Just like any of us during this lockdown, Amina Sultana Sanjana, an entrepreneur, was one day scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed to kill time.
Suddenly, a news item appeared on her feed about an elderly person who died in isolation from starvation. When she tapped on the news, she learned that the poor man had been infected with Covid-19 so his family had isolated him entirely and did not even check on him to provide food.
She felt miserable at how insensitive and cold we were becoming during this tough time. However, she tried to concentrate on her daily life. But before she could get over that feeling her phone buzzed with another bad news.
It was one of Sanjana's friends who called her to share her sorrows, as her father-in-law had just died. While listening to her, Sanjana felt like she was having a déjà vu. It was exactly the same story: an old man infected with Covid-19 died of starvation as all of his terrified children refused to take care of him. These two incidents deeply moved her and she felt something needed to be done to make this stop.
Without thinking much, she instantly posted on Facebook expressing her desire to help the Covid-19 infected people by providing them food. A few of her friends and well-wishers joined her promptly. In a day, she opened a public group with seven people on Facebook titled "Manusher Tore Manush" (https://www.facebook.com/groups/310901086968477) and invited everyone to share their initiative.
The purpose of this group is to deliver food to Covid-19 infected people and their families who live inside Dhaka city. All one needs to do is reach out to the volunteers over the phone, making them aware of the situation and placing the order one day early. There are two emergency numbers – 01316790097, 01852752815 – and the admin's inbox is always open for emergency service too.
Since June last year, the group has served around 1,000 Covid-19 infected people using this platform. Starting with just seven people, now the group has grown to 942 members. When Sanjana started her journey, she had only Tk9,000 capital, but now she has a list of donors who are ready to help her any moment during this tough time.
In the core team, seven people are tirelessly working to provide this service. The members of this group are not fixed as anyone can join in this voluntary work, only if they are ready to provide 24/7 service.
"The only thing that I make sure is you can be active online 24/7. If someone cannot do that, s/he is asked to leave the group. We need a bunch of enthusiastic people now who are willing to help people voluntarily, as, compared to last year, the number of orders have doubled," said Sanjana.
Sanjana herself is usually available 24/7 and works for the group relentlessly. Their day begins in the morning with receiving phone calls. By the evening, the team members collect all the orders, distribute the workload among each other, fix a delivery person and then start cooking for the next day.
As most of the Covid-19 patients need protein, the menu is more or less set - chicken, egg, lentils and sometimes vegetables. The menu changes according to the patients' health and emergency, Sanjana shared.
Manusher Tore Manush has been supporting people for a year and it's only difficulty was finding a delivery man.
"No one is ready to get in contact with infected people. It was very hard in the beginning, yet we managed somehow. Sometimes, a few angelic volunteers came forward and sometimes we managed through a paid delivery man. But finding both were difficult at the time. Things are becoming easier now as people are more logical and empathetic," said Sanjana.
"However, we requested the delivery companies to help us but none of them showed any interest in us. But by the grace of God we are running our operations without any complications," she added.
Based on the area, the core team members cook and deliver the foods. Volunteer Abu Rashed Al Subhan, merchandising manager of Ember Service Limited, shared his experience of delivering food amid this pandemic.
"There were hassles in every step of delivering food. Sometimes the landlord and sometimes the police stopped us from delivering food to corona infected people, even though it is an emergency. However, currently, we have received a clearance paper from police as emergency service and hoping things will be easy for us from now on," he said.
The volunteers of the group are not afraid to do extra work or to take a risk. They know their hard work will be paid off with kind words and content smiles. Housewife Soma Baidya had once taken help from this platform and expressed her satisfaction with The Business Standard.
"It might sound harsh but it is the reality that none of my relatives were by my side in that crucial moment, other than Manusher Tore Manush. Everyone knew my situation but no one dared to offer to send me food. Then, I found this group and contacted them. In the beginning, I did not believe them, till I found the parcel in front of my door. I clearly remember I was so overwhelmed that I cried," said Soma.
Sanjana or the volunteers of Manusher Tore Manush are neither looking forward to any donors nor have any intention to turn this initiative into any organisation. Sanjana believes this tough time will be over soon and things will be fine again.
"All we need to do is hold each other's hands till the end and pass this hard time. If someone wants to help us, kindly be a part of our delivery team and contribute to making our journey smoother," Sanjana appealed.