On April 11, 25-year-old Ayan Choudhury stepped out around midday, finding a rickshaw to take him to a nearby coffee shop. With the heat wave making it's presence felt in full swing, the ride was short, but the heat unbearable.
"I noticed my rickshaw puller was sweating profusely in the heat and had just poured water on his head to cool himself down," Ayan shared. Paying an extra Tk20 to the rickshaw-puller, he walked in to Gloria Jeans and ordered a drink. "It hit me that I just spent Tk400 to cool myself with a drink during the heat and only gave the rickshawala only a few extra Taka," he continued.
That night, Ayan was talking to his friends when he decided he wanted to do something for Dhaka's rickshaw-pullers. It was the first Monday before Pohela Boishakh and Ayan realised he wanted to begin the New Year with a small token of appreciation by distributing cold water, saline and bananas to Dhaka city's soldiers on three wheels - our rickshaw pullers. What began as a small call for action on his Facebook page, soon turned into a Facebook event page titled "Paanta-Rickshaw."
The idea was simple - have volunteer cars loaded with chilled bottles of water (in buckets) and packets of oral saline and bananas. Park cars near high rickshaw volume areas where rickshaws usually pick up passengers and hand a pack of two water bottles, one saline and a banana to any thirsty rickshaw-puller. The response was overwhelming and immediate. Coming together with three other friends and organisers Lamiya Jabbar, Sarah Zarrar and Shafin Babar, the event took off. More than word-of-mouth, it was the host of social media platforms that came to their aid. The Facebook event had 3,700 invites, 562 interested and 325 people that listed themselves as"going."
"Once we opened the Facebook event, we got a huge response almost immediately - people started messaging us to offer donations within the first few hours. This was very surprising for all of us. What was most astonishing was complete strangers messaging us to bKash their donations even though we were essentially a group of unknown individuals, we weren’t part of any established organisation," he added. Donations begin pouring in from home and abroad, with many others making material donations.
In a span of three days, they raised enough to purchase an astonishing 4,000 bottles of water, 2,200 sachets of saline and 2,000 bananas alongside receiving material donations. On the morning of Pohela Boishakh, at 11am sharp, a team of 41 volunteers took leads on five different areas (Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Gulshan, Banani and Uttara) to begin distribution, with other groups organising distribution separately in their own localities.
Unsuspecting rickshaw-pullers welcomed the initiative, accepting it with gratitude and surprise. The pioneering initiative not only catered to rickshaw-pullers, but some volunteers also handed out water bottles to traffic police on duty.
“There could not have been a better start to the new year than the humbling and motivating dopamine rush of being on the streets distributing the bare essentials to the lifeline of our city. I knew my entire week would go well when the faces of the rickshawalas lit up, and it would instantly create a deeper harmony within us,” expressed Shawkeen Siddiquey, a volunteer stationed at the Gulshan section.
"We knew this is not going to solve poverty or have a sustainable impact..this is simply a way for us to help the hard working rickshawalas start off the year with a very small token of generosity," the Paanta-Rickshaw Facebook event page reads.
Addressing the overwhelming response, Ayan extended the event for another day to complete distributing the rest of the stock. Interestingly, Paanta-Rickshaw raised more money than they spent on the event. Although the event was just a one-time initiative, Ayan and the other organisers are looking towards using the leftover fund for a project that is more sustainable. "One of our plans is to make a rickshaw-van to distribute water on a more regular basis with the help of volunteer groups," he added.
"Really, great things can happen when we all come together. Maybe giving a water bottle, saline and banana to a rickshawala is not going to solve poverty or have a long term impact, but if it puts a smile on the faces of people who work so hard to make a living then we can consider our mission a success," he concluded with a smile.
To know more about their future plans and/or to make donations, log onto https://www.facebook.com/PaantaRickshaw/.