During the ‘unofficial’ lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, economically marginalised are struggling to survive. In this situation, Nafisa Khan, who is running two schools for economically marginalised children and who is working as a brand manager of a multinational company, has come forward to support the struggling people. An auto-rickshaw with daily essentials is rushing to the needy people who contacts her over phone. During an interview with Nasir Uz Zaman for New Age Youth, Nafisa talked about her initiative and experiences
New Age Youth: You are working to manage foods for economically marginalised people. What prompted you to begin this work?
Nafisa Khan: I run two schools for economically marginalised children in Kamrangirchar and Mohammadpur which have around 800 regular students. In March, when several restrictions were imposed for COVID-19, sufferings of economically marginalised people started to increase and the daily earners were struggling to manage their regular foods. As most of the parents of my students are daily earners, I decided to stand beside them.
My birthday was on March 27 and to celebrate it, I bought foods and daily necessities, including rice, lentil, salt, oil, potato, onion, orange, biscuit and medicine as birthday gifts for the families with my own savings. On my birthday, I went to them and distributed these gift packages among the 800 families. That day, when I posted photos with a short description on Facebook, I started to receive phone calls from my friends, relatives and colleagues who also showed interest to help for my further initiative. This is how I started to work and continuing till today.
New Age Youth: What is ‘Ekjon Bangladesh’? Would you like to talk more about it?
Nafisa Khan: You could consider it as a title of the platform under which I and my team members are working or you could also take it as a tagline of our initiative. From my point of view, I, myself will be the country when I will work for the country. And that is why I am introducing myself as ‘Ekjon Bangladesh’ but it is not an organisation or a campaign though many are thinking it as a campaign.
At the beginning, I was facing troubles to distribute the food packages — on the one hand, people faced difficulties to reach me for food in lockdown situation. Sometimes, I had to arrange their transport cost also. On the other hand, it was problematic to publicly share the home address. So, I decided to use my family owned CNG auto-rickshaw to reach those people. At that time, I made a banner including ‘Ekjon Bangladesh’ with my name and a contact number to avoid any trouble from law enforcement agencies.
Immediate after posting the photos including the banner, many phone calls started to come for foods. It was not possible for me to manage the whole food distribution process alone — receiving a huge number of phone calls, noting down their information with address, shorting the addresses and determining an area for food distribution, making food packages and so on. In that situation, some of my neighbours joined me.
New Age Youth: How is ‘Ekjon Bangladesh’ conducting the activities and managing funds?
Nafisa Khan: As I have said earlier, my neighbours — housemakers, students, garment workers are with me to carry out this initiative. Some of my team members respond to the phone calls from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm and ask the caller’s information including the address through a text message. We receive more than one thousand text messages every day. After 7:30 pm, we all sit together, note down all the information from the text messages and determine an area to go for food distribution in the next day. After that, we informed people to collect the food packages from a particular area. Some of my team members make food packages and I distribute the packages among those people.
From the beginning, I have received positive responses from my friends, relatives and colleagues as they showed interest to support me. I requested them to send foods instead of money so that the process remains transparent to all. I want people to collaborate with me in the initiative with food and distribution, not with money.
In some cases, I took money as donation only from them who were well known to me or who wanted to support me but could not send food stuffs. Tamim Iqbal’s, captain of Bangladesh One-Day International cricket team, contribution in my initiative was among such cases. I also ask people to distribute their donations by themselves with me.
New Age Youth: You have said that Tamim Iqbal contributed in your initiative. How did he come to know about your efforts?
Nafisa Khan: I was distributing the gifts packages through my own arrangements. Media reports on my initiative were also published in different newspapers. Tamim Iqbal might read a media report on my activities and reached me over phone. He talked about my initiative, appreciated it and encouraged me to continue such activities. He wanted to know how I was working and to whom the foods were being distributed. I informed him about my works in details.
After hearing the details, he asked me if I was taking any donation. I told him that I was taking donations only from known people and those were mainly food stuffs. Then he said that he would be happy if he could contribute in my initiative but it was not possible for him to send foods because of the lockdown. His interest to support my work was much encouraging for me. So, I took the donation from him.
New Age Youth: What is your experience so far?
Nafisa Khan: Till now, I distribute the gifts packages among more than 3,000 economically marginalised families. Moreover, I have started distributing cooked food from May 5.
So far, most of my experiences are positive. When I go to distribute foods, elder people give blessings patting my head and sometimes they become very emotional which encourage me to do something more for them.
New Age Youth: What is your plans about continue the aid effort in the coming days?
Nafisa Khan: Though it seems like that restrictions for COVID-19 are started to be withdrawn but the daily earners are yet to have work opportunities. So, their struggles to manage daily necessities are not ended yet. So, I want to continue the aid activity though I am not sure about how far I can go as my savings and funds are about to run out. I urge the people not to stop supporting who already stood beside people. We have more to do.
Interested people or organisations who are distributing foods among the people could collaborate with me. Or they can collect information from me and distribute by their own as I already have the data about who need aid. It is not necessary that only I have to do the distribution work. Actually, it is the work that must be done.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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