Posted by Amarok on Jul 20, 2020
COVID-19 has reached a new height of infections as of mid-July, penetrating every slum in which we operate. The healthcare system is woefully underequipped to deal with or track an outbreak of this magnitude. The best calculation we can get on COVID’s impact is through the grave diggers who, by mid-June, were burying 10 times the number of people on a daily basis as pre-COVID-19.
But the immediate impact on the physical health of people is only part of the story.
The lockdown has caused severe economic hardship – in particular for our families living in the slums. Just imagine being confined to stay in a hut barely larger than the bed you lay on. There is no television or internet and you’ve never been able to afford a phone or even a radio.
After two months of such confinement, domestic violence and mental health are serious issues. So is constant hunger, and even starvation, as there is no way for most to make money to buy food.
All of the Amarok mothers have shared the importance of regular hand-washing and social distancing with their community, like Helena below. Though, short of growing a pair of wings, there’s little a person in these communities can do to avoid close interaction with others in shared spaces.
All of the Amarok mothers have shared the importance of regular hand-washing and social distancing with their community, like Helena below. Though, short of growing a pair of wings, there’s little a person in these communities can do to avoid close interaction with others in shared spaces.
Many of the Amarok mothers have helped the very poorest families register for the government’s sporadic handouts of rice and occasional onions or potatoes. And, despite most of our mothers and families not having enough food, to date no one has died of starvation. When a neighboring family is absolutely desperate, others come together and provide gifts of rice, lentils, onions, etc. The tone of these neighborhoods has been coloured by the Amarok mothers.
Quarterly Highlights
In mid-April, Asma’s husband, jobless since the lockdown, left the shack and never came back. 28 year old Asma and her 2 little girls, 8 and 4, had to manage on their own, in the face of starvation.
As a mother attending an Amarok school, Asma had become resourceful and had learned to sew. But people were not interested in new dresses these days with the lockdown. But Asma had an idea. With the last of her small savings, she went to the market and bought small pieces of patterned material. Out of these she made attractive masks for both adults and children.  She is now earning almost $1/day in a time when others are jobless.
This has allowed Asma to buy enough food for herself and the girls with some left to help those in greatest need. She gives masks for free to some of the poorest children. And like all the other Amarok mothers, she keeps in communication with the 5 neighborhood children she’s been teaching and their families throughout this stressful time.
The Rotary Partners of Amarok in Bangladesh include the Rotary Club of Shaikat Cox’s Bazar, Cox’s Bazar City and Inner Wheel Cox’s Bazar. They  have all provided food assistance to the mothers of Cox’s Bazar during the pandemic.
Our other partner, the Rotary Club of Midtown Dhaka, is also planning to provide a food package soon. Through generous support from Canadians and Americans, Amarok has also been able to provide food packages to all mothers of the 23 schools and is a wonderful demonstration of the heart-to-heart connection around the world.
My name is Sujon. I’m 13. I have 2 older brothers and 2 younger brothers. We live in one small room with my parents. Me and my brothers share 1 bed. Since I was 11 I’ve been working but I did not like the work and the days were very long. I had to lift heavy things from morning ‘til night.
One evening on my way home from work, I met another boy who lived nearby. He told me about an Amarok mini-school that was teaching him to read and write. We asked the mother who was teaching the 5 children if I could join. She met my parents and they said yes. I was so happy. This has let me enroll in the government school too because I don’t need to hire a tutor –my mother-teacher helps me. I am teaching my other brothers what I am learning.
When COVID hit our slum, my government school and my mini-school were closed down, my dad lost his job and my brothers were paid less for the same work. We fell behind in our rent by 3 months and every night I was hungry.
Then my mother-teacher told me the corner store needed a boy to work 3 hours every morning. I went with my dad to meet the shop owner. The man thought I would not be able to do it. But he gave me some tests of reading labels, weighing and calculating price of vegetables. I could do it and he immediately hired me. Now, every day I work in the shop in the mornings, do my own studying in the afternoon and teach my brothers in the evening. The owner loves me very much and I am so proud to help my family.
12 year old Shahinur has attended a neighbour-mother’s mini-school for the past 3 years. Now,  she can read almost anything. When lockdown came to her slum she could see how desperate, scared and alone everyone felt. The children were crying, Adults were arguing. She saw how sad people were. And her own parents were desperate. The landlord was threatening them with eviction for nonpayment of rent for 3 months, and they were hungry.
Shahinur, wearing green below, decided she would do something about this. At first, she talked to people she saw about the importance of frequent hand-washing. But then she had an idea to make a bigger difference:
  • She went to the landlord and asked if she could tutor his 2 daughters in exchange for rent. He agreed.
  • Next, she decided that every day she would read tales from her mini-school book of stories to groups of little children.
  • With older children she teaches them new games – and always carries extra masks (from Amarok) to give to others.
  • She talks to other girls her age about things that matter to them.
  • She reads the newspaper to older people.
Shahinur is making a very big difference to the well-being of others by connecting with them and helping them. She’s not feeling so very little anymore  - she knows she’s making a big difference.
With the number of new cases still peaking, it’s likely that the families in the slums of Bangladesh and Pakistan are in for several more months of the COVID-19 lockdown. We can count on our Amarok mothers to continue the leadership role they’ve assumed, but mass starvation looms with a continuation of this situation.
We will be launching Facebook campaigns starting mid-July to raise money to buy rice and lentils for the thousand families we work most closely with.
If you’re a member of a Rotary club, other service club or connected to another group of concerned people and are interested in receiving an online-update about what’s happening with the mothers, children and families we serve in the slums of Bangladesh and Pakistan, please be in touch with us at