Diaspora offers helping hand as Bangladesh reels from coronavirus

Bangladeshis abroad in the US are sending funds back home to help millions of poor people amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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    Bangladesh enforced a 'complete lockdown' from March 26 which has been extended until April 25 [Courtesy of Mahia Rahman]
    Bangladesh enforced a 'complete lockdown' from March 26 which has been extended until April 25 [Courtesy of Mahia Rahman]

    The Bangladeshi government has imposed a complete lockdown to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but the move has brought hardship to tens of thousands of people in the South Asian nation of 160 million.

    The government last week unveiled a financial package worth about $8bn to stimulate the nation's economy and help poor people make ends meet amid an unprecendented global crisis.

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    However, unlike other South Asian nations like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which transferred cash directly to the poor, Dhaka does not include such provision in its package.

    Reports of poor people and those who have lost work expressing their frustration over not getting any financial aid have already surfaced in the media.

    Mobilise funds

    Members of the Bangladeshi diaspora from the United States have mobilised funds to support poor families back home who have been financially hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    Shafquat Rabbee, a Texas-based academic, is among those coordinating relief efforts. In a video message posted on Facebook, Rabbee juxtaposed two photos to give viewers context.

    In the first photo, Rabbee showed two weeks' worth of supply that food delivery service Instacart delivered to his front door in Texas. The food items include gallons of orange juice, breads and even some snacks.

    On the other photo, he showed a few tattered bowls with rice and lentils, nothing else.

    "This is what a large number of people in countries like Bangladesh consume on a daily basis. The absolute poor people really don't eat a lot and they don't have the luxury to eat varieties of food," Rabbee said, "We, the privileged ones can help them get these in this time of crisis."

    As of Sunday, Bangladesh reported 621 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 34 deaths. The country has enforced a "complete lockdown" since March 26, which has been extended to April 25.

    Story on aid by Bangladeshi diaspora [Courtesy of Mahia Rahman]
    Reports of poor people expressing their frustration over not getting any financial aid during this time have already surfaced in the Bangladeshi media [Courtesy of Mahia Rahman] 

    "Instead of distributing food en-masse, one-off, on the street, I am trying to do something a bit more sustainable. I will feed for three months 100 families who lost their livelihood during the corona shutdown," Rabbee told Al Jazeera.

    The US-based academic said his first target was $10,000 and it was raised within 48 hours, donated by people mostly not known to him.

    "It was fascinating to watch people's selfless response," he said.

    Distribution through volunteers

    Rabbee has been working with a dedicated group of individuals and small organisations on the ground in Bangladesh.

    "They are taking great personal risks by distributing food supplies amid this pandemic."

    Mahia Rahman, co-founder of Resource Coordination Network (RCN), a non-profit organisation in Dhaka, is coordinating with Rabbee. She told Al Jazeera that they have volunteers on the ground to reach out to poor people.

    "We have been receiving quite a lot of funding from Bangladeshi people living abroad. There is a movement on Facebook with a hashtag known as #bacharlorai (fight for survival)," Rahman said.

    Story on aid by Bangladeshi diaspora [Courtesy of Mahia Rahman]
    Many members of the Bangladeshi diaspora has been sending funds to help with coronavirus efforts in Bangladesh [Courtesy of Mahia Rahman]

    "Under this hashtag Bangladeshi diaspora living in different countries are uniting for the cause."

    Shoron Rahman, a volunteer with RCN, said they use the money received from the diaspora to buy essentials like rice and lentils to distribute among the poor.

    "We are providing them with the supply for a month so that it becomes sustainable and they don't need to reach out to others for any further help," Rahman said.

    Anwar Ali, a daily wage worker, said the supply of rice and lentils appeared like a lifeline. "I had no income for the past two weeks. Now at least I can feed my kids with this."

    Raising funds for other causes

    Najneen Sultana, a Boston-based Bangladeshi student, meanwhile, is raising funds to donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to doctors and health workers in Bangladesh.

    The South Asian nation has a fragile healthcare system and its medical professionals are in dire need of PPE to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

    According to a UN situation report, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) in Bangladesh secured just 364,000 PPE sets, most of which were distributed to government hospitals. At present, the government only has 42,870 PPE sets left in stock, said the report.

    Sultana told Al Jazeera that she had contacted a ready-made garment (RMG) company in Bangladesh that can make a set of PPE for $4 each.

    "I am raising $15,000. We are going to contact DGHS and some NGOs in Bangladesh for distributing the PPE among the doctors," she said.

    Razoana Moslem, a Bangladeshi lawyer living in Sydney, is also raising funds. "I am raising it for the Bangladeshi students living in Sydney."

    Moslem said most of these students supported their studies and living expenses by working part-time. "Now with COVID-19 outbreak, they are not able to work and in need of basic things like groceries. I am raising funds to help them."

    "COVID-19 outbreak has affected us all. But if those of us who are in relative comfort come forward to help the people in need, then we can come out of this crisis together," said Moslem.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News