The 26-foot long and eight-foot wide facility can accommodate 10 people and two patient beds
Hasan remembers precisely what happened on that day. It was July 10 this year, and the midwife of the village declared that his wife Ratna could not have a normal delivery due to complications.
She suggested taking her to a hospital and warned that they were running out of time. But the closest hospital from Hasan's village Rangabali in Patuakhali was at least a three-hour journey by trawler.
He was feeling helpless until one of his neighbours informed him of a boat ambulance service named Paira. When he called the driver, the ambulance arrived within half an hour. It took them 30 minutes to reach the nearest healthcare centre.
He was charged for the fuel cost only.
Not just Hasan, a lot of other residents of Patuakhali char area are benefitting from the boat ambulance service introduced by IDLC Finance Limited in collaboration with Obhizatrik Foundation. They named the ambulance MB Paira after the river that surrounds the area.
The idea of boat ambulance came to the members of Obhizatrik Foundation, a non-profit organisation, while they were working on a project with IDLC to build a school for underprivileged children in Latar Char area of Patuakhali. The organisation works on reducing poverty by focusing on health and ensuring education for deprived children.
While building the school, they took note of the challenging lifestyle of the coastal people. They saw children going to school by boat and heard stories about how critical patients had to wait all night for a boat or a trawler to go to the nearest hospital.
"We felt an urge to do something for these people, but we lacked the funding," said Ahmed Imtiaz Jami, president of Obhizatrik Foundation.
That is when IDLC, the largest non-banking financial institution in Bangladesh, stepped in as the mottos of the two organisations resonate with each other.
IDLC works with the slogan "Financing Happiness". They believe in contributing to the grassroots for a greater change in the society. That is why granting loans to small and medium enterprises is one of their most popular schemes.
Jane Alam Romel, group chief marketing officer at IDLC, said, "We believe in sustainable development that creates long-term value – value for our stakeholders, value for the environment, and value for the community."
In order to create a long-term impact in society, IDLC takes on issues related to health, environment, and education. They feel that these three sectors have the capability to mould a society's future as they leave a long-lasting impact.
That is why when they received a proposal for boat ambulance from Obhizatrik Foundation, they picked it up immediately, among many other ideas.
Farhana Sharmin, assistant manager of marketing communications and CSR at IDLC Finance, said they were astounded to know that about 1.5 lakh people in Rangabali were being deprived of their fundamental health rights due to poor communication system.
The residents of five villages – Rangabali, Chalitabunia, Char Mantaj, Chhoto Baishdia, Boro Baishdia – under Rangabali upazila are surrounded by water. Every time someone from the area gets sick or an emergency situation arises, they have to cross the River Agunmukha by trawler to reach the nearest hospital in Galachipa, which robs them of some vital hours.
Moved by the plights of these people, IDLC started working on the boat ambulance project in the middle of 2019. The IDLC team felt that no other organisation could be a more credible partner for them than Obhizatrik for a project like this.
In fact, the ambulance was designed by the foundation as well. In a 26-foot long and eight-foot wide boat ambulance, they managed to keep a space for emergency delivery.
It can accommodate 10 people along with two patient beds. It also includes medical facilities like emergency oxygen supply, medicine, and first aid. The idea is to keep a medical assistant along with a driver and a manager.
When the ambulance was ready, they started campaigning in markets and public places. In January 2020, they finally launched their boat ambulance for the people of the five villages.
They invited the local civil surgeon and the upazila nirbahi officer to the inauguration and held the programme in an open field, attended by other people. They did not think the responsibility was over after the introduction of the service.
They have a good monitoring mechanism.
"Many a time, an organisation does not supervise its projects. That is why beautiful initiatives go in vain. We try to keep tabs on all our projects so that the highest number of people keep enjoying the benefits," said Farhana.
In order to do that, sometimes they visit the spots without informing anyone and inspects how a service is helping people. They intend to increase the boat ambulance facility if the situation demands.
So far, they have served 350 people. This correspondent asked IDLC whether this service is going to contribute to alleviating poverty or changing the fate of the char people.
"This project is not dedicated to alleviate poverty. The objective of boat ambulance project is to provide access to healthcare services," said Romel.
In fact, all the projects of IDLC have similar long-term ambitions.
Romel mentioned another project named Oditiya. In this project, they offer scholarships to underprivileged women who are the first in their families to reach the honours level of education. They collaborate with a vernacular Bangladeshi daily and Asian University for Women for the project. They bear educational expenses of the women at the honours level.
"When a girl carries on with her education, it not only contributes to the economy but also to the overall women empowerment of the country. But we will have to wait to see that happening," said Romel.
Other than these, they believe in making space for young people. That is why when they started relief work during the coronavirus lockdown, they teamed up with new voluntary organisations.