve done all this?!í She told me to put a portfolio together. Iíve kept everything from the early Youth Act training days, through the ABM anti-bullying counselling years to the plans we are making for our international tour. Iíve got the old Youth Act poster and thereís this photo of me, OJ, Abi, Jarrell and everyoneÖ.Seeing my face then and now is funny. I was a kid then, I was 13 years old but I feel just as strongly now as I did then that we all have the power to do some thing to make life better for other people. Itís just been so wonderful, the whole journey, from start to finishÖand I canít wait to move on to the next stage.

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