Muktir Bandhan Foundation, a voluntary organisation in Mymensingh, has launched a weekly market (haat) to provide free daily essentials including rice, fish, and vegetables to low income people who have become unemployed during the lockdown. People can take whatever they need from the market for free.
The weekly village market or haat, initiated by some youths of the organisation, maintains strict health safety rules along the Atharobari-Nandail road in Ishwarganj, Mymensingh.
The organisers have installed infrared thermometers at the entrance of the market and have set up the grocery stalls apart, safely distanced from one another. The market has fresh vegetables including pumpkins, tomatoes, green chilli, fish, onions, and potatoes, directly from farmers. There are also Iftar items in the market.
Khadiza Begum, who comes to the market for her daily essentials, said, "My husband is a transport worker now unemployed due to the lockdown, so I have to come here."
Barek Mia is a street vendor at the local railway station but he has no work right now because of the lockdown.
"I have been spending my days in financial difficulties since the beginning of the lockdown. I cannot remember when I last bought a big fish for my family. Today I got a big Pangasius fish from this free market and my children will be very happy to see this," he said.
Suruj Mia comes to market from Nandail, a neighbouring upazila of Ishwarganj.
"I have taken three Pangasius fishes from the market and also some Iftar items. If such free haat markets are set up in other parts of the country, the poor will not suffer from hunger," he said.
Muktir Bandhan Foundation is an initiative of some local students. Initially they funded the organisation with their pocket money but later, many people extended their helping hands.
Azharul Islam Palash, coordinator of Mukti Bandhan Foundation, said, "We are also getting support from well-wishers now living abroad. We also get help from the rich and well off in the area. Many people are also contributing financially after seeing our work on Facebook."
He said, "We bring goods directly from farmers and demand is increasing day by day. More and more people are coming every week and we are struggling to meet their needs."
Anik Kumar Nandi, an organiser of Muktir Bandhan Foundation, said, "We provide a variety of goods to more than two hundred people every week and the market operates every Wednesday."
He said they started the free market at the beginning of Ramadan to help low-income people who have become unemployed in the Covid-19 lockdown. They also deliver to middle-class families who are too embarassed to come to the free market due to their social position.
The organisation is also thinking about providing new clothes and other things for poor families to be able to enjoy and celebrate Eid.
Volunteers of Muktir Bandhan Foundation collect and distribute the products in the market.
Min Sarkar, an intermediate student at a local college, said he is getting peace of mind through his work for the organisation.
"When we look at the faces of people when they get the stuff they need from our market we feel very happy," he said.
Atiqur Rahman Sohag, another volunteer, said many people cry when they get something from us and that also brings tears of joy to our eyes.
Shankar Saha, co-president of the Mymensingh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "The price of daily essentials is high in the country and you can see complaints about this all the time in the news and social media. Under these conditions, these youths have set an example of humanity by arranging this free haat market for poor people."
Mymensingh Deputy Commissioner Enamul Haque said it is undoubtedly a humanitarian initiative. "It is a great blessing to stand by people who are working hard in this crisis and to help the poor. The administration will help continue this initiative."