These small initiatives represent the very characteristics of Bangladesh. Such enterprises enabled us to combat many big crises in the past, said sociologist Professor Sadeka Halim
Several weeks ago when the coronavirus began taking Bangladesh in its grip, Asif came by a news report telling him that low-income people would be the hardest hit as they would be jobless.
The report moved him and he discussed it with his friends Fahim and Saidur, who are from two different universities. They transformed their e-commerce platform, which used to sell handicrafts, into a volunteer platform to collect aid for poor and destitute people.
"We started selling facemasks on low profits. Then we sought grants from the affluent. With the fund, we prepared 90 food packets each with 5kg rice, 1kg lentil, 3kg potato; one piece of laundry soap, one piece of Dettol soap and 500ml edible oil," Asif said.
They distributed the packets among the labour groups living in Sadarghat, Farashganj, Tantibazar and Banglabazar areas in the capital.
The three youths are now producing hand sanitisers. With the profits from selling them, they intend to help some more people.
The government has declared countrywide general holidays to ensure social distancing in order to curb the impact of coronavirus, resulting ultimately in making day labourers and other low-income group jobless.
Amid such a crisis, several charitable initiatives have kindled the light of hope. A number of humanitarian people, including students, volunteers and in non-government organisations, have come forward with aid for the rootless.
All these philanthropic activities are being run on individual and collective efforts.
"These small initiatives denote the very characteristics of Bangladesh. Such enterprises enabled us to combat many big crises in the past," said sociologist Professor Sadeka Halim, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Dhaka University.
But she expressed her disappointment over the roles of the politicians at this time.
"It becomes difficult to see our own faces amid the multitude of posters of these politicians during election times. But we have not heard about any of them coming out on the streets to help the destitute," she said.
If they do not come forward, apart from government initiatives, it will be difficult to face the situation, she added.
Already people have come to know about the aid measures of parliamentarian Mashrafe Bin Mortuza for his people or about the one by national cricketers who have given their half-month salaries to help corona patients.
But the small initiatives silently undertaken by some volunteers have drawn little attention from the news media. The Business Standard has come to know of numerous small but spontaneous initiatives taken by some kind people across the nation.
Bidyanondo to distribute food among 5 lakh poor
Such a charitable enterprise is Bidyanondo Foundation (Learn for Fun), an educational voluntary organisation in Bangladesh.
It will soon distribute rice, pulses, oil, salt, sugar, biscuits and saline among five lakh poor and destitute people in the country affected by the coronavirus.
The foundation, which is now busy packaging the food at its Dhaka office, has also urged other volunteer organisations to be a part of their initiative.
In November last year, the organisation served beef curry with potatoes to slum-dwellers in the capital.
After the Dhaka city corporation elections this year, it collected electoral posters and made them into notebooks for children studying in its schools. The plastic was used to pack winter clothes and the ropes were used to tie up sacks of rice and lentils.
Sultana Jannat, a senior volunteer of the foundation, said the organisation planned to distribute 500 tonnes of rice along with pulses, oil, salt and sugar to the labour families affected by the coronavirus.
"Our primary target is slums. We will distribute the commodities in other places after completing the slum areas," she added.
The Bidyanondo Foundation is now looking for other organisations to carry out the voluntary job together.
The foundation, on its Facebook page, shared a post seeking applications from volunteer organisations for distributing goods to the underprivileged in the country.
"We would like to include volunteer organisations in the distribution of food. Are you capable of delivering relief goods to the destitute if we send them to you? We are looking for recognised organisations," it said.
Sultana Jannat said the foundation wants to decentralise the distribution process because it will be difficult for it to reach those people who are really in a hardship situation.
Angel Chef distributes 10-day food to 500 families
Angel Chef, an affiliate of Parents' Forum for Differently-Abled Vocational Training Centre (PFDA-DTC) – a social welfare organisation, has already distributed 10-day food supplies among 500 poor and aged labourers at Karail slum, Badda and Karwan Bazar areas.
"With the money sent by our donors, we gave those people 10kg rice, 1kg lentil, 2kg potatoes, ginger, garlic, onions, salt and oil through the workers of Angel Chef," said Sajida Rahman Danny, chairperson of the organisation.
She said the organisation will welcome anyone willing to join its initiative. "It will enable us to reach more people with our aid."
DU Management Net ready with large-scale aid
In the present crisis, Management Net, an alumni organisation of 11 batches (1983-1993) of the Management department of Dhaka University, has not been sitting back either.
More than 1,500 members of the organisation are prepared to come to the help of the destitute on a larger scale within a day or two, said Rafique Haque, one of the conveners.
On March 25, they distributed rice, lentils, salt, oil, potatoes and soap among 50 families in front of Shyamoli Square in Dhaka.
Their concern now is to collect and distribute commodities as they will have to distribute those among people after maintaining social distance, Rafique added.
Management Net has been engaged in blood donation for 23 years. It has earned the best blood donor association award from the Red Cross six consecutive times.
The country has plenty of such individual and social initiatives being undertaken. A number of Dhaka University teachers have said many of their students, who have gone back to their villages following the campus shutdown, have prepared lists of rootless families.
They are also reportedly collecting funds from their families and people known to them and assisting the poor in both rural and urban areas.
Observers are of the view that the country will be able to cope with the ongoing crisis when all sections of society come forward with their efforts and programmes. And government initiatives should be implemented alongside.