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The light at the end of the tunnel

  • Published at 08:52 pm March 31st, 2020
man sleeping streets dhaka poor poverty
File photo of a daily labour at Karwan Bazar in Dhaka Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Volunteers working in their local communities to fight Covid-19 deserve cooperation from the government

We may be slowly beginning to come out of the coronavirus paranoia.

I know that the realities seem bleak, but fortunately, the government data tells us that our coronavirus spread has not been as deadly as many other countries. It is true that the shops are running out of supplies and many areas, even within Dhaka, are out of contact with other parts of the city, town or district, but we have re-boosted our national auto-immune system, which is our community bonding and sense of social responsibility. 

Even though social distancing is prescribed for this virus, a different Bangladeshi flavour of social caring and compassion may be what is bringing us out of a disaster. Social caring, spread through social media during the distancing, is helping people cope with the emergency.

Even when we hear terrible news of coronavirus infection of the top national figures of UK, our top national figures, according to the government data, are still out of the infection of Covid-19.

As such, we still have a fighting chance and our local volunteers are working already, with limited personal protection, to make their communities aware about the virus and its potency and spread. 

This idea of giving back to one’s community in a time of crisis is ingrained in our religious, social, and cultural fabric, and we must encourage structural and cautious efforts of volunteering in this time of crisis.

This is heart-warming news. While it is true that these young volunteers are risking their own lives by doing community service without proper protection, which is almost impossible to find in the open market, it is also a hopeful story that Bangladesh has not given up. Bangladesh never gives up.

Many organizations I know, often without governmental cooperation, are distributing soap, sanitizers, and food among those who are most vulnerable. Bidyanondo is one of those organizations that are doing great work by providing free meals to the poor. 

In a similar manner, BD Clean is working to clean up the town. This idea of giving back to one’s community in a time of crisis is ingrained in our religious, social, and cultural fabric, and we must encourage structural and cautious efforts of volunteering in this time of crisis. 

Many of my own organization, Muktiforum, are also working in their own hometowns and villages to provide necessary supplies to vulnerable communities. Volunteers are going door to door in the villages and providing people with soap, disinfectants, and making them aware about the virus. People are improvising and creating their own version of PPEs from raincoats and going into communities like that of the sweepers, who are often deemed untouchable and who work on waste management with little to no protection, and providing them with disinfecting solutions. 

This risky story is a story of love, and the feeling of communitarian responsibility that may save the sweepers and, as such, eventually, Bangladesh. 

All we need is the government to act at a similar rate. It must help the volunteers, by providing them with proper protection gear and also act by itself in communities where help is hard to get. Not all can afford to come to the divisional hospitals where corona testing can be done or samples may be collected. 

As such, local young guns who are of good health should be able to volunteer with proper training and protective equipment. Without that, they themselves are at a risk of infection or infecting others. 

I realize that social volunteering is very risky in these times, but this is how Bangladesh deals with a national disaster. Even though the government has not invoked those terms -- that is what we are dealing with. 

And as such, the government must ensure that these volunteers can work in their communities and that they can get the supplies they need to keep themselves and people in their community free from coronavirus infection.

Anupam Debashis Roy is the editor and organizer of Muktiforum.

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