Friends bring businesses to aid needy Bangladeshi people

Julhas Alam

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (AP) — When Bangladeshi authorities prepared to enforce a nationwide lockdown in late March, three friends fretted: How would rickshaw drivers, factory workers and other working poor people survive?

With only BDT20,000 (USD236) in hand, their challenge was to channel resources from the generous haves to the desperate have-nots. They started making appeals for money.

The first response came from Bangladeshi cricket star Shakib Al Hasan who donated BDT2 million (USD24,000). With that, they began distributing food packs in the impoverished neighbourhoods in Dhaka.

Eventually, they succeeded in bringing about 120 organisations and business houses under one umbrella for their aid campaign, Mission Save Bangladesh. Their work has since expanded to helping families fighting cancer and to arranging supplies of masks and sanitisers.

“People are so generous! They responded to our calls from their hearts,” said Imran Kadir, who founded the campaign with friends Tajdin Hasan and Imtiaz Halim. Kadir spoke with The Associated Press as he and other volunteers visited a cancer hospital in Dhaka to distribute food packs.

“We started distributing food packs in impoverished neighbourhoods in Dhaka with the initial funds that came from the Shakib Al Hasan,” said Kadir, 32. “Slowly we expanded our reach outside the capital city.”

Bangladesh’s leading exporter, the garment industry, has been hit hard by the pandemic, and so have its four million low-paid workers. The industry reports that orders worth more than USD3 billion have been cancelled or suspended.

The Bangladeshi development agency BRAC said the incomes of about 51 per cent of the country’s rickshaw drivers, 58 per cent of factory workers, 66 per cent of hotel and restaurant workers and 62 per cent of day labourers in non-agricultural sectors have been reduced to zero since the lockdown began.

Businesses have reopened but the recovery would take time.

Many companies channelled money from their corporate social responsibility funds to Mission Save Bangladesh. “Till now we have raised about USD230,000. This is very inspiring,” Kadir said.

The group provided food packs to about 13,000 families and another 60,000 individuals. It provided an ambulance to a group to help families cremate or bury people who died of coronavirus.

In a cancer hospital in Dhaka, volunteers brought food packages for two weeks for the patients, most of whom came from villages.

Abdullah Biswas, a father of a cancer patient, was happy to get food packs.

“We are in serious financial crisis. This aid will help us a lot,” Biswas said.