Like other developing nations, the Covid-19 has struck the economy of Bangladesh, dealing a massive blow against the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Since the inception of the global goals, youth-based organizations in the country are paving the way for these goals to be realized. It may be noted here that the youth constitute almost one-third of its total population. Many youth initiatives have emerged that target SDG themes like ending poverty by ensuring zero hunger (Goal-1 & 2), good health (Goal-3), quality education (Goal-4), gender equality (Goal-5), clean water and sanitation (Goal-6), reduced inequalities (Goal-10) and taking action against the implications of climate crisis (Goal-13). In the wake of Covid-19, this trend is reflected more vividly. From supplying relief materials to medical equipment, such activism across the country is radiating a beam of hope in a bleak landscape.
Photo: M. U. Zaman/ AFP
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the country’s overall poverty rate is 21.8% and they earn less than five dollar per day on an average. When the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country, the low-income groups were rendered helpless in the face of imminent financial hardships and the poverty rate increased to 35%
When lockdown was initiated back in March, these groups had to bear the brunt in a worse way than those working white-collar jobs. According to a study done by BRAC and Power and Participation Research Center (PPRC), the incomes of the ultra-poor, moderately poor and vulnerable non-poor in Bangladesh have fallen by 70% due to the coronavirus outbreak.
To address the problems faced by the poor, many youth-run initiatives have sprung up, stretching their helping hands, rushing to slums and streets with relief supplies, backed by the support of generous donations. Ashia Foundation is one such initiative.
Ashia Foundation was founded in March 2014 and has been working to alleviate the suffering of the poor ever since. Recently, the foundation, in collaboration with BRAC University Community Service Club, was able to serve 100 families in need. Until now, the foundation was able to serve more than 1040 families with their fundraising campaigns and subsequent donations of supplies like face masks, hand sanitizers, and food items (lentil, potatoes, rice, among others). Ashia foundation is encouraging the country’s young people into getting involved with voluntary acts and facilitating donation portals both for local donators and those living overseas. The foundation has collaborated with different Non-profit initiatives and other organizations like Shomonnoi Bangladesh, Renata Pharmaceuticals, Charity Rights Bangladesh, Rising Star Charity Bangladesh and Drishti, illuminating the strength in unity and solidarity of helping hands with those who are in need.
Photo: Ashia Foundation/Facebook
Another similar initiative working towards reducing the misery of the disadvantaged is BacharLorai (the fight to survive). It is a social movement that came to fruition by the union of Bangladeshi expatriates, citizens, and youth and grassroot initiatives. From disseminating public awareness to assisting vulnerable groups (daily wage earners, victims of natural disasters in the coastal areas, and other socio-economically disadvantaged people) to donating medical equipment to hospitals and orphanages, this movement echoes the ethos that lies at the heart of humanitarian work. One of the movement’s projects, “Oxygen for life”, addressed the grim shortage of oxygen cylinders in hospitals around the country. The project successfully distributed 118 oxygen cylinder units across 33 health centers over 17 districts.
In May, when the cyclone Amphan battered the coasts of Bangladesh, the communities living there were debilitated. They were dealt double blows: First, by the coronavirus pandemic, and then, by the raging cyclone. BacharLorai partnered with another leading youth-driven organization, Footsteps, to aid those affected by the cyclone. One bit of the disaster response measures included rebuilding houses. They have allocated funds to rebuild school as well. In partnership with Uttaran and other groups including the Local Government, the initiative also facilitated the distribution of 8725 packets of sanitary napkins to women in the affected areas. In the second week of July, when garment workers in the country were hit by a massive lay off, BacharLorai distributed food packages to 500 of those workers.
It is worth noting that the said organization—Footsteps—has also been working effectively across Bangladesh to promote clean water and sanitation for years. Project Trishna, one of their leading projects, is currently ensuring safe drinking water for 55,000 people in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Tangail. After the pandemic and natural disasters struck the vulnerable people, Footsteps have centered their focus on the relevant issues rising from the current circumstances—like providing food and clothing to the poor workers and cyclone victims.
Photo: Footsteps/ Facebook
Among the youth-led initiatives coming to the aid of the victims of financial hardships, Pashe Achi Initiative stands out in that it is devoted to helping booksellers, among other businesses, who have incurred major losses due to the pandemic. Since its inception in March this year, the initiative has helped 6000 vulnerable families. Project Gronthomongol, spearheaded by the initiative and its most popular project, promotes buying books from booksellers (through online platforms like Facebook) who would otherwise be afflicted by economic constraints. This widely praised project has been extremely successful in keeping certain booksellers away from financial distress. But it is to be noted that booksellers are not their only target group. Like every other non-profit initiative, Pashe Achi also supports struggling groups.
Photo: Pashe Achi Initiative/ Facebook
The aforementioned organizations and initiatives driven by the willingness and generosity of the country’s youth are only some among the many active and less-known operations. Through their workings, they capture the fact that selfless, helping spirits are still alive. They also capture the fact that in a country like Bangladesh, economic growth cannot be inclusive unless the widening inequality is halted and the Sustainable Development Goals are radically embraced by government bodies.