Our humanity, empathy and responsibility is being tested by the coronavirus pandemic. While many suffer in pain and agony in hospitals or stay marooned at home, some stand tall during this moment of crisis and walk the extra mile to help others. Their courage and grit keep society from falling apart.
They hand gifts – wrapped in love and hope – to the poor. They clean our streets, collect our waste or bring food to our doorsteps. The Business Standard's Bishakha Devnath, Jasim Uddin, Foysal Ahmed and Shafayat Hossain joined hands to bring their stories to light.
These are the stories of the heroes among us-
"We do not want to be celebrated. But vilifying us kills our spirit."--Sami Al Hasan, Frontline Doctor
"My job is to carry out surgeries. So, when I saw my name in the roster of doctors supposed to assist in coronavirus treatment, I felt a bit stressed because this is not my discipline. I was also concerned about infecting my elderly parents who live with me.
In fact, most doctors live in joint families because our parents help us manage our professional lives by sharing responsibilities.
"But these issues took a backseat in my mind once I started attending to patients," said Sami Al Hasan, assistant professor of surgery at the fever corner of Kurmitola General Hospital.
"It is natural to fear the unknown. But when the moment comes, you deal with it anyway. And this is what I have been trained for– treating patients," he added.
Donning his PPE, Dr Sami screens patients with fever, severe cough and breathing difficulties, and even those who have already been infected with Covid-19. From the fever corner, he sends patients to other units such as the observation corner, the isolation units or the coronavirus unit.
"We are not working in an ideal environment but we have to make do with whatever resources we have and this is the situation everywhere. We are examining patients wearing regular masks instead of the regulation N95 surgical masks. We even wash and reuse our goggles. There is no point complaining."
Sami's seven-day duty began on the afternoon of April 1. He has been spending his 14-day quarantine inside a small study room in his Rajarbagh apartment, not allowing any family member to get close to him.
"It is a different war. It is not my safety that I am worried about. I am worried about transmitting the virus to my loved ones who are vulnerable."
The hospital authority tried hard to arrange hotel accommodation so that the teams of 40 doctors on duty in seven-day rotations would not have to return home.
"But hotels do not want to rent their rooms to us; they fear this will harm their business," he said.
Many doctors who themselves have heart problems, diabetes and other health complications fear for their lives, but still continue to provide treatment.
"We do not want to be celebrated. But vilifying us kills our spirit."
"But when a patient dies, it breaks my heart as if I have lost a loved one. My sacrifice of not being with my child seems insignificant then."--Kanis Fatama, Senior Staff Nurse
Every night, Kanis Fatama walks about 45 minutes to work from her residence in the Norda area of the capital to catch her 8pm shift. She makes the same journey back home after working for 12 hours at the emergency department of the Kurmitola General Hospital.
"I assist doctors while they screen patients, take their temperature, pulse and the oxygen saturation in their bodies.
"When the oxygen level drops, meaning the patients are unable to breath in enough oxygen on their own, I immediately give them oxygen. Otherwise, they would be in severe pain until being shifted to another ward."
From Sunday night through to the next morning, she took care of about 20 patients, many of whom had already tested positive for coronavirus. The previous nights were more or less similar since April 8 – the day she joined the team of healthcare personnel fighting the coronavirus.
At home, Kanis stays away from everyone – including her 18-month-old child.
"I have stopped breastfeeding, stopped getting close to my child since my job brings me in direct contact with coronavirus patients."
Both her husband and sister-in-law, who also work in healthcare, understand her professional obligation.
"I cannot refuse to do what I do. It is professionally unacceptable, unethical. If we, the nurses, do not provide the care, where will the patients go!
"Not all patients are dying. It feels good when patients recover and return home. But when a patient dies, it breaks my heart as if I have lost a loved one. My sacrifice of not being with my child seems insignificant then."
"It hurts when the hungry come for food and we have to turn them away. This pain cannot be shared with anyone." --Mohammad Baharul Alam, Community Volunteer
When word of a lockdown was making its rounds in the city, his well-wishers and colleagues at the World Bank advised him to stock enough food for his large, extended family, including 18 adopted children living in the capital's Bosila area. He promptly acted on the suggestions.
"But it quickly struck me that although I could manage food for my family, what would happen to the poor in my neighbourhood and those who would be losing incomes."
Mohammad Baharul Alam shared his thoughts with his wife. But he did not have any money left.
"My wife then gave me Tk40,000 that she had saved up for one of our children's education. I purchased food items the next day with that money and started distributing packages among the poor."
As the founder of Tripto Foundation – an organisation dedicated to support destitute girl children – Baharul has been using a well-connected network of volunteers and neighbours in his area who facilitate the food distribution process. From identifying people who need food to delivering packages to homes of some middle-class families at night, Bharaul and his team do it all.
And when it comes to preparing the packages, his children at home happily do the job.
"I am receiving immense support from well-off people, from my friends and also from the administration. The local police are helping me to get the food delivered to my home."
He started off with 50 food parcels and now aims to give out 80 parcels a day.
"It hurts when the hungry come for food and we have to turn them away. This pain cannot be shared with anyone."
"Hunger bites us more than the virus. I earn Tk200 a day. If I do not work, I don't get paid and so I'll starve." --Jahangir Alom, Waste Collector
During the time of the coronavirus, Jahangir Alom has continued collecting waste from residential buildings in the capital's Basabo area. To protect himself from the virus, he wears a mask, hand gloves and a waterproof cap.
A close look reveals that his gloves are torn.
"I have to carry heavy loads, that's why these are torn," said the 19-year-old Alom. He was quiet when asked about his safety measures at this time but he said he washes his hands when he returns home.
"My supervisor told me to use gloves, mask and head cover and not to touch the household waste."
Every housekeeper keeps waste in a large plastic container, which Jahangir then shifts to his van. He then carries the waste to the nearby waste substation.
Jahangir is not afraid of the virus. "If I am destined to die, I shall die from the coronavirus. Otherwise, nothing will happen to me.
"Hunger bites us more than the virus. I earn Tk200 a day. If I do not work, I don't get paid and so I'll starve."
Jahangir left Bikrampur last year and came to Dhaka after all their family agriculture land had been sold for his parents' treatment. His parents later died. He has a sister but he cannot remember when he last met her after she got married years ago.
His work is his only companion and he feels good to serve the community.
"I cannot sit idle and wait for the occasionally provided relief. I am the only one working in my five-member family,"--Habib Ullah, Vegetable Vendor
"A father cannot bear it when his children cry for food. I had to step out of home for them, if not for anything else," says vegetable vendor Habib Ullah, 45.
He sells vegetables in the Khilgaon area although almost all economic activities, offices and transport have ground to a halt in and outside Dhaka to stop the spread of Covid-19.
"We live from hand to mouth. So, if we don't work for a day, we don't have anything to eat that day."
With two-thirds of his income gone for several weeks, Habib strives to make ends meet by selling vegetables from a van.
"I cannot sit idle and wait for the occasionally provided relief. I am the only one working in my five-member family," Habib explained.
"Also, I am helping people in the neighbourhood to get vegetables at their doorsteps. This way they can avoid crowds."
Kazi Farhan Islam
Kazi Farhan Islam works as a teller at bank. The areas near his branch have been found to have patients infected with coronavirus. He fears that many of his customers might transmit the virus while coming to the bank for its services.
Nevertheless, he has been going to the bank in Nawabpur from Mohammadpur every day since the shutdown. He rides 9 kilometres to work on a bicycle and makes the same journey back home.
"Every day, l have to explain to law enforcers four or five times on my way to the bank about why I am out on the streets. I show my office identity card and then they let me go," he said.
Half the bank staff attend office for a week, and then are replaced by the remaining half the week after.
"We have reasons to worry and so we strictly follow safety protocols. The bank authority has provided personal protective equipment [PPE]. Customers are told to use hand sanitiser before entering the office.
"This is an emergency, so we are serving the people."
Line Chief at Snowtex Outwear ltd
"On March 28, we heard an announcement from our managing director that our factory would produce PPE, which would be donated to doctors, nurses, police and media professionals.
"I was the first to raise my hand to say I would do it. I thought it was time to stand up for them, for their safety. Doctors and nurses would wear protective gears made by us while treating corona patients; it is a great honour for us," said Hasanuzzaman.
He had already talked to his wife and said he wanted to contribute to help fight this crisis. He had volunteered many times before. But this time, his wife was frightened.
"Initially, I was nervous too but my workplace [in Dhamrai] has all the safety measures in place."
As the PPE production rolled out, Hasanuzzaman said, "My wife and my 10-year-old daughter felt proud of me."
Customer Relationship Supervisor at Agora
"My job is to issue bills and receive payment from our customers. Every day, I deal with hundreds of clients," said Shila Akhter.
"Some may carry the coronavirus. We are trying to maintain social distance between customers and ourselves to minimise the risk. It is our responsibility to serve our customers, to make food available for them."
Shila's mother wanted her to go to Barishal with her before the shutdown but she convinced her that she could not avoid her responsibility in this situation.
"My mother is concerned about me. It's like a war. Every one of us should do what we can to serve the nation. My father was a freedom fighter. If he were alive today, he would have been proud of me.
"I felt good when one of our oldest customers said, 'Shila, without you opening up, where would we go for grocery shopping and essential commodities?'"