Helping local Bangladesh communities during Covid-19

Law student and UofG Future World Changer Juneyna Kabir talks to us about her charity work helping communities affected by COVID-19 in her native Bangladesh. 

The below is an abridged version of Juneyna’s blog, the full version is on the UofG Law web pages.

Tell us a little about yourself?

I'm a UofG Law student on the fast track course. I have just finished my first year and moving into my second (hopefully). I am from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I did an undergraduate degree in English and Media at Sussex University (2013-2016) and a MA in journalism (2016-2017) from the same. I was working in Bangladesh as a journalist and UX designer part-time for two years, before returning to academia. To be really honest with you, studying law was entirely my father's idea - the dream any self respecting South Asian parent has for their child.  I'm a Future World Changer for 2019-2020 and my world changing ambition is to alter the current relationship that the world has with clothing - starting from the materials, the labour and consumer trends, everything needs to change. This is especially important to Bangladesh because we are the second largest producer of ready-made garments in the world, a double-edged sword that has given a huge boost to our economy but at the cost of many lives and the environment.   

Image of Future World Changer Juneya Kabir in cloisters

What is the nature of your charity initiative? 

The charity is called Resource Coordination Network Bangladesh (RCNB) - a platform for the sharing of resources required to combat the Covid-19 crisis in Bangladesh. It's not a registered charity; we operate out of a Facebook group with the eponymous name. In the first two weeks, our mission statement changed almost every day, as we were trying to figure out where our efforts would be most useful. Ultimately, we described ourselves as "a non-profit resource sharing platform and support network for small organisations in Bangladesh." Being a non-registered charity has its merits and drawbacks, merits because people liked that all of their funds would be going to the cause rather than a large portion being used on internal administrative costs while a lot of people (especially outside Bangladesh) are not familiar with informal channels of working.  

Image of six men in Bangladesh mobilising after COVID-19

What have you achieved so far? 

First and foremost, I'd like to highlight the people that we've met throughout this process - the numbers of selfless, hardworking, sincere and lovely people that we have collaborated and become friends with. We have created networks in areas that we would never have otherwise - in rural areas, in brothels, in refugee camps, in rural government hospitals, cyclone centres - you name it. Bangladeshis are extremely generous and hospitable people, so although the networks are most useful for the work we are doing, I can imagine that even in the future they would extend help in other ways. I would say the achievement here is that of trust. We're so grateful that people who to this day have never seen our faces or met us in person, have placed so much trust in two young girls with no prior experience to carry out such important tasks.   

In terms of funds, initially we were simply connecting people who had something with people who needed something. But soon people started asking us for money. Being a developing country, Bangladesh has many national and international NGOs who would be responsible for coordinating a relief effort in such a situation. Many of them are huge, BRAC, Grameen, UNDP, Save the Children - these people we called the big players - and we had no comings and going with them. Then there were mid-level people who were around before Covid-19 began, but had suddenly stepped up in scale. Even they, we realised, had their own process of fund raising and distribution. So we focused on small organisations or individual initiatives (this is very common, for families, or housing blocks or sports associations, for example, to do their own relief drives). Sometimes we would give people £1000 and sometimes we would merely send them a name for a trusted wholesaler from whom to buy their grains. The motto was that we were there for any kind of assistance we could provide, where we wanted nothing in return and all administrative costs were borne by us so whatever people donated went straight to people in need.  

Our funds came from a whole range of places. I set up a Gofundme page where we have already crossed our £6000 target. The Gofundme was mainly for strangers and those living abroad ...We had artists and small businesses donate all their earnings to us. We had restaurants deliver dinner to government hospitals as a donation to us. Money came from places we couldn't have imagined in our wildest dreams. People asked us to distribute their zakaat money, (a mandatory charity for Muslims during the month of Ramadan) which was highly unexpected because usually an Islamic organisation has to do it. 

About three weeks into our activities, we linked up with an American-Bangladeshi living in Texas, a banker, university professor and vocal writer on Bangladeshi issues who had set up a Facebook fundraiser of his own. Within a week, he had raised $16,000 and was looking for people like us - young, driven, trustworthy and with zero overheads to make use of the funds. Within a short span of time he had become a core team member, a mentor and we conducted many drives together. He also brought with him a huge number of contacts and resources of his own. RCNB was growing so much everyday. By the end of the month we had 700-800 members on our group and people were sharing our posts and fundraising links all the time.  

We never had a rigid strategy on how we were to distribute the money we collected. We had found 5-6 small organisations dotted around Bangladesh, who we put on our "payroll" in some sense. They would receive bi-weekly funds for their relief distribution drives, and the rest given on a need-basis to people who would ask/we would come across...  

Where can we find out more and support the initiative? 

First published: 25 June 2020

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