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OP-ED: Don’t forget the youth

  • Published at 08:33 pm July 16th, 2020
poor coronavirus
They need our help / REUTERS

Youth-based resource mobilization during Covid-19

In April 2020, a group of young Bangladeshi expats got on a phone call and expressed their concerns regarding the possible impact of Covid-19 in Bangladesh -- Tahmid Hasib Khan and Aaraf Ahmed, two students slated to start their post graduate studies in the field of public health, began jotting down areas in which the expatriate youth could make a credible difference and assist in the fight against Covid-19. Their friends provided their input, and thus began the journey of BacharLorai. 

Fast forward 3 months, the BacharLorai movement has spearheaded over 15 grassroots initiatives initiated by individuals and youth groups. By acquiescing community-based efforts to contribute in the national fight against Covid-19, BacharLorai has received an ever-increasing form of traction from expat groups, Bangladesh-based community organizations, and individuals. 

Along with Khan and Ahmed, Ontario Public Servant Anil Wasif, Engineer-in-Training Aminur Rahman Khan, KPMG Risk Analyst Farhim Zaman and Data Science student Talha Khan, put their heads together to determine what a philanthropic expat-based social movement should look like in the face of a pandemic. 

They identified knowledge immobility, lack of financial resourcing, information asymmetry, and weak supply chain systems as key barriers for those wishing to contribute to addressing challenges related to Covid-19. 

Subsequently, BacharLorai defined itself as a social movement, emphasizing individual initiatives directed towards six key focus areas: The socioeconomically disadvantaged, healthcare equipment and treatment, access to information, supply chains in rural settings, mental health, and data analytics. 

Having these focus areas in mind, members of BacharLorai dedicated themselves to engage as many members of their social circles, families, and friends to come together for a singular cause -- connecting those who need help with those who want to help. Five projects led by BacharLorai have resulted in aid provisions to over 1,700 families across various marginalized populations. 

Over 740 healthcare workers have been supported with meals throughout Ramadan across four hospitals. With respect to Cyclone Aamphan, food packages, female hygiene products, and capital investments to ensure clean water and repair of damaged property (including schools and houses) are currently taking place.

Additionally, mental health webinars and health awareness infographics have been disseminated via a combination of social media and traditional outreach mechanisms throughout rural parts of the country. Over 1,000 N95 masks and 1,000 PPEs have been distributed to Covid-19 health centres, following highly responsive GoFundMe campaigns.

To strengthen the movement, nine former captains of the national cricket team, international commentator Athar Ali Khan, and Independence Day Awardee Group Captain Shamsul Alam Bir Uttam lent their endorsements to the movement, by participating in videos which called the nation to support and salute frontline heroes. 

These forms of cross-disciplinary and multilateral engagements determined and stamped the role of BacharLorai in being a movement where the primary aim remained standing by our frontline workers -- in whichever way possible. 

In aiming to understand a needs-based demand for resources during Covid-19, members of the BacharLorai movement have had the privilege to be in constant communication with on-the-ground health care heroes. This ongoing relationship between health care workers and BacharLorai members provides a key niche in responding through a streamlined needs-based approach towards crisis management.  

Therefore, BacharLorai initiated its flagship project “Oxygen for Life” -- through a fundraising strategy which mobilized international financing through a GoFundMe scheme and a simultaneous donation drive through bKash and broader financial instruments in Bangladesh, this project has successfully distributed over 120 cylinders to over 24 health centres across the country as of today. 

Yet, perhaps, the singular achievement of this movement has been its ability to inspire others. To support the “Beds for Bangladesh” project and join the BacharLorai movement, seven student groups from Canada came together to form the Canadian Alliance of Bangladeshi Students’ Associations. 

Therefore, whether it be each individual who has supported, contributed, or partaken in initiatives for BacharLorai or other community efforts, or even more importantly, the everyday volunteers on the ground making it possible for us to sit behind laptops and support positive change -- each of these individuals deserve accreditation, traction, and support from the nation and the media. 

In endorsing the BacharLorai movement, Canada’s first elected representative of Bangladeshi origin, Doly Begum (member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament -- Scarborough Southwest) describes the movement as one “building a network of individuals and communities to provide essential resources to help communities during this crisis” -- and BacharLorai remains committed to do exactly that. 

In summary, crisis management through digital social innovation can have small, yet measurable impacts, in addressing Covid-19 and its aftermath -- the point being, individuals have a moral obligation and a unique opportunity to step up today.  And who better to step up, than the youth? 

The youth of our country (between 10 to 24 years old) represent 30% of our total population,  which means close to 50 million young Bangladeshis will determine the future of Bangladesh. You cannot and must not stop a wave of young Bangladeshis from mobilizing. 

Rather, it becomes imperative to support, inspire, and integrate fresh ideas and navigate youth-based crisis responses by bridging generational divides -- and that is exactly what BacharLorai is trying to do. 

I ask readers to join this movement -- either in spirit or practice. We are a small group of individuals working in the spirit of BacharLorai but our committment to Bangladesh remains steadfast, resolute, and unwavering. Support us as we try and lend a hand to the nation, our nation. 

Mir Aftabuddin Ahmed is a graduate of Economics and International Relations at the University of Toronto and a Founding Member of the BacharLorai Movement. He can be reached at [email protected] To support the BacharLorai movement please email: [email protected] or check out the website: www.bacharlorai.com.