In Bangladesh, the government’s measures to address the COVID-19 crisis are criticised. While the government was yet to address the crisis, Bidyanondo Foundation started working to fight against COVID-19. During an interview with Nasir Uz Zaman for New Age Youth, a volunteer of Bidyanondo, Aunonto Arfat talked about his experiences and the foundation’s initiatives
New Age Youth: You are a volunteer of Bidyanondo Foundation. Would you describe the foundation’s journey and activities?
Aunonto Arfat: Bidyanondo Foundation is a voluntary organisation founded by Kishor Kumar Das, a former Peru-based corporate professional and social activist, in 2013. Bidyanondo literally translates into education for fun. The foundation has started its journey with some students at Narayanganj. Currently it has eight branches nationwide with 40 officials and a few hundred, mostly youth, volunteers.
Though the foundation is mainly focused to support education for the underprivileged children but it has some other important initiatives or projects which have given the foundation a unique identity — one-taka meal, one-taka medical aid, one glass of milk, orphanage centre, and the latest is the fight against COVID-19.
Mainly, it is our vision to spread humanity and kindness in the society where every people can live in a peaceful environment. With the vision, we work for the people who are struggling with poverty.
New Age Youth: How did you get involve with Bidyanondo Foundation?
Aunonto Arfat: It was 2014 when I was a university student, came to know about Bidyanondo from one of my junior friends. At that time, I used to take coaching classes for university admission test. One day, the friend informed me about the foundation and asked me if I could take university admission test coaching classes of economically marginalised students at Bidyanondo.
I went there and took a class which gave me inner satisfaction. There were many commercial coaching centres with the notion to earn money only but Bidyanondo had the notion to help economically marginalised students. Though Bidyanondo members offered honorarium for class but I did not take that and informed them that I would take the classes without any honorarium.
Later, that night, Kishor Kumar Das knocked and thanked me which was very much inspiring for me. That night, I said to him that it was very hard to see such initiatives for economically marginalised people that he was taking. When I expressed my will to work with Bidyanondo, he immediately welcomed me and this is how I get involved with Bidyanondo Foundation. Gradually, I started to take the responsibilities of different projects of the foundation.
New Age Youth: Recently, Bidyanondo has taken a project titled ‘Let’s fight against COVID-19’ and you are working in it. What steps Bidyanondo have taken so far?
Aunonto Arfat: When the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease began to spread in Wuhan, China and began to take a pandemic form, we were taking preparations to face COVID-19 in the country. We held several sessions among the members to decide our immediate response to the crisis if coronavirus would start spreading in Bangladesh. The founder of our organisation advised us to take preparation and we started researching to decide our future steps to save the most vulnerable people in our country.
From the foundation, we decided to make face masks as it is seen that the price of necessary things become high in any crisis moment and the economically marginalised people cannot afford those. As per decision, we began making face masks in the foundation’s garments project — Basanti. We have seen how the price of face mask increased and we started distributing face masks among underprivileged people. We also began making and distributing hand-sanitisers, hand-washes as well as creating awareness among the people.
Actually our respond to the crisis depends on the situation. When we have seen the lack of personal protective equipment supply, we have arranged them by making and later buying to distribute them among health care staffs. Besides taking and continuing these safety measures, we are spraying disinfectants to fight against the spread of coronavirus. The volunteers are spraying disinfectants in vehicles, streets and hospitals.
Meanwhile, the sufferings of the economically marginalised people increased when the situation deteriorated, several restrictions were imposed and more and more areas were put under lockdown. In such condition, we have started distributing cooked meal and daily necessities like rice, lentil, salt and oil. Besides this, we are buying vegetables with fair price from the northern part of the country and putting them in different areas of Dhaka city, from where people can take what they need.
As I have already said that our respond to the crisis depends on the situation and we will also take further measures when situation will demand.
New Age Youth: Most of the steps Bidyanondo has taken are for economically marginalised people. What are the causes behind it?
Aunonto Arfat: First of all, Bidyanondo is an organisation to work for economically marginalised people. They are our first priority from our vision and also from the reality. Not only in the coronavirus pandemic but also in any crisis these people become the first victim. The ‘roller coaster’ of the crisis first goes through these people.
Let me give an example from the present situation. A day labourer who has no work, cannot buy foods but middle class or high class people can. Already day labourers or economically marginalised people have no work and food. It is true that if the situation will deteriorate further, it will affect middle class or high class people gradually. But till now, these economically marginalised people are the worst victims. And we are standing beside them to reduce their sufferings.
From Bidyanondo, we do not say that we could abolish poverty or we could help all the people but what we say and could do is to create examples and encourage others to come forward who has the ability to do something. For example, we have started to make hand-sanitisers and PPE, spray disinfectants and distribute daily necessities. Now many people and organisations are coming forward to fight against the crisis.
New Age Youth: The initiatives that you have taken to fight against the COVID-19 crisis are mainly the responsibilities of the government. What do you think about it?
Aunonto Arfat: It is the government’s responsibility to fulfil its responsibilities. As the citizens of this state and as the members of the society, we have some duties that we cannot deny. We are all in a crisis period and to overcome it, we all need to come forward and work together. The government is working in its ways. Sometimes it acts successfully, sometimes cannot. As an organisation, Bidyanondo is working as a fellow of the government and other organisations those want to overcome present crisis.
New Age Youth: As a volunteer of let’s fight against COVID-19 project what are your experiences?
Aunonto Arfat: While working in the project, I have experienced a change in people’s consciousness. Precisely, the collective consciousness that the crisis is not for only one but for all and only one cannot overcome it but the unity could is growing and increasing day by day. People are shifting from individual interest to collective interest.
For example, a person who has some food boxes, called us and donated those; a Pathao driver is helping to carry food; one has lent the car and said, ‘Use it as you need’; a top chemical company is supporting with the equipment and the solutions. Actually different walks of people, institutions and organisations have come under a platform with the realisation that the crisis of coronavirus pandemic could be overcome unitedly. And it gives us the hope to win the fight against COVID-19.
New Age Youth: What are the future plans of let’s fight against COVID-19 project?
Aunonto Arfat: As I have said earlier that our respond to the crisis depends on the situation and we will take further measures that the situation will demand. We have several sessions with experts and learned that it would take time to see an end of the pandemic. If it lasts long, the chain of food supply would be broken in the coming days. And for that situation we are taking preparations by storing dry and packaged foods. At least, we will continue food distribution programme.
In Bangladesh, the season of dengue fever is coming. In the last year, we had experienced a nationwide dengue outbreak. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the casualties will not be measurable if dengue outbreak repeats. So, besides taking preparation for future days of COVID-19 pandemic, we have already started working against dengue outbreak. Actually, we need to take measures before any crisis begins.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Icon