It is a desperate time. Humankind is collectively scavenging for hope. We are hoping for more compassion and empathy for one another and a society that supports its vulnerable. Gift for Good, a sister initiative of Alokito Shishu, is giving hope and has done exemplary voluntary work to provide food. Alokito Shishu is an organisation that provides free and quality education to marginalised communities and is run by Mithun Das Kabbo, during a conversation with Antara Farnaz Khan, he shares the initiative with New Age Youth
New Age Youth: What is the idea behind Gift for Good? How has this initiative evolved?
Mithun Das Kabbo: Gifts are given and received with a lot of pleasure and respect and that is the sentiment we want to emulate. We collect and repair old, essential items like clothes and utensils, and present them to our students which makes their lives better since they belong to marginalised communities. We also worked on crisis relief during floods and cold waves.
When COVID-19 spread in Bangladesh, we knew our massive network of volunteers had to rise to the challenges it posed. Initially, we focused on distributing masks and hand sanitisers, and spreading awareness about safety precautions like washing hands and social distancing. Then, as daily wage earners started to lose income, we shifted our focus.
We gave single meals to 3,000 people who were mostly rickshaw pullers and 7-days-worth of food to about 5,300 families. Our volunteers had to live in our office to do the work and did not have any Personal Protective Equipment for the first 10-15 days. But these difficulties, coupled with the strenuousness of reaching remote areas with heavy packages of food, did not daunt them.
One volunteer said that carrying the bulks of food made him happy, as it meant families would not worry about hunger for a few days. Now, we have obtained PPE, and I am less worried about our volunteers’ safety.
New Age Youth: Tell me about the distribution process. How did you execute the plan of addressing food insecurity?
Mithun Das Kabbo: Our strategy was to reach areas that mainstream efforts could not reach. We wanted to take a community-based approach and especially focus on social and cultural marginalised ones. Local partners, who were part of those communities and knew the people there intimately, gave us information about whom to offer food.
We went to Bhola and Moheshkhali to distribute food amongst households of fish farmers who lost their income. In Dhaka and beyond, like Mongla, Khulna, and Rajshahi, we went door to door delivering packages to people from transgender and Hijra community. The Bede community in Natore, the sweeper community in Munshigonj, and the Garo community in Dhaka were a few of the areas we delivered food to.
All across Dhaka, from Badda to Moghbazar, we carried loads of food in trucks, and transported them to slum-dwellers’ and day labourers’ houses. We also reached sex workers in Mongla and Dhaka.
Throughout our relief effort, IDLC Finance, Food Bank Network Bangladesh, Asha Hope for Bangladesh and many more organisations supported us immensely.
New Age Youth: How did you ensure that your relief efforts were organised and effective?
Mithun Das Kabbo: We maintained logistical standards like avoiding forming of crowds, and delivering to peoples’ doorstep for everyone’s safety. Furthermore, we tried to make our work as data-driven as possible.
We performed rigorous record-keeping of all our beneficiaries so we can follow up with them, undertook detailed surveys of their neighborhoods to understand their current needs and predict how much resources we would have to garner to support them.
We led a proactive effort in this way, but we also had to react fast when needed. For example, as soon as we heard about the fire in a slum in Rupnagar, Mirpur in March, we knew the need for food would be a major predicament for them that we had to mitigate and rushed to act.
However, there were definitely challenges we could not conquer. Often, especially at the beginning, we could not provide food for every person in a certain community and were faced with tears and cries. Our vehicles were even chased.
When word spread that we give food, people would congregate in front of our office and trucks. That took an emotional toll on us, but it also pushed us to mobilise fast.
New Age Youth: What have you learnt from the work you are doing in Gift for Good?
Mithun Das Kabbo: Well, it is certainly far from over. But so far, I have learnt to be proud of my country and its youth. As I watched the news every day and heard of all the negligence, oversight, and subsequent suffering, it made me feel scared. Even during our efforts, we faced some unforeseen challenges, like when one man kicked a volunteer of ours saying we were using the PPE gear that doctors needed more.
But I could not focus on those incidents because the hard work of our volunteers overwhelmed me every day. They never complained about risking their health, the toll on their bodies, or the mental pressure of the work. In fact, they thought it was a privilege for them to do this. We received donations from around the world and from every corner of Bangladesh; sometimes it was hard to keep up. The support we got from people kept our morale high and legs running.
I learnt that Bangladesh’s youth love and work hard for their country. They are doctors, volunteers, and activists. They are staying home and urging others to do so. They have taught me the importance of patriotism and community.
Antara Farnaz Khan is a fresh A level graduate and co-founder of Oroddho Foundation.
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