The naming of Shesh Bidayer Bondhu, meaning friend in the ultimate farewell, has been successful as members of this voluntary organisation have proved themselves as the real friends of Covid patients after their death.
The voluntary organisation was founded to meet up the hitherto unprecedented humanitarian need brought forth by the sudden arrival of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
As the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, an inhuman situation arose across the country centring the burial of those dying of Covid-19. Even the graveyard authorities at different places refused to bury them.
At such a difficult time when people were collectively acting inhumanly obstructing burial of the dead, and none was coming forward for arranging the burial of the victim of corona – the journey of Sesh Bidayer Bondhu started from Mirsarai upazila in Chattogram on 8 April 2020, just a month after the first Covid patient was detected in the country.
Since then, volunteers of the organisation have been working relentlessly day and night to raise awareness about the burial of the pandemic victims, besides burying the bodies themselves. A number of 216 volunteers, being divided in 18 teams with each team having five female and seven male members under a leader, are providing services 24/7 for not only the Covid victims but also to families facing burial problems after the death of a relative from any other disease.
The organisation has arranged burial of 92 persons in the last one year for free, in Chattogram, Feni, Noakhali and Khagrachhari. The deceased include corona positive, corona suspect and normal deaths.
Although, initially, the aim of the organisation was to bury Covid victims only, at present, its range of services has expanded further beyond their primary imagination.
At present, the organisation arranges the burial of any deceased person. Its wide range of services include, among others, washing of bodies; 24-hour emergency ambulance and oxygen services; assistance to orphans, poor and indigent; disaster relief assistance, and distribution of free burial shrouds.
These programmes are being conducted from the organisation's own office at Wireless area in Mirsarai upazila, on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway.
Describing the background of establishment of Shesh Bidayer Bondhu, its founder and chief coordinator journalist Nurul Alam told TBS, "Some media reports about the shameful impact of the virus on basic human nature saddened our hearts deeply. Reports like a mother being thrown out on the street, or deserted beside the road by her own children at the beginning of the corona infection in the country affected us gravely. It was widely reported that when a person died of corona symptoms, none of his relatives dared to bury him."
In such a context, a group of local youths decided "to do something, no matter how little".
Nurul said when Saleh Ahmed, an expatriate in Qatar from Mirsarai. After the beginning of the pandemic, he returned to the country and died at Halishahar, Chattogram on 3 June last year. His brother brought his body to the village for burial. Hearing this news, all the members of his family, which means all the people of his house left. Saleh's body, drenching in rain, waited for someone all through the day, in the yard of his own house, to bury his last remains. Chickens were roaming on the corpse. We got the news and went ahead and buried the body.
On 8 April, 2020, the official journey of Sesh Bidayer Bondhu started from a temporary office at Darul Ulum Madrasa in Mirsarai.
There was a huge social media response when they posted the aim of this organisation on Facebook. Their FB post circulated well in Chattogram, and people from different strata of society, including public representatives, doctors, journalists, madrasa teachers, imams of mosques and people from various other professions, stretched their hands of cooperation to them. Within days, Shesh Bidayer Bondhu emerged in an institutional form.
At present, the organisation has branch offices in different upazilas for the convenience of service. Its volunteers complete the burial process performing all rites; starting from bathing of the body and wrapping the body in burial shrouds to putting the body in a coffin and bearing it to the graveyard on their own shoulders, without any fear at all. Gradually the services of the organisation spread beyond the borders of Mirsarai to the adjoining upazilas and districts.
He said in two municipalities and 16 unions of Mirsarai, 18 units of Shesh Bidayer Bondhu have been formed. Each union has a separate team of seven male and five female members with a leader. A number of 216 volunteers work in these 18 units.
Nurul Alam further said there were days when Shesh Bidayer Bondhu members after completing burial rituals at 3pm could not return to their houses. On the one hand, the concern for the safety of the family members, and on the other hand, the threat of being driven out of the village with the family due to involvement with Shesh Bidayer Bondhu affairs.
"Even then, the volunteers were always ready with ambulances and shrouds night and day," he added.
Rashed Khan Chowdhury, a police inspector working at CID in Cumilla, said, "When my brother-in-law Golam Mostafa was infected by corona, Shesh Bidayer Bondhu provided oxygen cylinders. When his condition deteriorated, he was admitted to a hospital in Chattogram with the help of an ambulance provided by the organisation."
"After his death, the organisation took the body from Chattogram city to their office in Mirsarai with an ambulance and bathed the body at their office. After that the members of the organisation arranged the burial also," he added.