It is of no surprise how the global pandemic brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak resulted in the shut-down of many factories and businesses across the world due to prolonged lockdown. In Bangladesh, the scenario is no different. The regular flow of economy has been badly disrupted, resulting in unprecedented unemployment. Active Citizens under the British Council project in Bangladesh, being the social activists and change-makers they strive to be, mobilised to address some of the catastrophe brought on by the pandemic.
A group of Active Citizens in Rajshahi have been some of the first to respond. They were either raising funds from their communities for emergency response activities or paying out of their own pockets. But as days passed, and the epidemic appeared to last far longer than they had originally anticipated, they were fast running out of financial assistance. To fund their social work, they thought of undertaking an income-generating initiative which will enable them to raise funds and help more people. They began holding online discussions amongst themselves and youth leaders to explore alternate ways to tackle this situation and a novel idea emerged from those discussions. Mostafizur Rahman Sajal of Rajshahi, a Master Facilitator of the Active Citizens programme and a youth leader of Youth Ending Hunger, came up with the idea of selling preservative-free mangoes, the profit from which would allow them to continue their social work. After sharing the ideas with the Hunger Project youth focal point and other Active Citizens youth leaders in his network, many expressed interest to join him in the initiative. Along with Muntasir Abrar Emu from Chittagong, Marufuzzaman Asin and Muminul Haque Fahim from Sylhet, they started their project called 'Aamjonota’. Amjad Hossain Rajib of The Hunger Project, Ashikur Rahman Sajeeb (former Hunger Project Officer) and Shamim Ahmed (former National Coordinator of Youth Ending Hunger) helped through close consultation.
Their main intention was to do a social business that would have an income and enable them to stand by the people worst-impacted by pandemic. Accordingly, they decided that 50 percent of the profit coming from the social business would be spent for this purpose. They also wished to assist the farmers affected by cyclone Amphan by purchasing their agro products at a fair price. Lastly, bringing unadulterated and authentic products at a fair price to the consumers from the marginal farmers and small traders ensured that all these groups benefit from the scheme. The famous mango of Rajshahi was chosen as the first product to be sold.
Their coordinated work began in four divisions of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Sylhet and, by the end of July, they reached around 24 districts in these four divisions. 50 percent of the profits received from this initiative (amounting to around 30,000 Bangladeshi Taka) have been deposited in their Corona Fund. They spent this money in Rajshahi, Chittagong and Sylhet by providing economical support to distressed people, distributing dry food packages (rice, lentils, oil and onion) to 25 poor families who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and providing educational material to children who were unable to buy books, pen and paper.
In the beginning, these young activists faced opposition from their families who were worried they might get infected by Covid-19. However, they were able to convince their families of the selfless social activities crucial for their communities’ sustenance. Furthermore, they gained important professional experiences about the supply chain system in place - from plucking the mangoes, to packaging and delivering.
At present, with the end of the mango season, 'Aamjonota' is planning to expand its initiative across the country with other organic and chemical-free agro-based products.
From the very onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, Active Citizens began working in their local communities by organising awareness campaigns, helping the distressed people who found thermselves unemployed due to the lock-down, holding online sessions on various issues such as mental health, domestic violence, lack of nutrition, distributing masks and spraying different communities with disinfectants etc.