A time of great danger is also a test our our human values when we have to choose between our narrow self-interest and selfless deeds.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put forth such a situation for us and some initiatives taken up by individuals, groups and organisations, show us that there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.
"Manobotar Bazar" or the market of humanity in Barishal is one such initiative.
If you visit the compound of Martichaya Kindergarten School of Barishal town amid the Covid-19 lockdown, you will find daily necessities like rice, pulses, potato, oil, onion, dates, medicines, masks etc being displayed in different stalls.
You will see people coming to the place and collecting these products, according to their needs, without paying any money.
This is a market dedicated to the underprivileged and marginalised people of society, who are in dire straits because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The market is an initiative of the Socialist Party of Bangladesh, Barishal.
How it all started
When the lockdown started in March, it left many poor and marginalised people of the town jobless. Some middle and lower-middle-class people were also in trouble because of the economic shock of the pandemic.
The activists of Bangladesh Socialist Party have been working for them from the very beginning of the lockdown in Barishal. A number of young volunteers from each ward also joined them.
They started a campaign titled "ek mutho chal" to collect rice for the poor and jobless people.
They started going door-to-door urging people to donate a handful of rice every day.
From the very beginning, they received an overwhelming response. Later, they included potato, pulses, oil and onions in their product list. Every day, the number of beneficiaries was also increasing.
Soon they realised not all of their beneficiaries need the same products. For example, one who has a child in the family needs milk or baby products. Providing everyone with the same relief can be ineffective in some cases.
This is when they came up with the idea of introducing a market where the deprived people will get the produces they actually need.
They gathered all the donations they received so far and bought produces from farmers directly so that they get the original price of their products.
On April 12, they introduced "Manobotar Bazaar" or the market of humanity where all the products they collected were displayed.
"There are 45 slums in Barisal City Corporation. Most of the slum-dwellers are living in extreme poverty during this time. We wanted to make sure the aid evenly reaches to the people who need it the most," said Imran Habib Rumon, convener of Bangladesh Socialist Party, Barishal.
"So our volunteers collected a list of underprivileged people and talked to every one of them personally," he added.
Rumon said the volunteers collected information - like the number of family members, their per day income etc. about the people eligible for relief and gave them ration cards. Each card is marked with certain points based on the information they collected.
The beneficiaries come to the market with the card and collect products with their acquired points.
"This way it will not look like a typical donor-recipient transaction and people who are taking the help will not be embarrassed," said Rumon.
People can shop according to their requirements. The points will be deducted from the ration card depending on products and amount.
The ration card can be renewed when all the points are used up.
The organisers have introduced the practice of buying goods directly from the farmers so that they too can be benefitted from the initiative. They also try to include at least one new product every day in the market.
The fund for running such a vast project comes from known and anonymous donors.
"Sometimes farmers donate their goods here. Everyone donates whatever they can. We also get flexiloads, starting from Tk20, as people want to help others in this crucial time," said Rumon optimistically.
The organisers held two special days for two special communities to pay tribute to them. On May Day, it was open for all the labourers. They dedicated the market for the people of the transgender community on the day of their one-month celebration.
So far the market has helped 12,000 people of the district.
The market is not held always in a specific place. Sometimes the organisers change the venue in different wards of the town.
"We try to be as inclusive as possible. It is hard for people who live in distant places to manage transports to come to Matrichaya Kindergarten compound. This is why we set up the market in different places to reach more people," said Manisha Chakrabarty, member secretary of Bangladesh Socialist Party.
The organisers are planning to distribute more help to people before Eid.
Manisha Chakrabarti said, "Introducing the rationing system centrally can be time-consuming considering our present situation. So, if the government adopts the idea of the market they will be able to reach people easily. Also, they will get the authentic picture of the scenario."
"If the government starts buying goods from farmers to run such markets, it will set an example before the masses as farmers are now one of the most vulnerable communities. It will at a time help our farmers and the underprivileged," said Manisha.