Shakil, an 11 years old boy, ran to the footpath adjacent to Dhaka Inland Container Depo Customs House in the capital's Kamalapur, along with his friends. They were beaming with happiness. After all, they had done something good that day. For example, Shakil had helped an old lady getting onto a train.
A volunteer named Shawon came to them. Shakil and his friends described the good things they had done that day. Shawon wrote down what they said and gave them food in exchange of their good work. The boys live in Kamalapur Railway Station and do odd jobs there to earn their livelihood.
Besides street children like Shakil and his friends, people of different ages gathered at the footpath for the meals. The volunteers talked to them, listed the good work that each of them had done and distributed packets of food among them. Once they are done with distributing food there, they roam around the city with the rest of the packets and distribute the food among needy people.
The menu was simple yet adequate – Khichuri (rice and lentils cooked together) and boiled eggs.
Usually when we go to restaurants or shopping malls, we have to pay cash for food or products and services. A 2011 sci-fi movie titled In Time showed time as a currency. But can you think of a place where good works turn into cash? This is what is happening here. These volunteers of Youth for Bangladesh are considering 'good work' as payment for food.
'Bhalo Kajer Binimoye Khaddo' (food for good work) is the name of the project.
This project is run by a Facebook based volunteer group 'Youth for Bangladesh' founded on 2012.
This initiative is a proof of how prodigious authors, poets, activists, artists and their works can influence people even after their deaths.
Though Md Arifur Rahman, the mastermind behind the project, and six of his friends have been involved in charitable work since their university days in 2009, famous author Humayun Ahmed's works inspired them to initiate this project.
"The world may be full of wicked people but it can never transcend the power of goodness. The characters in Humayun Ahmed's novels have made me feel that way," said Arifur.
He went on saying, "In one of his (Humayun Ahmed) TV dramas, there was a character played by Jahid Hassan, who made an agreement with himself to do at least one good thing every day. It made him happy. I realised that helping people made me happy."
Arifur and his friends wanted to carry out the charitable work further in a more organised way. That was why they created the Facebook group named 'Youth for Bangladesh.'
The volunteers of the group used to help underprivileged people, often taught homeless children academic lessons and during flood, they distributed relief. But they were not content with the work.
"We wanted to do something that will leave a significant impact on society. That was when the idea of giving food in exchange of good work came to our mind," said Arifur.
Arifur says sometimes poverty plays a role in many people getting involved in criminal activities. So he felt if people are not worried about food anymore, they would not be manipulated easily to commit crimes. Besides, the practice of doing good work will create an impact on society.
Last year they formed a circle named 'Daily 10 members' of 265 volunteers. These volunteers saved Tk10 every day. After saving for a month, the sum of Tk79,500 accumulated.
With that money, they implemented the plan of feeding underprivileged people on condition of doing good work every day. On December 5, 2019, they started the project of serving 250-300 people with at least one meal per day in exchange of good work.
Apart from the 265 contributors, there are 4,000 volunteers, who work for the project by rotation. They cook food, do food packaging and distribute meals among people.
How it has worked out so far
The perception of good work is not always easily understood. People like to think doing something good means doing something grand. But picking up a banana peel from the road is also a good work, says Arifur.
The volunteers of the group have said they regularly counsel people who come to them.
"Sometimes we feel that they are lying to us but we do not say anything. Rather we tell them how easy it is to do a good thing and we have seen people change gradually," Said Sakib Hasan Shawon, a founder member and a volunteer of the project.
The group does not accept donations from people randomly. Rather it prefers membership. Anyone willing to contribute can become a member of the group by filling up a google form.
The founder members have only two goals. Number one is to eradicate hunger and the second one is to spread goodness among people.
They plan to enlist one lakh 'daily 10 members' to achieve the goals.
For the time being, they have declared the footpath as 'Bhalo Kajer Hotel' but they dream of establishing a real restaurant, where underprivileged people will come and eat in exchange of good work.