To those without a roof over their heads and in desperate need of food during the shutdown, relief came late, or did not come at all. But volunteers have been helping them with free meals
It was five-thirty in the evening when Rakib and his friends took positions outside the TSC compound of University of Dhaka.
They maintained physical distance by standing on circles drawn on the ground, each two metres away from the other.
10 year-old Rakib lives in central Shaheed Minar with some other children. All of them used to work in makeshift shops before the shutdown was announced.
Without jobs, they thought they would starve to death. But Tanbir Hasan Shaikat, a Masters student at University of Dhaka, saved them by bringing food for them and other underprivileged people in the area.
On a day in May, almost near sunset, when a torrential rain had tamed the summer heat, a lot of poor and floating people like Rakib were gathering outside TSC, as they had been for the last one and a half months.
To those without a roof over their heads and who desperately needed food during the shutdown, relief came late, or did not come at all.
However, few individuals came forward to their rescue and a number of others joined in. The Business Standard presents some of these benevolent projects.
Tanbir Hasan Shaikat: A one man army
When the shutdown was announced and students were asked to leave, Shaikat got worried about the small businessmen, makeshift shop owners and homeless people on the campus who were going to become unemployed.
He decided to stay back to help them. As halls were locked, he started living in a TSC guest room.
On March 23, he bought groceries and started cooking meals for these people.
He posted pictures on social media, inviting others to join him. It did not take much time for others to respond to his call.
He received donations from friends, seniors, university teachers, even political leaders, and his project quickly took a shape.
Eventually six other students joined in his initiative. At the moment, some of the unemployed small businessmen cook for Shaikat and he pays them with a token amount.
Now he feeds around 1400 people every day during iftar and sehri.
He said, "I am going to continue with this project for as long as I am capable of, and as long as there is no permanent solution."
He thinks rehabilitation of these people is the only permanent solution.
"Most people who come here are homeless. So providing them with relief is not enough, we must accommodate them somewhere as soon as possible if we want to curb local transmission of the coronavirus."
He suggested using the space of Suhrawardy Udyan to temporarily accommodate them until the situation gets better.
"If I get funding, I will carry out this feeding programme there as well. But for now, their rehabilitation is very important, considering the fatal nature of the virus."
His project is also benefitting other marginalised people. For example, an electrician has been collecting food from Shaikat for a week.
With embarrassment in his eyes, the man refused to tell his name. He has been unemployed for a month and is the only earner in a family of five members.
He comes here lying to his family about work and eats here to save them from the expenses of his meal. These days, this is the only time he gets to eat.
Shaikat said, "As our economy is still stagnant, with time, it is making more people financially vulnerable. Those who are carrying out relief work have to be more strategic now."
This correspondent asked him how he protects himself while serving so many people at a time.
"I wear mask and gloves all the time and sanitise my hands. Other than that, all I can say is this is our age to take up risks for our country," he said.
Fardous Ahmed Uzzal: The guardian of 48 families
Putul is now eight months pregnant. Her husband had left her in the beginning of the pregnancy and after stumbling for a few days, she returned to her mother's home in a Mohammadpur slum.
Her mother was a domestic help and her father was a construction worker, both are now unemployed.
The shutdown left the already impoverished family of six in great distress.
Putul and her family has been surviving with the help of Fardous Ahmed Uzzal's project titled "Dim khichuri" (eggs and kedgeree) where they provide a family with one night time meal.
The project members have also promised to carry out the expenses when Putul goes into labour.
Uzzal had realised from his experience as a social activist that the pandemic was going to hit marginalised communities to the core.
After launching a campaign called "Chal-daal-alu, bachar jonno 450 takaye ek shaptaho" (Rice-lentils-potatoes, Tk450 to survive for a week) along with his wife, which focused on marginalised middle-class people, he felt the need to help the most deprived ones.
This is when the idea of offering a simple yet nutritious meal came to his mind. With the help of friends and well-wishers, they launched this project on the first day of Ramadan.
They have brought slum residents, floating sex workers, as well as bedey (gypsy) community members under their service. They have even managed to help some indigenous residents of the Bandarban district.
Although the number fluctuates, they usually reach out to 48 families, which is around 200 people every day. Their meals also help those who are facing financial troubles because of the shutdown.
"We help a stationery shop owner who lives in a flat, but his business has not been going well during the shutdown. So we send the food to his home to save the family from embarrassment," he said.
Uzzal added that he wants to help more than 200 people during this time. However, funding is a problem since the daily cost of preparing these meals is around Tk6000-7000.
They cook on the rooftop of his house with the help of a few volunteers.
"I started the project as a concerned and responsible citizen. I am doing whatever I can, but I think our relief work should be more organised if we really want to help the deprived ones," he said.
He suggested that a list could be made centrally on how many organisations are currently working on the ground and what are they emphasising on.
"The government can financially help Bidyanando or Shaikat, and those who are doing similar work, and also focus on other less fortunate communities at the same time." said Uzzal.
He thinks that the situation can be better dealt with if everybody works in a more organised way.
Gen Lab: Lending a helping hand
Gen Lab, a civil society organisation has launched its charity wing titled "Shahojogita corner". Shahojogita, which means help, intends to come to the aid of underprivileged people during this crisis.
Since March 25, Shahojogita corner has been providing food packages to the poor that are enough to survive for two days.
Currently they are active in four localities (Dhanmondi, Mirpur ECB, English Road in Old Dhaka and Ashuganj). Among these, the Dhanmondi branch is open for 24 hours while others offer services three or four days a week.
Ishrat Binte Rouf, manager, communications, Gen Lab said, "There was a time when neighbours were close and helped each other when it was needed. That culture is lost. We are trying to revive it by helping our neighbouring people."