Golam Tousif, a medical student from Rajshahi, received a phone call at midnight. The caller was begging for an oxygen cylinder.
"My sister's oxygen has dropped to 80," the caller cried for help.
Tousif and his friends lead a volunteer group named Team Zero. The group began its operations last year during the first wave of the coronavirus. They distribute emergency health kits among people and provide oxygen cylinders to critical Covid-19 patients.
Tousif rushed to attend to the patient with a cylinder. Before her oxygen level fell to a precarious state, she hadn't tested for coronavirus, despite showing symptoms.
Thanks to her luck and Team Zero's effort, she survived the night. The following day, she tested positive.
This is one of the many incidents Team Zero youths have been setting as examples at a time when a section of our society thinks of university students as whimsical and reckless.
Team Zero comprises mainly engineering and medical students.
In the beginning, the members of this group raised money from their families to distribute daily necessities to the poor. Then came support from other people.
When help came, they provided more than 6,000 people with necessary food items for one week, distributed iftar items during the lockdown and rice and meat during Eid last year.
Like the previous year, they spread joy by distributing meat to 152 underprivileged families this Eid-ul-Fitr. They named this campaign "Ek Sher Mangsho" (1 kg Meat).
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Team Zero has raised around Tk600,000.
"Initially, we approached our friends and acquaintances to contribute to our projects. We maintained transparency by updating information on our collections and disbursement of funds on Facebook.
"This transparency helped us not only to grow our community but also receive more donations. Consequently, this has helped us initiate diversified and bigger projects," said Saif, a Team Zero volunteer.
With a nearly 50 percent Covid-19 positivity rate, Rajshahi is presently going through a nightmare.
Racing with Chapainawabganj, a border district where the Indian variant of coronavirus has posed an unprecedented threat, Rajshahi and some neighbouring districts are facing a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.
Besides, there are abundant undocumented patients like the one we mentioned at the beginning, who needed an oxygen cylinder to survive.
Team Zero has responded at this extraordinary time by increasing the supply of oxygen cylinders to critical Covid-19 patients. "We provided oxygen cylinders to the critical Covid-19 patients for free during the first wave last year. But due to a shortage of funds, we are asking the recipients to donate some money this time so that we can buy more cylinders," said another Team Zero volunteer Golam Tousif.
Team Zero has helped more than 70 patients with oxygen cylinders since the first wave. But in recent times, due to the worsening situation of Covid-19 in Rajshahi, there has been a massive surge in oxygen demand.
"In the last couple of days, we have helped eight patients with our seven oxygen cylinders. There is a huge demand for oxygen cylinders in the city. However, we are struggling to deliver enough oxygen cylinders since we have a small source of funds," Tousif said, adding, "But we are hopeful to continue to deliver enough oxygen cylinders until the Covid-19 situation improves if we have more funds."
Tousif later informed The Business Standard that they bought three new oxygen cylinders this week.
Ambitions to serve beyond Covid-19
When unscrupulous traders created an artificial crisis of healthcare essentials, Team Zero distributed free masks, hand sanitisers and oximeters among the poor. They supplied free disinfectant bottles to rickshaw pullers in Rajshahi city.
However, Zero's initiatives are not only limited to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Due to the continuous extension of lockdowns, many labourers and low-skilled people lost their jobs, which pushed them towards an uncertain future. To rehabilitate these poor people, we helped them financially to start anew under an initiative called 'Project Jibika'," said Istiaque, another volunteer of Team Zero.
He continued, "Many poor university students who depended on tuition or part-time jobs have lost their livelihood. We have provided these underprivileged students with a one-time scholarship of around Tk80,000. We have also distributed free food among street children once a month since the inception of our journey."